Warner, Kaine urge President Obama to Ban the Box on federal job applications

congressU.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine joined 24 of their Senate colleagues Friday in urging President Obama to expand job opportunities and reduce recidivism by taking executive action and requiring federal contractors and federal agencies to “ban the box” on job applications.

“Our nation’s legal and moral underpinnings provide that anyone who makes a mistake and learns from it deserves a second chance. Those who have accepted the consequences of their actions and who have paid the price for their past transgressions should have the opportunity to reenter the workplace,” wrote the senators in today’s letter to President Obama. “Yet, too often, the over 70 million Americans who have criminal histories face unreasonable barriers that prevent them from securing gainful employment. These barriers have prevented millions from becoming productive members of society and serve as one of the leading causes of recidivism.”

Last month, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order reforming state hiring practices by removing questions regarding criminal history from employment applications.

Reforming hiring practices has widespread support from both public and private institutions. Sixteen states, including Virginia, and more than 100 cities and counties – including the cities of Alexandria, Charlottesville, Dansville, Fredericksburg, Newport News, Norfolk, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Richmond, Roanoke and Virginia Beach as well as Arlington and Fairfax counties – have already begun to implement fair chance hiring practices that prevent job applicants from being asked about prior convictions until later in the hiring process. Many of the nation’s largest employers, including Walmart; Target; Bed, Bath & Beyond; Koch Industries; and Home Depot, have also opted to “ban the box.”

“Ban the Box” refers to the section on job application forms that inquires whether the applicant has ever been convicted. For the more than 70 million Americans who have served their time and are trying to rebuild their lives, this barrier to employment so early in the hiring process can serve as categorical disqualification, and limits their ability to provide for themselves and their families. Studies have shown that an inability to find employment is one of the leading causes of reoffending.

Under “ban the box,” employers would retain the ability to inquire about past convictions or conduct background checks regarding a potential employee before making an employment decision.

“We urge you to use your power as our nation’s Chief Executive to require that federal contractors incorporate ‘fair chance’ hiring practices and that federal agencies take additional steps to create a more fair and transparent hiring process,” the senators wrote to President Obama. “Specifically, we ask you to require federal contractors and agencies to refrain from asking job applicants about prior convictions until later in the hiring process. This policy would eliminate unnecessary barriers to employment for all job seekers and would give individuals re-entering the workforce the opportunity to apply for work based on their current merits rather than past wrong-doings.”

In addition to Sens. Warner and Kaine, today’s  letter was also signed by: U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Chris Coons (D-DE), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Al Franken (D-MN), Ed Markey (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OH), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Tom Udall (D-NM), Tom Carper (D-DE), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Bernie Sanders (D-VT).

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