By Jack Tomczuk

Two members of President Obama's cabinet went to a North Philadelphia community center Monday to publicize the administration's latest effort to help men and women who are getting out of prison get their lives together.

After meeting at the Raymond Rosen Manor public-housing project with people who have been convicted of crimes, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro announced a grant for agencies that help the recently incarcerated.

Lynch called helping those with criminal records reintegrate into society "the most important challenge in the criminal justice system today."

Too many obstacles, advocates and some government officials say, keep those with criminal records from reaching their goals.

"When they look for a job, they're X'ed out because of a criminal record," Castro said. "How do we expect to give them a second chance when we won't give them a second look?"

Lynch and Castro announced Monday that HUD and the Department of Justice will give a total of $1.75 million to public-housing authorities across the nation to be spent on people trying to rebuild their lives after getting out of prison.

Philadelphia and Camden were among the cities that received $100,000 each for their housing authorities. In Philadelphia, the money will be directed to the federally run Juvenile Reentry Assistance Program.

The Philadelphia Housing Authority is partnering with Community Legal Services, a nonprofit organization that provides free legal services to low-income people in the city, to help PHA residents ages 16 to 24 who are reentering society. A main goal of the program will be to expunge or seal criminal records.

"We are sending a message that should resonate across the country to individuals who have been incarcerated who want to have a better life," Lynch said.

"What's most important is that these individuals believe they can do it," Castro added.

Lynch called on the nation's governors, including Gov. Wolf, to make it easier for prisoners to obtain state identification cards when released.

The ID proposal would allow federal prisoners to exchange their Bureau of Prisons ID card for a state ID, or for the state government to accept Bureau of Prisons ID cards, which already include the holder's photograph, eye color, and address as a valid form of identification. Pennsylvania is one of 35 states that do not allow such exchanges, federal officials said.

"This would have a powerful impact," Lynch said.

(c)2016 The Philadelphia Inquirer