Kentucky has so many great things to offer its citizens, but in recent years, the employment rate isn’t one of them. Prior to the pandemic, our state’s unemployment rate was higher than the national average, sitting at 4.2 percent compared to the nation’s 3.6. Today, our state’s unemployment rate has jumped to 13 percent. In the Lincoln Trail region, the workforce participation rate, which measures the number of adults currently working or actively seeking employment, is 60.5% which trails the national average of 64.2%. Hardin Memorial Health (HMH) is dedicated to helping lower that number.
Of the many factors that prevent unemployed individuals from entering the workforce, a prior felony conviction is one of the most common. Too often, capable people are unable to secure employment due to past criminal convictions. To address this issue, HMH has partnered with the Removing Obstacles subcommittee, a part of the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board’s Workforce Crisis Task Force. Together, we are piloting a new Expungement Benefit Program to help both prior-convicted individuals and businesses.
Through the expungement program, employers can assist employees with the expungement process and associated costs to remove qualifying Class D felony convictions from their records. This program will empower our community by helping employers retain skilled, long-term employees while giving those willing and able to work a second chance.
The Work Institute’s 2019 Retention Report found that 88 percent more employees quit their jobs last year than they did in 2010. It’s become much more common for employees to jump from one career to the next, making it difficult for many employers to retain motivated workers. Within our region, countless employers are struggling to find people willing to work and stay committed to the job longer than a year. When we combine this information with data showing hired convicts are not fired at any greater rate than other individuals and have a 13 percent higher retention rate, we begin to see a positive path forward.
Through HMH’s expungement program, employees that stay committed to the job for a year while adhering to general standards, such as showing up to work on time and meeting deadlines, receive $1,000 upon their year anniversary. At its core, the program is similar to other benefits that companies offer to improve retention rates.
Last month, HMH had our first staff member complete the Expungement Benefit Program. Timi-Michelle Tolhurst is a married mother of two who graduated with a sociology degree from Western Kentucky University (WKU) in 2016 and lives on a farm with her husband of seven years. Timi made poor choices 10 years ago after choosing to date the wrong man, resulting in a Class D felony charge for possession. Timi received her associate’s degree from Elizabethtown Community and Technical College before going to WKU, all while caring for her family and working multiple low-wage jobs due to her record.
While her record could have legally been expunged after five years, every dollar had to go to rent and food for her family, making the expungement expenses impossible to fulfill. Timi began working for HMH three years ago, and as we worked with the Removing Obstacles subcommittee, she was an obvious choice for our pilot program. Last month, Timi finished the expungement program and had a background check come back clean for the first time in 10 years.
“For people like me who want to put that chapter of their lives behind them, support their families and give back to society, this program is essential,” said Timi. “It has allowed me not just a job, but a career in what I’m trained to do.”
Timi says she hopes her story can help other individuals in similar situations while helping employers realize one felony doesn’t always mean you are a bad person. Like Timi, many have made a poor choice, overcome challenges and are now capable of providing a lot of value to the workforce.
The program may look different for each employer, but the Expungement Benefits Program model has proven to be beneficial for both Timi and HMH. We have retained a very competent employee who is immersed in our culture and mission. We are proud that Timi is finally able to have her record reflect the person she is today. I am also extremely proud that HMH is an early adopter of this program. It is our hope that our positive experience will open up many doors for future HMH employees, and for others across the region by giving a second chance to individuals who are eager to be in the workforce.
For further information on the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board’s Expungement Benefit Program, including an Expungement Program How-To Guide for businesses, please visit ltcareercenter.org/expungement.
Myra Covault is Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Hardin Memorial Health and a member of the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board. She can be reached at email@example.com.