Having a felony record comes with the burden of finding gainful employment.
Many former inmates leave prison hoping to start a business. That would mean not being dependent on an ill-willed market for employment. But this business option has its challenges.
Felons often can’t qualify for small business loans. They can spend hours at the Department of Labor and get nowhere.
Funding and training can be hard enough to come by in this country. That obstacle only grows if you have a criminal record.
The answer may be a grant.
But in order to receive government assistance through a grant, you need to know the definition of a grant.
These financial instruments come from state government bodies. They can help you get the funding you need to start a small business.
Legally, you are eligible for any grant open to the public. But it’s a good idea for you to focus on those designed for your specific situation.
Let’s take a look at the best grants for felons in 2021.
What Are Grants?
Grants are financial instruments you apply for to help you for a variety of reasons.
A grant is funding that is provided to an individual that is not repaid. As a result, grants are given on a basis of need.
In other words, if you have a job and are making $50,000 per year, you usually are not a viable candidate for a grant.
They’re great benefits because the grant is yours to use (as long as its use aligns with its original intent) and never needs repaying.
While most grants have a range of criteria, the final determination usually depends on individual needs.
Both private companies and governing bodies offer grants and programs that help ex-convicts with funds to train, start a business, or receive federal student aid.
However, if your salary for the year falls around $10,000 or less, you would be able to get the money as you have shown you have a need for the grant.
Grants can either issued by the federal or state government. Private institutions can also be a source of grants.
Uses for Grants
Grants for felons are monies put aside and distributed by state, federal, and local governments and private organizations.
You can utilize these grants in any number of ways, including:
- For starting non-profit organizations
- Scientific or social research
- Launching a charity
- Opening a small business
- Continuing your educational
- Buying a property for residential or commercial use
The purpose of any of these grants is to give convicted felons the financial opportunity to have a healthy and fruition post-release lifestyle and to contribute as productive members of their communities.
You should know being an ex-inmate doesn’t automatically make you a grant winner.
Like any type of grant, an ex-offender will have to put in the footwork and make a solid argument for their claim. They have to be proactive, take all the necessary steps, and prove their worth.
Being incarcerated isn’t a reason to not consider grant options.
You should talk with your counselors, therapists, or other prison personnel you turn to for advice.
The vast majority of grants for felons are eligible to those still behind the wall and many have their applications online or paperwork. Have the paper applications sent via snail mail.
Ultimately, what any grant program will look for is your attempts to be productive and grow. They will want to see anything you’ve done to integrate successfully into society.
They will look for classes and other educational ventures, basic and transitional programs, and rehabilitative initiatives.
8 Chances to Change Your Future
Any of the following services can help both the currently incarcerated, and ex-inmates get funding to start a new life.
1. Your Correctional Facility
For the still-incarcerated, you may be able to find funding through the facility where you’re staying.
Across the country, inmates have several options, including:
- The Last Mile – prep for a tech startup (California, Kansas, Indiana, Oklahoma, Michigan)
- Defy Ventures – post-release (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Washington, Colorado)
- Project ReMade – post-release (California, Connecticut, Illinois, Washington, Colorado)
Each manages a specific region and offerings. For instance, LEAP is a program for Florida’s female prison population.
Reach out to a reentry staffer at your facility to see what’s available for you.
2. Help For Felons.org
The Help for Felons organization provides direction and support for inmates, felons, and ex-offenders in all aspects of their lives.
The organization will help you reach out to the many available state and federal grants specifically set aside to help felons.
3. Federal Education Loans and Business Grants for Felons
You may have a specific goal. Learning graphic design or becoming an HVAC tech.
This goal would entail developing a skill that may require getting further education, training, degrees, or certification. It could be building the entrepreneurial foundation for a business.
The Federal Education Loans and Business Grants for Felons is behind the federal Pell Grant and federally-sponsored student loans.
Find out more about these opportunities here.
4. Federal Grants
The greatest number of grants available to the public come through the federal government.
The best way to find out about these opportunities is at grants.gov. It’s the place for learning how to apply.
Note that the government does not designate these small business grants types of business or industries.
Their programs tend to look more at your business ideas, nationality, heritage, and other characteristics, alongside your character and potential to follow through.
Grants from the Department of Labor
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration offers several grant programs for felons who are out of prison or felons that are categorized as pre-release.
These grants are also provided to people who have a need in this area who are not felons.
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) has been legislated to assist displaced workers.
You can find out more information along these lines by visiting a One Stop Career Center, one of the resources that is designed to help felons obtain grants and financial assistance for job training.
The WIOA’s mandates also are coordinated and designed in connection with American Job Center locations.
Consider bringing this up when you reach out to companies that hire felons and begin applying.
Sometimes they aren’t aware of this grant and it might be something that gives you a better chance to get employed.
Applying for a Pell Grant
Felons who wish to further their education can do so by applying to receive money through a Pell Grant.
While past incarceration for drug-related charges will bar you initially from receiving Pell Grant money, you can still overcome this obstacle by completing a drug rehabilitation program and passing two random drug tests.
The Pell Grant program can be employed through any approved trade school or college.
Since many white collar occupations are known to discriminate against felons, it may be more worth your while to review trade schools that offer training for blue collar jobs.
Trade school offerings include courses that lead to jobs as a welder, electrician, roofer, carpenter or CAD and HVAC drafter.
Job and training experts have found that trade type jobs or construction contractors present more opportunities for felons than employers who offer white collar employment.
When applying for a Pell grant then, felons should strongly think about the focus of their career to make the best use of the money.
Scholarships for felons are similar to grants as they do not need to be paid back as well. However, the difference between a grant and scholarship is the source of the funding.
Scholarships are usually given by schools or institutions. Awards of $1,000 to $5,000 sometimes are given for simply writing an essay.
5. Crowdfunding Websites
These financial opportunities don’t offer a government grant nor are they providers of business loans.
But, like grants, any funds received from these platforms don’t need to be repaid. Each site has become one of the most promising platforms for funding your dreams.
There are three crowdfunding types: equity, debt, and reward. Debt funding is essentially a loan that has to be repaid.
The reward campaign requires you to offer something in return for a donation. That’s usually a small gift or a sample of the finished product or service.
GoFundMe has successfully gathered over $3 billion throughout its history, with all funds applied to individuals looking to build their dream. You have to create a campaign on the site.
Now, that’s not the end of it. You will have to successfully pitch yourself and your ideas.
People need convincing to send their money your way. It’s no different than convincing a bank to give you a loan or getting a grant from the government.
Have sound arguments and confidence in your dream so that others will too.
Unlike GoFundMe, Kickstarter is a focused venture helping business owners get started.
Established in 2009, the site’s raised almost $5 billion. All these funds went to entrepreneurs to fund startups.
Over 200,000 got their start with Kickstarter. Read more about these statistics.
The site requires your campaign to have goals and a framework for its completion. You will also need Kickstarter’s approval to launch your fundraiser on their site.
Indiegogo works similar to Kickstarter but it has a different approach to campaigns. There’s fixed and flexible fundraising.
Indiegogo lets you customize the campaign, providing more flexibility and freedom.
You determine factors like fundraising targets, rewards for your backers, and set up deadlines of up to 60 days.
Your campaign can go live on your dime. After your campaign’s over, you do have the option of continuing to raise funds. There are no time limits or deadlines.
6. Free Grants for Felons
The organization’s full name is Free Grants for Felons in New York, but it’s a program run by the SBA and is federally sponsored.
There are a variety of programs, including the Boots to Business Grant. Boots to Business encourages ex-felons to look at the option.
According to the website, the program is a resource for finding grants through various businesses, organizations, and governments. Eligibility for financial aid consists of a variety of factors.
7. SBA Microloans
The Small Business Administration very small amounts to ex-felons as working capital for their business plans.
On average, the SBA Loan is around $13,000 but can max out at $50,000.
The smaller amounts may seem unimportant but imagine opening a store at Amazon or buying carpentry or plumbing tools to get you started.
Businesses have used these loans to store up inventory or machinery or to buy furnishings or fixtures.
You apply through nonprofit, community-based enterprises to get microloans.
These organizations serve as intermediaries between you and lenders. You can review this list to see the hundreds of organizations available to help you with these financial instruments.
The microloan program is great for a startup that doesn’t require a lot of capital or has a limited operating history.
You need to be intellectually equipped to navigate the world of grants. This financial assistance can lead down many paths and you need to watch out for your best interests.
8. Inmates to Entrepreneurs
The Inmates to Entrepreneurs program is to assist individuals with a felony conviction to get their professional lives on track through online courses, mentoring, and networking.
They work with organizations and businesses that understand the hazards of discrimination. In the digital age, no ex-convict can minimize their past.
The education and offerings of the program strive to help felons overcome the societal harms associated with background checks and any systemic stigma associated with prison.
What You Should Know
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you hope to use grants to get your own business off the ground.
Grants Are Not Completely Free
Though you do not have to repay them, don’t convince yourself that instruments like federal government grants are there for the taking. You will have to put in the work.
Each application process is unique. If you’re not paying attention, your competition will slip ahead of you.
Define Your Grant Goal
You know you’re in financial need and that your background and potential low-income status puts you in a bad place.
This doesn’t mean your eligibility for a grant is vast.
One of the major reasons any individual gets rejected is because they apply for the wrong ones. Too much work goes into applying. Make sure you use that time wisely.
Find Sound Counsel
Billions of dollars pass through the world of grants to small business owners, yet there is no governing body that controls any aspect of the grant process. That’s why everyone has their own rules.
Take a look at these highly-rated grant rewarders and get an idea of how different they approach choosing grant winners. This is why it’s critical to perform your due diligence.
You can find a litany of websites that offer aid or information for a fee.
Approach these websites wearily. The truth is there isn’t a thing these services can do for you that you can’t do for yourself.
There are plenty of resources, like the SBA, that will counsel you without charging a fee.
Hackers who have acquired your information will call and claim you have the grant but need a fee to release it.
One of the common and most important aspects that will affect getting a grant is your proposal. If your writing skills aren’t as sharp, you need to find someone who is.
Some services do grant writing. Choose carefully. Or work with one of the many organizations (like some listed here) that can tell you how to go about producing a great grant proposal.
Filling Out the Grant Application
What most felons need is a resource and to follow through on the steps of the funding process.
Therefore, be sure, when you are applying for a grant that you know all the paperwork you need and what steps are needed to be successful.
Read the information for the grant application carefully so you don’t leave out any details that may be required at a future date.
Making sure you completely fill out the application for the grant will help streamline the process and keep you from experiencing any unwanted delays.
It can take a while to obtain funding anyway. However, if you practice patience, you will reap the financial rewards that can assist you in becoming acclimated to living, once again, in the mainstream.
According to one report, nearly 50% of released inmates showed no reported earnings years after release. Those who manage to find employment made less than $11,000 a year.
That number is below the poverty level. A promising entrepreneur with a criminal record shouldn’t have their potential diminished by prejudice.
Inmates have the same needs as anyone else. Rent, medical expenses, etc., and they have a level of self-respect built on the foundation of being able to take care of themselves. When their records hold them back, it can be crushing.
Many inmates do look for alternatives to conventional employment because of these obstacles. But then they’re forced to deal with a system of financing that can use their past against them too.
Grants are monies that do not need to be repaid. You’re not required to have any equity or collateral. There are grants designed specifically for former inmates.
As long as you use the funds for what you said you needed them for, a grant is a sound opportunity. Remember, the competition for grants is fierce.
Your best grasp at a second-chance option may be a grant that helps you get your dream started. Prepare yourself thoroughly. Be professional, and, instead of relying on one possibility, look at and apply for several.
Where to Obtain Further Details
In order to obtain full particulars about grant funding and receipt, visit USA.gov.
This site can lead you to other websites that can offer more information about how to obtain funds that can assist you in getting a job or paying utilities or housing.