Author Archives: CCRC Staff

First fair chance licensing reforms of 2024

Expanding employment opportunities in licensed occupations has been a priority for criminal record reformers in the past half dozen years. Happily, fair chance licensing reforms also appear less politically controversial than some others, with Midwestern states like Iowa and Indiana among the most progressive in the Nation in their treatment of justice-impacted license applicants and licensees.

In the first three months of 2024, two more Midwestern states (South Dakota and Nebraska) enacted comprehensive changes to their licensing laws, while a third state (Pennsylvania) was poised to close a major loophole in its licensing scheme. These reforms continue a nationwide trend that since 2017 has seen 43 states and the District of Columbia enact 79 separate laws* to limit state power to deny opportunity to qualified individuals based on their criminal history. Significant legislation is under serious consideration in half a dozen additional states, so we expect this year to produce another bumper crop of fair chance licensing laws.

The new laws are described briefly below, and additional details can be found in the relevant state profile from the Restoration of Rights Project. Read more

Making the research case for hiring people with a conviction record

To persuade employers and policymakers to make fact-based decisions on hiring people who have been involved with the criminal justice system, they need the research facts presented in an accessible way. A new, short, sharable publication from Dr. Shawn Bushway at RAND explodes many of the myths about people with a conviction record that keep them from getting hired. Using plain language for hiring managers, it lays out the deep body of research that can help them make better decisions.

The research brief “Resetting the Record: The Facts on Hiring People With Criminal Histories” is designed to help overcome fear-based skepticism about hiring people with records. It includes citations to the underlying research for advocates who want to learn more.

“Advancing Second Chances: Clean Slate and Other Record Reforms in 2023”

At the beginning of each year since 2016, CCRC has issued a report on legislative enactments in the year just ended, describing and evaluating new laws aimed at reducing the barriers faced by people with a criminal record in the workplace, at the ballot box, and in many other areas of daily life. This year’s report, “Advancing Second Chances: Clean Slate and Other Record Reforms in 2023,” is now available.

Our annual legislative reports have documented the steady progress of what we characterized three years ago as “a full-fledged law reform movement” aimed at restoring rights and dignity to individuals who have successfully navigated the criminal law system. Between 2018 and 2022, more than 500 new record reforms were enacted by all but two states.  

Last year we reported that the legislative momentum had slowed somewhat, and this year it has slowed still further.  Only a handful of states enacted significant new record reforms in 2023, most in the form of new record-clearing schemes. We attribute this slowdown in part to how much has been accomplished in legislatures across the country in the past seven years. For example, more than half the states now allow people with a felony conviction to vote unless they are actually incarcerated, a number that has doubled since 2016.  In addition, most states have also taken steps to limit public access to some criminal records, and to ensure that employers and licensing agencies do not discriminate against people with a criminal history. Many have extended diversionary dispositions well beyond the class of first offenders who were uniquely eligible for non-conviction relief a decade ago. 

In 2023, 20 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government enacted 36 separate pieces of legislation and took executive action to restore rights and opportunities to people with an arrest or conviction history.

As in past years, more than half of the new laws in 2023 involved individual record clearing. Because of the significant progress on this front in recent years, many of the laws enacted in 2022 represent measured changes to existing record relief schemes rather than radical new reforms. Nonetheless, three states enacted major new automatic “clean slate” record schemes while others expanded eligibility for petition-based sealing. A handful of states continued to remove marijuana convictions from public view, and still other states trimmed barriers to relief by automating the application process, reducing waiting periods, or eliminating obstacles represented by outstanding court debt (fines and fees).

In addition, many of the new laws limited consideration of criminal records in economic settings, regulating employment and occupational licensing, or removing barriers to restoring a driver’s license.  The U.S. Small Business Administration took important steps toward eliminating restrictions in federally guaranteed loans.

Our sixth annual legislative report card (Reintegration Awards for 2023, reprinted below) recognizes the most productive legislatures in 2023, and notes that there are now only two states that have enacted no record reforms since our reporting began in 2016. As in the past, the state legislatures that have enacted the most significant reforms span the political spectrum, from Minnesota and New York to Louisiana and South Carolina.

Detailed analysis of most of these new laws is available in the state profiles from CCRC’s Restoration of Rights Project, with a national overview in our 50-state comparison charts on various types of record relief.

Reintegration Awards for 2023

While half a dozen states enacted noteworthy laws in 2023, one state stands out for the quantity and quality of its legislation: Minnesota is our 2023 Reintegration Champion for its passage of three major pieces of record reform legislation, and several other less significant yet still noteworthy laws.

  • Minnesota – Enacted four separate laws, one of which was an omnibus criminal justice bill that accomplished several entirely independent major record reforms. The omnibus bill enacted a significant expansion of the state’s statutory expungement scheme and made most of it automatic. It also accomplished a complete overhaul of the state’s pardon process to facilitate more grants. As part of a bill that legalized marijuana, it authorized automatic expungement of misdemeanor convictions and created a new board to review nonviolent felony convictions for potential expungement. If more were necessary, it limited felony disenfranchisement to a period of actual incarceration, capped sentences for gross misdemeanors to avoid immigration consequences, extended ban-the-box to multimember agencies, and further eased the drug felony ban on SNAP and TANF benefits.

Another six states and the District of Columbia earned an Honorable Mention for their enactment of at least one significant new record reform:

  • District of Columbia: DC replaced one of the most complex and restrictive record-clearing schemes in the country with an expansive one that makes all but the most serious felonies eligible for relief, and includes some automatic relief. Its major shortcoming is that it is presently not scheduled to take effect for several more years.
  • Maryland: Cut in half what were among the longest waiting periods in the country for record-clearing, from 10 years after completion of sentence to five years for misdemeanors and from 15 years to 7 years for felonies. Maryland also provided that any unpaid court fees or costs will not bar expungement, and made expungement of non-conviction records automatic.
  • New York: The Clean Slate Act substantially expanded sealing eligibility from a rather stingy maximum of two convictions (only one of which could be a felony) to all misdemeanors and all but the most serious felonies, without numerical limits, making New York’s automatic record-clearing law the broadest in the Nation by far. It also reduced some waiting periods.
  • New Mexico – Limited felony disenfranchisement to actual incarceration and encouraged registration during reentry; limited suspension of driver’s license due to unpaid court debt and allowed discharge of court debt through community service; and, extended automatic expungement of marijuana convictions to juvenile adjudications.
  • Ohio – Extended eligibility for sealing to additional categories of felonies, shortened waiting periods, authorized prosecutor-initiated sealing, and created a new authority for expungement after an additional waiting period. The law also authorized courts to seal the record of pardoned cases on the same basis as non-conviction records.
  • South Carolina – Significantly limited the discretion of the state’s licensing boards to deny licensure to people with criminal records. The law added new procedural protections for applicants with a record and prohibited boards from using arbitrary character determinations, non-conviction records, and convictions that do not “directly relate” to the license at hand, as a basis to disqualify applicants.

Low marks go once again to two of the states that enacted no record reform laws at all in 2023. While there are many other states in this category this year, the legislatures of Alaska and Wisconsin have earned their place at the bottom of the heap for having been equally unproductive since 2018, a period in which almost every other state passed at least some law limiting access to and use of criminal records.  Wisconsin’s one saving grace is the extraordinary record of pardoning by its governor:  Barely into his second term,Tony Evers has pardoned more than 1100 individuals, 833 in the last two years alone.

Looking ahead

Looking ahead to 2024, we are cautiously optimistic that even in a presidential election year there will be a continuing expansion of eligibility for record clearing, and reduction of access barriers like lengthy waiting periods, outstanding court debt and application-related costs. We also predict efforts to improve records management to accommodate automation of record clearance. We look for further facilitation of occupational licensing, an area where bipartisan reforms have benefitted from helpful model laws, and for efforts to support entrepreneurship by people with a criminal history. We have come a long way just in the past five years, but there is still a long way to go.

Round-up of 2023 record-clearing laws

In a year that saw fewer criminal record reforms enacted than in the recent past, six states plus the District of Columbia took significant steps to expand their sealing and expungement laws.

Minnesota, New York, and the District of Columbia enacted the most ambitious record-clearing schemes, expanding eligibility for relief while also making some relief automatic for the first time. Louisiana continued to resist a full “clean slate” approach, but established an automated application system that should make it easier for individuals to seek expungement once the legislature reduces the sky-high statutory application fee. Like Louisiana, Maryland significantly improved its record relief system even without changing eligibility criteria, including by cutting waiting periods in half. Ohio and Pennsylvania expanded eligibility for petition-based sealing and reduced waiting periods, with Pennsylvania also extending automatic relief to some drug felonies.

These seven reforms are described in greater detail below, in approximate order of importance.  Further analysis of each state’s new law can be found in the relevant state profile from the Restoration of Rights Project.  All in all, considering the relatively few record reforms in other categories enacted in 2023, they make for a surprisingly productive year for record clearing.

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Accessing SNAP and TANF Benefits after a Drug Conviction: A Survey of State Laws

We are pleased to present a new report, “Accessing SNAP and TANF Benefits after a Drug Conviction: A Survey of State Laws.” This report offers a comprehensive and up-to-date picture of the differing ways states have responded to the 1996 federal ban on access to SNAP and TANF benefits for those with a felony drug conviction, either by opting out of the ban or by modifying it, and includes illustrative maps and relevant sections of statutory text to facilitate analysis and comparison.


The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) imposed a lifetime ban on federal food assistance benefits (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for anyone with a drug felony conviction obtained after passage of the Act.1 PRWORA allowed states to opt out of the ban or to modify it, and over the years all but one state has opted out of the ban or modified it for at least one of the two benefit programs. That said, fully half the states remain committed in some fashion to this outdated artifact of the War on Drugs.

Over the years there have been numerous reports critical of the policy underpinnings of the categorical ban on public welfare benefits imposed by PRWORA, and researchers have generally concluded that the ban is counterproductive even in modified form, including in criminal justice terms.2 Indeed, a recent empirical study of modified versions of the SNAP/TANF bans concluded that by “introducing greater state scrutiny of recipients’ conformity to state-sanctioned behavioral norms,” modified bans are “not inherently less punitive” than full bans.3

We do not intend to dwell on the policy arguments against the PRWORA ban in this report. Rather, our purpose here is the more modest one of providing a detailed description of state laws that currently modify participation in the SNAP/TANF bans, for use by policymakers and advocates seeking further reforms.

Surprisingly, this has not been done in the more than 25 years since PRWORA’s enactment. Two recent private sector studies have identified the extent of state participation in one or both of the PRWORA bans, but their conclusions are not consistent with one another or, in all cases, with our own research.4 Notably, neither of these studies documents the specific features of modified bans, which can vary widely from state to state in scope and effect.

Significantly, no previous report on the SNAP/TANF bans has included statutory text that would permit analysis of the ways various states have modified them, and comparisons between and among states. Our report attempts to remedy this shortcoming.

We illustrate the national landscape of participation in the SNAP/TANF bans through a set of maps: one map shows the national landscape of participation in the PRWORA ban for all 50 states, and two additional maps show how states have modified the ban for each of the two benefit programs. A 30-page Appendix includes the text and an analysis of each state’s relevant law(s), providing additional detail about how access to benefits may be controlled differently even within the same general category of modification.

We hope that advocates in states that have not yet fully opted out of both the PRWORA bans will find this unique collection of research tools helpful as they work to complete this important law reform project. 

Preparation of “Access to SNAP and TANF Benefits after a Drug Conviction: A Survey of State Laws” was made possible by a generous grant from Arnold Ventures.

Citation: Margaret Love & Nick Sibilla, Access to SNAP and TANF Benefits after a Drug Conviction: A Survey of State Laws, Collateral Consequences Res. Ctr. (December 2023)

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Comments on SBA proposal to eliminate criminal history loan restrictions

On November 14, CCRC filed comments on the SBA’s proposal to roll back criminal history restrictions in its federally guaranteed business and disaster loan programs. (The SBA’s proposal is described in our post on September 15.)  We were joined with the Washington Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, and with more than sixty other organizations concerned with fair chance lending for justice-impacted entrepreneurs. A preliminary summary of comments posted is at the end of this post, and a fuller summary will be published next week.

Our comments are generally supportive of the SBA’s proposal. Their salient points are these:

  • The SBA has concluded, based on existing empirical research, that there is no defensible justification for continuing to inquire into a loan applicant’s criminal history. Specifically, there is “no evidence of a negative impact on repayment for qualified individuals with criminal history records in any American business loan program.” Accordingly, the existing regulations “reflect an outdated, inaccurate structural bias against individuals with criminal history records.” The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has reached a similar conclusion. 
  • The proposed changes in the rules will be particularly beneficial for communities of color that have been adversely affected by the current rules because of systemic racism embedded in the criminal law system. A history of discrimination against Black and Hispanic business owners demonstrates the importance of ensuring that there are not unnecessary restrictions barring justice-impacted individuals from accessing capital and ultimately building wealth for themselves and their communities.
  • Reducing barriers to successful entrepreneurship is aligned with the SBA’s mission of strengthening the economy. As the SBA noted, “entrepreneurship provid[es] an important and distinct avenue for economic stability” for justice-impacted individuals given the “persistent stigma from employers who may decline to hire people with criminal history records.”
  • The SBA has proposed not only to revise its formal rules, but also to omit from application forms inquiries about business owners’ criminal history.  Last spring, it revised its Standard Operating Procedures to discontinue the requirement that applicants reporting a prior felony conviction submit to an FBI background check and undergo a “character determination” by the SBA. Statistics cited by the SBA in its proposed rule appear to show that the unexpected prospect of referral to the FBI for investigation may have discouraged many justice-impacted business owners from completing the application process.  

While generally commending the SBA’s proposal, we also urge the agency to reconsider its decision to continue categorical ineligibility for a business if any one of several owners is incarcerated, even if other owners are fully able to managing the business successfully:  

We understand that this remaining criminal history restriction is based on an assumption that a confined person will likely “lack the ability to manage and execute day-to-day business operations,” and therefore be unable to satisfy the statutory requirement that SBA-guaranteed loans be “of such sound value or so secured as reasonably to assure repayment.” While this assumption may have some validity in the case of sole proprietors who are incarcerated, the collateral consequence that the SBA proposes to retain applies to any 20% owner of a business. Thus, a business owned and operated by several individuals could be disqualified based on one owner’s imprisonment, even if the other owners were fully able “to manage and execute day-to-day business operations.” 

For example, we can imagine a situation where a family-owned business could be effectively managed by four family members who were not incarcerated, even if the fifth family member owner was.  Accordingly, we question whether it makes sense, in terms of the statutory concern for “sound value,” to retain this consequence as a categorical basis for ineligibility. To disqualify an entire business because of the circumstances of one of its several owners appears unnecessary and punitive.

We propose that the SBA consider loosening the categorical exclusion to allow case-by-case decisions when some owners of the business who are not in prison are fully capable of managing the business and securing the value of the loan, even though one owner may be serving a prison sentence. If the disqualifying circumstances of one owner can disqualify the entire business without regard to practicalities, this consequence appears rooted in unwarranted assumptions about an individual’s “just deserts” as opposed a concern for the “sound value” of the loan.

Finally, while we recognize that the proposed rules revisions are a significant change, we urge the government to go further and to encourage private lenders to follow suit. We believe that the SBA’s regulations can set the standard for private lenders, noting that “some financial institutions look to SBA’s rules in forming their own internal policies on lending to business applicants with criminal histories.” Accordingly, we urge the SBA to do more to explicitly and directly encourage intermediary lenders not to discriminate against those with criminal records. The commentary to the proposed regulation states that the SBA does not intend to affect a lender’s ability to conduct criminal history background checks according to their own policies, as long as a policy complies with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and other applicable laws. However, we think that the SBA would do better to encourage lenders to revisit their own practices regarding the use of criminal history in light of SBA’s finding that “there is no evidence of a negative impact on repayment for qualified individuals with criminal history records in any American business loan program.” That is, we believe that the SBA should encourage lending institutions to limit disqualification based on criminal history to cases where an applicant is unable to provide assurances of sound value because they are incarcerated.

Preliminary summary of comments posted:

Almost all of the 18 published comments – including seven that were not signed – supported the SBA’s effort to open access to federally guaranteed loans to entrepreneurs with a criminal history.

One commenter joined our recommendation that incarceration of an owner – including one of several owners – should not be grounds for automatic disqualification.

Several commenters, noting the SBA’s specific recognition that lending institutions could continue to apply their own record-based disqualification standards in deciding who would qualify for a federally guaranteed loan, urged the SBA to provide additional guidance and standards to ensure its new policy posture would influence if not prevail in the marketplace.

For example, a comment filed by the Small Business Majority, which CCRC joined, specifically urged the SBA for additional clarity on the impact of lifting these restrictions as they flow down to lending institutions, in the hope that “the proposed rule will create a domino-effect among banks and other lending institutions to reevaluate their underwriting standards to reflect our 21st century economy:”

Since the banking system has historically discriminated against marginalized communities, we encourage the SBA to work with and uplift institutions that are willing to reassess their underwriting standards (or already have) to mirror the changes in this proposed rule. This would enhance the impact of this rule on the small business ecosystem.  

We expect to publish a summary of the comments received shortly after Thanksgiving, and hope to organize a conference in the spring to discuss how lending institutions can implement the SBA’s new policy on considering an owner’s criminal history.

Minnesota enacts four major record reforms in 2023

Thanks to a series of criminal-justice reforms enacted earlier this year, Minnesota has burnished its reputation as a national leader in reintegration and criminal record reform.  In a year in which there have been far fewer criminal record reforms than in the recent past, Minnesota’s performance stands out for the variety and breadth of relief granted, in many cases automatically. Here are the four major new laws:

  • Expungement was made automatic for both non-convictions and a range of conviction records, effective January 1, 2025
  • The pardon process was entirely overhauled to make this relief more available, and expungement for pardoned convictions was made automatic
  • Felony disenfranchisement was limited to periods of actual incarceration
  • A law legalizing adult possession of cannabis made expungement automatic for a broad range of cannabis convictions.

These four major new authorities are described below. We expect that the Minnesota legislature’s exemplary performance in enacting these important new provisions will be in for further recognition in our annual round-up of new record reforms.

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SBA takes one step toward fair chance lending, but needs to take another

The U.S. Small Bujsiness Administration has taken several recent steps that promise to make federally guaranteed loans available to business owners with a criminal history. This is an important policy issue we’ve been following for several years, and it appears there may at last be a breakthrough. How big a breakthrough remains to be seen.

Following up on its omission of “character” and “reputation” as criteria for 7(a) loans, discussed in this post, the U.S. Small Business Administration issued new Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for its 7(a) small business loan program. Effective August 1, 2023, the new SOP omits all mention of “good character” as a requirement for loan qualification. This means that applicants with a criminal history who apply to a bank for a federally guaranteed loan will no longer be put through the SBA’s onerous “character determination” process. (Applicants on parole or probation, or in prison, remain ineligible to apply under 13 CFR 120.110(n).)

At the same time, the issue of prior criminal history appears to remain relevant in deciding whether to make a loan, since applicants for 7(a) loans (including Community Advantage loans) must still complete Form 912, which contains very broad questions asking about an applicant’s criminal history. Questions 7 and 8 on this form ask about pending charges and recent arrests, while Question 9 asks whether the applicant has engaged in any criminal conduct at any time in which there was a disposition:

 Q. 9:  For any criminal offense – other than a minor vehicle violation – have you ever: 1) been convicted; 2) pleaded guilty; 3) pleaded nolo contendere; 4) been placed on pretrial diversion; or 5) been placed on any form of parole or probation (including probation before judgment)?

Applicants responding affirmatively to any of these questions are instructed to “include dates, location, fines, sentences, misdemeanor or felony, dates of parole/probation, unpaid fines or penalties, name(s) under which charged, and any other pertinent information. . . .”

When asked to supply detailed information about such a broad range of criminal matters, no matter how minor or dated, loan applicants may reasonably assume that those matters will be considered – either by the SBA or by the bank that will actually be making the loan — and may be grounds for declination. The only difference now is that it isn’t clear HOW those matters will be considered or by whom, since the new SOP omits the “character determination” process in earlier editions of the SOP.  And those in need of business capital will likely still be deterred from applying.

We think it fair to assume that, despite the SBA’s amendment of the regulation to omit “character” as a loan criterion, and its amendment of the SOP to omit the “character determination” process, any “criminal offense” reported by an applicant (including misdemeanor convictions and diversions, and unpaid fines or financial penalties) may still be considered in deciding whether to make a loan. Even if the SBA itself doesn’t intend to consider an applicant’s criminal history, the agency continues to helpfully collect the information so that the lending bank can consider it.

As we noted in a post last spring, “the good news is that it appears the SBA will no longer bar banks from making loans to otherwise qualified applicants based on their criminal history. The less good news is that the agency seems to expect banks and other lending institutions to step into the void and apply their own restrictions on loans based on an applicant’s criminal history.” Indeed, one can imagine that a bank that otherwise does NOT feel it necessary to inquire into or consider an applicant’s criminal record in its other lending practices, will now feel some obligation to do so because 1) it no longer has the SBA to act as a screen, and 2) the SBA may expect it to use the information it has collected.

In short, we are not at all sure how much progress has been made by removing the loan criterion “character” from the regulations, and the character determination process from the SOP, as long as the broad inquiries about criminal history remain as part of the application process.

What we really need, therefore, is for the SBA to take another step to limit the criminal matters that will serve as the basis for declining a loan, by simply not asking about them.  We believe this next step is most likely the “proposed rule” that is the subject of a letter sent to the SBA Administrator on May 16 by the chairs and ranking members of the small business committees in the House and Senate, asking for a “pause” in issuing the rule. Of course, we are interested in knowing whether the new proposed rule does in fact place limits on inquiry about criminal matters and, if it does, what the reasons are for the requested pause.

We are also interested in knowing whether the SBA will simply pass the buck to the lending banks who either already have or who will soon develop their own policies on criminal background checks if the SBA will no longer serve as a screen.

The same issues about criminal record restrictions are raised by the 8(a) program administered by the SBA, which unlike 7(a) includes rules on a broad range of criminal matters, but which like 7(a) uses Form 912.  We expect we will have a chance to discuss these restrictions before long in the context of the 8(a) program.

CCRC seeking a Deputy Director

The Collateral Consequences Resource Center is seeking an enterprising and committed individual with strong technical skills to serve as its Deputy Director. The incumbent will work with the Executive Director in all aspects of CCRC’s program, and will have primary responsibility for maintaining the Restoration of Rights Project (RRP), including its various derivative reports for which CCRC is best known. The RRP is a unique national inventory of laws and practices relating to restoration of rights and criminal record relief in each U.S. jurisdiction, which attracts thousands of visits to the CCRC website each day. Keeping the RRP current in real time requires strong research skills, patience and attention to detail in analyzing complex statutes, and a passion for issues relating to restoration of rights after arrest or conviction.

In producing the annual reports on new legislation and issue-specific analyses of current trends, the Deputy Director will have an incomparable opportunity to guide the development of public policy in this important emerging area of the law.  The incumbent will participate in other aspects of CCRC’s work, including the development of policy on federal programs that support entrepreneurs with a criminal history, and will have opportunities to publish scholarly articles and participate in academic conferences.

CCRC was established in 2014 to promote public engagement on the myriad issues raised by the collateral consequences of arrest or conviction.  It provides technical assistance to advocates and lawmakers in support of state reform efforts, participates in court cases challenging specific collateral consequences, and collaborates with other organizations in reporting on such issues as court debt as a barrier to record clearing and exclusion of convicted individuals from jury service. In addition to maintaining the Restoration of Rights Project, CCRC provides technical assistance to advocates and lawmakers in support of state reform efforts, participates in court cases challenging specific collateral consequences, and collaborates with other organizations in reporting on such issues as court debt as a barrier to record clearing. Most recently, through its Fair Chance Lending Project, CCRC has advocated for the elimination of criminal record restrictions in federally guaranteed small business loans and federal contract set-aside programs.

A fuller description of CCRC’s work and of the Deputy Director position is here.

The CCRC Deputy Director is a full-time remote position and may be particularly attractive to individuals seeking a flexible work schedule.  Compensation is negotiable depending on experience. An early start date is desirable, and a limited-term tenure may be possible.

TO APPLY:  Submit the following materials to

  • Cover letter
  • Resume
  • Writing sample
  • List of three references

Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until the position is filled.

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