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Congressional Record2017/6/21Senate | House | Extensions

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[Extensions of Remarks]
[Page E866]
From the Congressional Record Online through GPO



                       HON. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON

                      of the district of columbia

                    in the house of representatives

                        Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ms. NORTON. Mr. Speaker, today, I introduce the Ensuring Successful Reentry Act, a bill to eliminate so-called “subsistence fees.” Federal law currently requires the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to impose a subsistence fee on the income of returning citizens living in residential reentry centers (RRCs), supposedly to promote financial responsibility by requiring RRC residents to pay a portion of their housing costs. The fee is currently 25 percent. However, many returning citizens living in these centers often work minimum wage jobs, so the loss of 25 percent of their paychecks is a significant hurdle to successful reentry, and it makes it extremely difficult for them to save money for rent, pay child support, or fines and fees associated with their conviction (such as restitution). Only last year, BOP eliminated the subsistence fee for returning citizens on home confinement, who cost BOP nothing for maintenance. Far from promoting financial responsibility, subsistence fees actually prevent returning citizens from meeting their financial obligations.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has already recognized how “counterproductive” subsistence fees are, both for returning citizens and BOP. In a November 2016 memo, then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates noted that BOP's “process for collecting these subsistence fees is costly and administratively burdensome for both RRC's and [BOP],” and called for DOJ to “develop a plan to limit the use of counterproductive `subsistence' fees imposed on indigent residents.” BOP can already waive subsistence fees in certain situations for residents of RRCs, but only a change in federal law can remove this unnecessary barrier to reentry.

We should not be imposing additional burdens on returning citizens, setting them up to fail, especially those who are employed and working toward independence from the criminal justice system. Jobs and affordable housing are crucial components in ensuring successful reentry--charging subsistence fees is antithetical to this goal. I urge my colleagues to support this bill. ____________________

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