T. Eloise Foster, Maryland State Secretary of Budget
Networks Spring into Action
With these welcome opportunities come new challenges: to ensure that states accurately translate policy into action, that remedies reach vulnerable children and families, and that policy gains are not eroded during the legislative and budget processes.
While we are celebrating policy wins that our network has been influential in achieving and that came about because of changing circumstances, we must pay attention to these issues of translation, reach, and erosion," says Ralph Smith. "Much of federal policy devolves to the state, where the basic implementation and operational decisions are made. You have to watch for the chasm between the statute's intention and states' implementation. Without significant attention and resources, disinvested neighborhoods that may be intended beneficiaries of policies may never hear about them or benefit."
In meeting these challenges, it helps that Casey has long prepared by building capacity, leadership, and cooperation in Making Connections communities like Providence. As a result, many communities "have been able to mobilize quickly… so people can seize these opportunities," says Frank Farrow, former director of Casey's community change initiatives and now director of the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP). "It’s one of the most important legacies of Making Connections."
As part of an intensive effort to respond to ARRA and other new initiatives through more targeted technical assistance, CSSP has aided efforts to ensure that decisions about funding, in Providence and elsewhere, reflect Casey's two-generation framework. Working through CSSP, Casey has also extended support to help Making Connections and Casey's Civic Sites capitalize on the stimulus and other state funds, in light of a worsening recession and state budget crises.
Vital information and technical assistance have also reached Casey places and grantees swiftly thanks to Casey’s partnerships with policy advocacy groups scrutinizing new federal policies in search of fresh opportunities to aid disadvantaged children and families. These groups are getting the word out about those opportunities via Casey-supported networks such as KIDS COUNT grantee organizations in every state and the State Fiscal Analysis Initiative (SFAI), which includes nonprofits in 31 states that focus on low- and moderate-income families' needs.
"We've spent a dozen years building infrastructure at the state and federal levels, building an interrelated network of advocacy organizations and think tanks. Now we can take advantage of that," says Michael C. Laracy, Casey’s public policy coordinator.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has disseminated data and information to guide states. It has developed numerous reports, organized dozens of conference calls and webinars, and responded to inquiries from advocates, the press, and state policymakers and administrators.
"We're doing work that is more valuable now than ever before," says Nicholas Johnson, director of the center’s State Fiscal Project. "It really validates this whole notion that analytic capacity is needed to work on budget and tax issues as they relate to low-income families."
In Virginia, the Commonwealth Institute, Casey’s SFAI grantee, used information from CBPP to push for additional unemployment insurance money from the stimulus package, heightening public awareness and winning the governor’s support. Although this push was defeated by the legislature, the institute will likely pursue it again.
"The center was hugely helpful, explaining, interpreting, and analyzing what was happening with the stimulus, preenactment and post-enactment," says Michael Cassidy, the institute’s executive director. "They pushed out long in-depth emails, publishing reports, hosting conference calls and a webinar. We needed it very much because the stimulus was the fiscal issue in the state capitol."
Casey is encouraging communities not to focus entirely on quickly producing "shovel-ready jobs," which aren’t often designed for the lowest-skilled workers, notes Farrow. "Let's do something short term that gets the dollars out and hopefully some of our neighborhoods and residents can benefit. But longer term, people should be thinking 'How do we build opportunities for very low-income residents?'"
The Casey network is helping communities seize this opportunity. The National Fund for Workforce Solutions prepared a memo advocating for the U.S. Department of Labor to use ARRA and Workforce Investment Act funds and competitive grants to take advantage of existing workforce partnerships and focus on low-income populations and less-skilled workers.
The Working Poor Families Project issued principles to guide states in using ARRA funds, calling for such steps as creating jobs that pay a family-supporting wage and provide health insurance and other benefits, and investing in infrastructure projects that residents in distressed communities can work on.