Fellows Collaborate to Strengthen Family Financial Stability in Minnesota

Posted February 17, 2021
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Young people attend a meeting

Photo provided by the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota

A pub­lic offi­cial, a com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice provider and a child advo­cate — all mem­bers of the 20192021 class of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Chil­dren and Fam­i­ly Fel­low­ship® — have been work­ing togeth­er to strength­en the finan­cial sta­bil­i­ty of fam­i­lies and youth in Min­neso­ta, par­tic­u­lar­ly peo­ple of col­or, who dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly expe­ri­ence pover­ty in the state.

Muneer Karcher-Ramos, direc­tor of the City of St. Paul’s Office of Finan­cial Empow­er­ment; Kris­tine Sny­der, direc­tor of Learn and Earn to Achieve Poten­tial (LEAP)™ at Project for Pride in Liv­ing in Min­neapo­lis; and Bhar­ti Wahi, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Children’s Defense Fund-Min­neso­ta (CDF-MN), approach child and fam­i­ly pover­ty from dif­fer­ent van­tage points and with dif­fer­ent strate­gies. Yet they have in com­mon a deep immer­sion in Casey’s Results Count® lead­er­ship frame­work and the shared expe­ri­ence of apply­ing its skills and tools to improve outcomes.

The Fel­low­ship has allowed us to think about our indi­vid­ual work and how we can work with each oth­er, pro­vide peer sup­port to each oth­er and get feed­back in real life and in a real con­text,” says Wahi, And that has been exciting.”

The COVID-19 Recession

The eco­nom­ic hard­ships of the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic and the dev­as­tat­ing effects on young peo­ple of col­or mak­ing low wages was the defin­ing con­text for the three Fel­lows’ col­lab­o­ra­tion. At the begin­ning of the pan­dem­ic, Sny­der and Wahi worked togeth­er to secure unem­ploy­ment insur­ance for young peo­ple still com­plet­ing their high school edu­ca­tion who had lost their jobs. In Min­neso­ta, young peo­ple can remain in high school until age 21, but stu­dents are not eli­gi­ble for unem­ploy­ment insur­ance. The quick fix,” says Sny­der, is to drop out of school.”

What she ini­tial­ly thought would be a quick pol­i­cy change to pre­vent such an unde­sir­able out­come became a larg­er cam­paign involv­ing Wahi at CDF-MN, com­mu­ni­ty part­ners and youth lead­ers. We now are in the process of get­ting the law changed,” says Sny­der. That was a col­lab­o­ra­tion that wouldn’t have hap­pened with­out the Fellowship.”

Karcher-Ramos mapped out the legal and polit­i­cal path for the City of St. Paul to use fed­er­al stim­u­lus funds for the People’s Pros­per­i­ty Guar­an­teed Income Pilot, which is pro­vid­ing 150 fam­i­lies with $500 per month over 18 months. Sny­der and Wahi have joined the pilot’s cir­cle of advi­sors to pro­vide their exper­tise and insights.

Karcher-Ramos and his office also have worked with Wahi and CDF-MN to ensure that fam­i­lies par­tic­i­pat­ing in the guar­an­teed income pilot do not lose their eli­gi­bil­i­ty for oth­er pub­lic ben­e­fits because of increased income. CDF-MN, which has devel­oped an indi­ca­tor for ana­lyz­ing the inter­ac­tion of wages with pub­lic ben­e­fit pro­grams, is pro­vid­ing train­ing and tech­ni­cal assis­tance to Karcher-Ramos’s team of ben­e­fits counselors.

Karcher-Ramos also strate­gized with Sny­der about how to apply the pol­i­cy ratio­nale to the use of stim­u­lus dol­lars at the pro­gram­mat­ic lev­el in Hen­nepin Coun­ty and the city of Min­neapo­lis. Sny­der was able to secure fed­er­al funds for a much-need­ed $1,500 cash trans­fer to 128 youth aging out of fos­ter care.

Con­tribut­ing Wis­dom and Knowledge

The work of the three Fel­lows has been strength­ened by their col­lab­o­ra­tion with Vin­odh Kut­ty, a mem­ber of the 20072008 Fel­low­ship class. A long­time Hen­nepin Coun­ty offi­cial who has worked on equi­ty issues in pub­lic sys­tems, Kut­ty has helped the Twin Cities’ Fel­lows step back from their day-to-day work and sur­vey the polit­i­cal land­scape for trans­for­ma­tive change. There are only four of us in the metro area,” says Sny­der, but we def­i­nite­ly col­lab­o­rate and coordinate.”

Karcher-Ramos, Sny­der and Wahi are now tran­si­tion­ing from their Fel­low­ship class into the Casey Fel­lows Alum­ni Net­work, which helps the 140 lead­ers who have par­tic­i­pat­ed in the fel­low­ship stay con­nect­ed. The alum­ni are an impor­tant part of our Casey Fam­i­ly,” says Leslie Boissiere, the Foundation’s vice pres­i­dent of exter­nal affairs. We call on them to con­tribute their wis­dom and knowl­edge to our efforts to improve equi­table out­comes for chil­dren, fam­i­lies and communities.”

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