Mayors Maintain Focus on Supporting Working Families
By Shannon Holmes
May 9, 2005
Mayors and City Human Services Officials from across the country participated in the third annual "Mayors and Working Families: An Agenda for Cities" meeting in Washington (DC). The meeting took place May 2 as part of the partnership between The United States Conference of Mayors and the Annie E. Casey Foundation and was held in conjunction with the 29th Annual City Human Services Officials meeting.
Richmond (CA) Mayor Irma Anderson, Chair of the Conference Standing Committee on Children, Health and Human Services, welcomed all participants and thanked them for showing their commitment to working families. Mayors in attendance at the meeting included Conference President Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, Warwick (RI) Mayor Scott Avedisian, Alexandria (VA) Mayor William Euille, Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson, and Folsom (CA) Mayor Steve Miklos. Human Services Officials at the meeting represented the cities of Akron, Alexandria (VA), Elizabeth (NJ), Fort Worth, Louisville, Nashville, New Bedford (MA), Rochester (NY), San Antonio, Santa Monica, Southfield (MI), Trenton, and Tulsa.
The meeting began with Plusquellic stressing that problems just do not go away because programs are cut. He stated that funding needs to be put into programs to invest in people and the future. "We need not turn our backs on those who are still in need, especially the young people," he stated. "Strengthening families is something we will continue to work on."
On behalf of the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF), Bonnie Howard, Senior Associate with the Foundation, also thanked those in attendance for their important job of helping working families. Howard explained that the basic belief of AECF is "Kids do well when their parents do well, and their parents do well when they are in a supportive community."
"If you know the zip code of a child you can almost predict what the future of a child could be and that should not be the case," Howard told the group. As a result, AECF has created Families for Economic Success (FES). The purpose of FES is to provide sufficient and substantial support for low-income working families. This is done by tying together workforce development and investment, economic support, community investment, and education about building assets.
During the morning session, Anderson, Avedisian, Euille, Johnson and Miklos highlighted best practices on programs.
Anderson continued to stress that she believes that she, the mayor, is responsible for kids during out-of'school time, even though she does not have control over kids inside the school. As a result, Anderson teamed up the state trades unions to tie the practical skills of technical jobs, like plumbing and carpentry, with academics as part of the offerings for kids after'school through the "Kids First" initiative. With $200,000 start up funding from city funds, $1.8 million was leveraged with funding from the federal 21st Century Community Learning Center program. The program, which began in two high schools and one middle school, was expanded to include two grammar schools.
Anderson concluded by stating, "I wanted to plant human trees to make my city beautiful, so I started with the children."
In Warwick, Avedisian strongly believes that "all youth should have a safe place to live and grow up."
In Rhode Island, all youth 18 and under are eligible for free healthcare under the Right Care program, but it was not being utilized. The main reason was lack of transportation, mainly because there is no good public transportation in Warwick. Through the success of serving senior citizens, the city looked to replicate the services to serve the youth of the city. This resulted in one of the senior citizen centers being turned into a youth center and the combining transportation services for seniors and youth in the shuttle transportation. The transportation brings the residents to the one area of the city that all the social services have been located, including a health center to ease the crowded hospital emergency rooms. Avedisian added that the goal is to add a dentist next door to the health center by next year.
Avedisian stated, "At first there was concern how having the two groups together would work, but it is going well and each are learning new things from the other." At the youth center, programs provided are not only recreational activities, but also education and financial literacy programs to educate the youth about the importance of fiscal responsibility and using money wisely.
Johnson is tackling the issue of working families by looking at the social and physical condition of families in his city. "We want to focus on people and the place as one," stated Johnson.
To that end the city is revitalizing run down areas of the city and making it possible through the use of individual development accounts (IDAs), personal accounts where the city matches $4 to $1 for eligible families, and underwriting a second mortgage, to allow working families to purchase a home. Since January 2000, 306 low-income families have become homeowners, a value of about $29 million.
The city, in partnership with the technical college, has created the Workforce Readiness Academy to provide training in the areas of health care, manufacturing and office operators and to help participants obtain entry-level positions. To better serve very hard to serve populations like ex-offenders and homeless, an on the job training program Starfish CafŽ was started to provide training and immediate employment in the local restaurant industry and has proven to be quite a success.
In Alexandria, Euille has a strong commitment to high quality pre'school programs to provide children at an early age the foundation for their lifetime of education. With a large transient immigrant and ESL population the city has formed a program that trains and certifies pre'school workers to ensure that any child is placed in childcare either in a private home or at an established school, has an equal opportunity in education.
In order to get all qualifying aged children into pre'school programs the city has an outreach program to inform residents of the programs in which children can be enrolled.
In a two-pronged approach to serving working families, Miklos partnered with the Sisters of Mercy and Intel. Through the partnership with Sisters of Mercy, an area that received sixty percent of police calls and had a twenty percent school attendance rate was rehabilitated into 457 new affordable housing units with the school attendance rate increasing to 100 percent and police calls decreasing to only seven percent.
Also, in partnership with Intel, computers were placed in the city's youth center. As a continued effort, Intel brought in the Community College and together they provide opportunities for youth to be exposed to different fields of work in technology, science, banking, food services, and microchip assembly work. "There is a waiting list for adults in different fields to come in and present to these kids, which is great. We feel that no child should not participate in programs like this," Miklos told the group.
Earned Income Tax Credit
A key focus of the Conference and AECF partnership has been the earned income tax credit (EITC). Don Dill, Senior Tax Analyst in the Wage and Investment Division of the Internal Revenue Service, informed the group of the importance of EITC not only to the residents, but also to cities. Dill said, "EITC is a no strings attached catalyst for asset building and economic development in cities."
Established in 1975, EITC is the largest federal government anti-poverty program raising five million people out of poverty. This tax year alone, Dill stated that 2.2 million tax returns were filed with EITC resulting in $500 million back to residents, and up to $1.5 billion back into local economies. However it is estimated that up to 20 percent of those eligible for EITC do not file for the credit leaving money every year in the federal Treasury that could go to working families. Dill asked for assistance from cities to continue to get the word out about EITC to residents to ensure that working families are getting the money that is rightfully theirs.
Affordable Housing and Asset Building
Addressing the mayors and human service officials about the problem of low income housing facing cities all across the country was John McIlwain, Senior Resident Fellow at the Urban Land Institute. According to McIlwain, there is a critical need for housing for working families across the country, not just in urban cities. Eighty'seven percent of working families are paying over 50 percent of their income towards rent, while 13 percent are living in inadequate housing. He explained, "This is due to housing costs going up faster than income increases and the need is only going to become greater with the population increasing by 30 million each decade."
McIlwain stressed that housing is an issue that needs to be addressed by all levels of government before the problem is too great to remedy. A local tool to accomplish this is to increase density in cities to balance housing prices and affordability. It also helps attract and keep businesses, which are vital to the economic stability of cities.
Dennis Campa, Community Initiatives Director for the city of San Antonio, demonstrated ways in which mayors and cities can increase asset-building strategies through workforce development and family economic success. Campa highlighted how San Antonio's city council made it a top priority to promote economic success through assisting working families to maximize their earnings through tax credits, connecting families to reputable financial services and multiple public benefits, thus increasing access to homeownership, higher education and capital assets. This is done mainly through IDAs, which are matched savings $4 to $1 for a maximum of $4,000 to be applied to an asset goal for working families. So far there are 402 families enrolled in the IDA program and 75 have already reached their asset goal of homeownership or higher education.
Dave Gatton, Director of the Council for the New American City of the United States Conference of Mayors, spoke about the connection between financial literacy and the Conference's Dollar Wi$e Campaign. The Dollar Wi$e Campaign grew out of a desire on the part of the Conference's Council for the New American City to help consumers learn more about financial issues and to empower them to become investors in their communities through education in financial education, credit card management, savings, and home ownership. Mayors and business work together to organize local financial literacy programs in their communities. So far, there are 37 cities signed up for the campaign.
Also speaking to the issue of financial literacy was Rich Anderson, Consultant for the Conference of Mayors. He informed the group about the significant changes to the Bankruptcy Act, as recently passed by Congress. Anderson said it may make it harder for working families to declare bankruptcy and begin with a "clean slate."
Local Tools to Aid Working Families
Joan Kuriansky, Executive Director at Wider Opportunities for Women, and Dr. Nancy Cauthen, Acting Director of the National Center for Children in Poverty at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, shared information about benefit assessment tools that could be utilized by cities to help better serve working families.
If you would like more information on the Partnership for Working Families please contact Joan Crigger, Assistant Executive Director, at (202) 861-6728 or email@example.com.