Initiative : Minitrusts

Small revolving individual funds from $100 to $10,000 for individuals struggling to manage their finances

Background

Because Access2online is in the business of transitioning working prison inmates into working parolees, we're aware of the obstacles faced by parolees new to the outside. Dropped off at a bus stop with a small collection of social support programs covering only basic needs, this can be a prescription for failure, an invitation to returning to crime and contributing to an unacceptable nationwide recidivism rate of over 50%.

We do recognize the charities and governmental agencies providing stop gap assistance such as food and shelter to parolees, but we're interested in the next level, the ability of a parolee to become an employed, contributing member of their community. For this, they will need a secure apartment, car, computer, and such as we own and take for granted, that is, they'll need a release fund.

However, an inmate released without financial management experience should not be handed a few thousand dollars upon release. That is asking for trouble.

As a business employing inmates and parolees, state and federal laws prohibit us from gifting money to inmates. Getting involved in the personal finances of parolees, beyond paying them for the work they do for us, would run afoul of other laws. This had us looking for team mates to become the trustee of such release funds.

How It Will Work

The Social Security Administration's Representative Payee Program is a good starting point example. When mom gets too old to manage her money, her child can establish a Representative Payee checking account with any bank into which the Social Security Administration deposits her monthly checks. This trustee child can spend such deposits only in restricted ways, such as food and rent for mom.

In addition to whatever Access2online pays for inmate labor, Access2online plans to contribute $500 per year that an inmate works for Access2online into what we are calling a "minitrust" fund upon the inmate's parole capped at $3,000. We see inmate friends and family doing so as well, all because this is preferable to handing all that money to a brand new parolee and hoping for the best. We see even crowd-funding options for such a minitrust fund.

Our expansion to other parolees and indeed the homeless in general is part of the plan. Our first step will be to have the structure in place for the Access2online parolees, but since some of them are far from release, to expand it quickly to the other parolees within the county of the trustee. If the proof-of-concept holds, we hope to make this a nationwide program.

We have retained an attorney to produce the reusable minitrust instructions (aka stipulations) that even a junior trustee will find clear and simple enough to apply. They will contain the same restrictive terms that all beneficiaries must accept, including policies and procedures developed to economize the trustee's time to administer these minitrusts. That attorney needs a layman's draft of those instructions which we are putting together here with collaborative input from professionals with experience in this field such as the Oregon Association of Community Corrections Directors and the American Probation and Parole Association. With a successful proof-of-concept concluded, such Parole Officers may find they can add minitrusts to their case planning resources.

Minitrust beneficiaries are required to provide complete information regarding each funding request, typically via an online form, which may be completed by the payment recipient. The trustee will make a determination as to the likelihood of a payment being appropriate to the beneficiary's successful return to lawful society as a contributing member. The following conditions apply:
  1. The amount requested must be equal to or less than the net trust funds available after the trustee fees and direct costs have been removed.

  2. The payment is not to be made directly to the parolee. The parolee may carry a check to the beneficiary, but preferable is a payment mailed or made online directly to the beneficiary.

  3. If a request is for
    1. child care,
    2. food,
    3. clothing,
    4. housing,
    5. medical care,
    6. work related tools or resources, including for self employment,
    7. documentation support such as getting a drivers license, birth certificate, Social Security card, etc,
    8. credit repair services
    9. treatment (substance abuse, anger management, etc),
    then the trustee will request confirmation from the beneficiary's Parole Officer that the expense is allowable under the beneficiary's case plan, and a similar option is not available through alternate resources such as public assistance. Housing that supports teleworking, for example, is not similar to group housing where computer resources are unavailable or the group includes many who are unemployed and prone to manipulate or exploite.

  4. If a request is for transportation such as a car purchase, monthly bus pass, car insurance, or Uber account refill, trustee will confirm its need to travel to employment, medical care, or treatment.

  5. If a request is for education (academic or vocational), the trustee will discuss the requirements for completion with the beneficiary's school counselor and be satisfied that such completion is likely, effective for career development, and the least expensive way to achieve the desired results.

We expect the above draft to increase and be refined via feedback. Once our lawyer produces a valid set of trustee instructions, we will provide that to Sponsors Inc. to assign to a trustee there for implementation since Access2online cannot administer a minitrust as an active employer of the same parolees.

For an inmate, that means she can present a bill from a landlord, car dealer, psychiatrist, or school to the trustee for payment, but not loan requests from relatives or friends, recreational drug purchases, or even court-ordered restitution. To be clear, we support court orders, but such orders do not cover funds outside the control of a parolee. One of the instructions to our trustee is that no payments are to be made directly to the parolee.

For those suffering from mental disease or other impediments to managing their finances, they will have a simple card to present to potential beneficiaries along the lines of:
Attention!
This person, John Smith, has a trust account available to pay certain expenses related to his/her support. If you provide relevant products or services, please visit www.minitrusts.org to learn of this program. You will find forms there to contact us and to request payments. Please do not rely on assertions or information outside of what we present on our website.

Note that a trustee earns a 10% fee for managing such a release fund to cover costs and to avoid relying on volunteers over the long term. Whereas a traditional bank trust account can earn significant returns for its bank, it does this on large transactions on large accounts, with a correspondingly large risk. The proposed minitrust would involve small transactions on small accounts with small risk.

Key to its effective operations would be automation. From the online signup form, the use of identical minitrust instructions, this can turn into a well oiled financial engine that can earn over hundreds of small accounts what conventional bank trusts earn over one big account. Access2online will provide the online automation for this, the application forms and online management system, through our holding corporation Bizware Online Applications Inc..

Potentials

One doesn't need a leap of imagination to see that the minitrust accounts we envision apply to more than parolees. Any homeless person, which parolees easily become, could use the same approach. We have good reason not to give cash to a street person battling alcoholism or a mental disability. Better for them would be to know that at the other end of a phone call is a person willing to pay for something that would do them good.

Other prospective markets may include rudderless young adults unwilling to get a job and join the system where loving parents wish to be extricated from the emotionally charged support requests and put payment decisions into the hands of a trustee with clear instructions focused on improving the young adult's lifestyle.

Until minitrusts exist, their potential to be applied to different social support needs remains undeveloped.

The United States incarcerates 2.1 million Americans, far more than any other country in the world, with just under 1 million parolees, sadly a growth market. Counting the homeless is more difficult, but over half a million people were living on the streets, in cars, in homeless shelters, or in subsidized transitional housing during a one-night national survey in January of 2017.

Rather than delve into the obvious, suffice it to say that homelessness and parolee recidivism is a national problem and we all wish for an improvement.

The current plan is to set up and run an experiment, a restricted proof-of-concept under the oversight of professionals already working the problem with minitrusts an additional resource. Their feedback and lessons-learned will evolve a minitrust program optimized to provide the stepping stone between bare essentials to rejoining lawful society as a productive member.

All this could be the result of taking the initiative to launch a new idea, a minitrust that covers its costs and provides an important benefit to parolees and the homeless that only this minitrust can deliver.

We've tried so many things, and the streets are still crowded with
human suffering. Is it time to try something new?