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Philadelphia Tax Break for Hiring Ex-Prisoners a Bust

Giving employers a $10,000 tax break to hire ex-offenders was a good idea. At least until the Philadelphia City Council ruined it.

While running for mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter proposed a new way to cut crime: Help ex-cons get jobs by offering a $10,000 tax credit to employers that hire former prisoners. The city council liked the idea so much that it adopted the $5 million program before Nutter even took office. During its first year, however, no company has taken advantage of the tax credit because the city attached too many strings to the program.

For example, companies must agree to be named publicly to qualify for the tax break. Most businesses are already skittish about hiring ex-felons, and having to publicly declare that they hire former prisoners was too much for many employers. “They want to participate, but they don’t want to be named,” said Everett Gillison, the city’s Deputy Mayor for Public Safety.

Another problem was a requirement that companies pay $2,000 worth of tuition support for new ex-prisoner employees. Businesses further have to pay their new hires at least 150% of minimum wage, or about $10 an hour, which in some cases was more than they were paying existing employees. Companies also must agree to stay in Philadelphia for at least five years, and all new hires are required to fork over 5% of their wages to the city.

With all of the strings attached to the tax credit program, it is not surprising that no employers wanted to participate. If the city removed the unattractive requirements, the tax credit has great potential for doing what it was intended to do – help ex-prisoners find jobs, which in turn will reduce the recidivism rate.

“I am not disappointed in what has happened so far because now there is some interest [in helping ex-offenders] ... which is more than there was in the past,” stated city councilman W. Wilson Goode, Jr. Still, while there may be interest, there have not been any results. That may change next year, as two unidentified companies have indicated they plan to apply for the tax credit in 2010.

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer

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