Reframing Benefits Cliffs: Solutions for an Inclusive Recovery Transcript - October 15, 2020
Carlis Williams: We are really pleased to have all of you joining us today for this very important gathering to discuss some of the concerns that we are facing—and definitely our families are facing—around COVID-19 and its impacts on their lives. I'm the regional administrator, Carlis Williams, for the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families here in the Southeast, headquartered in Atlanta. And it is my pleasure to welcome you to this virtual summit—"Reframing the Benefits Cliffs and Solutions for Inclusive Recovery." This is a very important topic that we're going to be discussing today. And I want to also say that this summit is part of our continued partnership with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, who is hosting this summit. And we work with them to promote equity and economic mobility.
Many on this call are far too familiar with stories of those in need, coming to our programs, working hard and doing what is asked of them, to then only face having to choose between a modest raise or the loss of childcare benefits or an opportunity for continued training, but having no means of transportation to access the training. And in an effort to resolve this, the purpose of this summit is threefold. First, we want to broaden the window through which this work is viewed. Hence, all of you out there, we hope to expand understanding with perhaps some thought-provoking ideas as to better connect and align work across various domains. Second, we will present varying levels of work such as regional work, state-level work, and work in the communities that is needed.
Third and of vital importance: we want to drive coordinated regional, state, and local action. We intend to provide an opportunity for follow-up after this meeting today. I hope many of you will contribute to those efforts as we move forward in this work. And as you listen today, I ask that you consider how our next steps can be very intentional, innovative, and inclusive. We cannot continue on the same path of yesteryear. Time permitting, we were present select questions to the various panelists through the Q and A function that's on your screens. If we don't have enough time to address all of your questions, we will be getting back with you afterwards. But now I'd like to introduce our first two panelists. We'll kick off this event by hearing from Raphael Bostic, who is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Atlanta Fed. Then we will hear from Dave Altig, Executive Vice President and Research Director of the Atlanta Fed. After Dave's talk, Alex Ruder, Principal Adviser with the Atlanta Fed, will moderate a discussion between Raphael and Dave and myself. Raphael is now my pleasure to welcome our first speaker from the Atlanta Federal Bank. Thank you.
Raphael Bostic: Well, thank you, Carlis. I've been in that situation with the phone ringing a couple of times. So thank you for your poise through all that. I want to just first welcome everyone to this convening. I'm really pleased that you're here and I'm really glad that we're having this conversation. And my hope today is that we'll just mark this as yet another step and an ongoing conversation around these things. I also wanted to say thank you to Carlis and the folks at HHS. I'm really pleased that we are working together to make progress in this space. And I have to say that our fields are extremely interconnected. And I learned this first at HUD during my time there. And we had just started to build some connections. I think we'll talk a little more about that, but what has become so clear to me is that the fields of health and broader economic participation and performance are really closely linked in. I'm really glad to build on that reality.
The other thing I would say, which I think is also quite important, is that because we are all so interconnected in our fields, in our approaches, or sometimes when we see a solution that will help make progress in one aspect of the interconnectedness, the full realization of those benefits will not be real or realized without progress in the other ones. So I'm glad that we're also having these conversations so that we can find ways to make progress in the multiple fields that matter and really help people achieve better outcomes in their lives.
Now, before I go into my remarks, I did want to just say thank you to everyone who is associated with putting this program together. These things don't come together with just the snap of a finger, but rather require a lot of work. And I want to just thank my team—you guys are fantastic. Our collaborators and colleagues at HHS, and then all the speakers, as well. I'm really looking forward to having your participation and contribution to the discussion here, because what we're trying to do is get people to think hard about these issues and see if there are ways that the things that are happening—the exciting things are happening—in some places might actually work in your area as well. So, thank you all. Thank you, everyone. And I think we're going to have a great day.
Now, what I want to do for the bulk of my remarks is really talk a little bit about why the Fed is part of this conversation at all. And I'm going to do that in a more general way, but also try to tie it back to why we're talking about benefits cliffs, and today's topic is something that I'm really pleased that we are front and center on in trying to make progress on our team.
So, I'm going to talk about why we care, and this is going to be something that I think we should be talking about more. That the Fed is not afraid or unaware of these issues, but rather is going to be out front and providing a leadership voice and trying to make that progress. Now I know that has not always been the case. And what I will say to that is I think we have, in the last several years since I've certainly been part of this institution, have evolved in a pretty significant way and are becoming much more comfortable talking about a number of issues that are important for the economy generally, even if the Fed does not have the tools that are going to provide the bulk of the solutions for those issues.
So, about a year ago or so, we hosted—the system hosted a conference on climate change. And just a couple of weeks ago, our Bank, in collaboration with the Banks at Minneapolis and Boston, started a webinar series on racism and the economy. Now, in both of these cases, these are just examples where many of the solutions are outside of our domain. But because of what we care about in our mandates, I think it's really important that we do not shy away from talking about them, because if we make progress there, then progress in our achieving our mandates goes up as well. On the Racism and the Economy series, I would encourage all of you to keep track with us, follow us. There will be a session that we have early next year on health, in particular, and how that has played out. So, I think you will find it to be very interesting and insightful, and hopefully they will give you some ideas of things to move forward.
Now I know many of you are not Fed watchers and aren't so familiar with all the intricacies of everything that we do. So, I thought I might give you a little background about who we are. Now, we're the U.S. central bank— the Federal Reserve is the U.S. central bank—and it has an odd structure. So, there is a federal component in Washington that's called the Board of Governors, and then there are also 12 regional banks that are more independent. And the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta is one of those reserve banks. We're responsible for what we call the Sixth District, which includes Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, parts of Louisiana and Tennessee, and of course Georgia, where we're located. So that's our district. ATHS also has districts. They don't always overlap perfectly, but we all are structured that way.
Now the Federal Reserve System and the Fed, more broadly, has a number of activities that we engage in. We do monetary policy—that's the interest rate meetings and the Federal Open Markets Committee. We do bank supervision and regulation. We have an important role to play in payments. So, that is, from cash, which everyone has Federal Reserve notes, to things like settlement and clearing, to wiring, to automated clearing house, direct-deposit type things, checks—we manage a lot of that for the country. And then we also do a significant amount of outreach regarding community and economic development, which is perhaps a way that you've seen us most closely on the ground, but it is not the only way that we affect communities more directly. Now important for this conversation is to recognize that we actually have mandates that are set out by the Congress and there are two that I would call out.
The first is stable prices. And the idea here is that if you create an environment where there's not uncertainty about what the price is going to be sometime in the future, that makes it easier and gives people more comfort in investing in long-term assets, such as a house or a business, or making a business plan on making some new products that are going to come to market in the future. So, we want to make sure that inflation is proceeding at a stable and predictable way. And we try to communicate what that trajectory should look like over time. But we also have a mandate of maximum employment. And I like to say maximum sustainable employment because one thing that I think is quite important is that when people get a job, that they have it for a long period of time.
I talked about certainty and prices. I think it's really important that people have certainty in their income and in their employment status, because that then is another pillar that allows them to start to invest in themselves and invest more broadly in their community. Now we are here today—and one of the reasons why we are having these conversations—because of this maximum employment mandate. And the way I like to talk about this is to figure out sort of what the target should be for the maximum employment mandate. You actually have to ask a broader question, which is: What is the economic potential of the U.S. economy? How much should we expect the U.S. economy to produce?
And in order to answer that question, you can think about this another way: Who's contributing to the economy and how much are they contributing to the economy? And importantly, since we're talking about potential and getting maximum employment... so we want to ask this question: Are we getting the most we possibly can in terms of contribution to the economy from every American? So that is a question that lingers in my mind as I think about how should we think about achieving our maximum employment mandate? And for me, I think, when I look across the country and look at various sectors, I think the answer to this last question—Are we getting the most that we can out of every American?—I think it's clearly no. And if you look at a number of metrics that are out there, we see disparities, which would suggest that is the case.
We have disparities in income, which have been documented. We have disparities in wealth and wealth inequality. These are things that people talk about all the time. If you look at unemployment rates, we see significant unemployment rate disparities or differences by a whole host of the demographics. We see it by geography and we see it by skill levels as well. When you look at home ownership rates, we see disparities that are significant. If you think about entrepreneurship and rates of business creation, we see disparities across the population. And there are a whole host of other economic indicators that I could go through, but I won't bore you with that. The important thing for me, though, is that many of these disparities exist along factors that economic theories suggest should not actually matter.
So, you think about things like race or gender or the ZIP code in which you were born. These are things that should not really make that much of a difference in determining your ability to be productive, to innovate, to really come up with new ideas and add to the productive capacity of our economy. But too often, we find that they do. And if you're lower income, or if you're a minority, or if you're working class, typically you have access to less in terms of a whole host of things that would mean that you have constraints in how you can contribute to the economy. But if you live in neighborhoods where there are many low-income people, or many minorities or many working-class people, you also often have these same challenges. And so when I think about this, because we know that we have these disparities, what I think is that the economic potential that we are seeing today is actually less than what it actually could be if we were to include these people more fulsomely in the economy moving forward.
And so my view is that we should try to get to this real, true, all-in economic potential. But to do that, we need to answer a couple of questions. One is—the important one is—what is driving these disparities? And when thinking about that, a phrase that we're using to describe this is "root causes." So, what are the root causes of these disparities and how should we find solutions to them? Now, when I think about the disparities that are driving... the economic disparities that I talked about, I really think about this as we're seeing disparities and other things, or these are inequities, as I like to call it. The area that I'm most familiar with in my background is housing. So, we know that there is tremendous variation across the population in terms of the quality of housing and how secure housing is for families in different circumstances. And there's a lot of research that shows that when families are less secure, when they live in low-quality housing, their ability to work is lower. Their ability to get education and invest in their human capital is lower.
And their ability to just be living a stress-free environment, which allows them to make better decisions, is actually lower. So, when we see disparities in housing, that will translate to disparities in economic outcomes. Similarly, our bank has a center on workforce and economic opportunity, which focuses on questions about training and workforce development. When we see disparities in the quality of training, that is going to translate into disparities in income, disparities in access to capital, entrepreneurship, and all those sorts of things that will mean that we're not going to get the most that we possibly can out of families. So, for this conversation, another one that is obvious and familiar to many of you are disparities in health.
One thing that became clear to me during my time is that people who are not as healthy do not do as well in the workplace. They can't stay on the job as regularly as others. And there can be constraints in how... in their ability to take on particular jobs and positions, which constrains their opportunities as well. And I'm not going to say a lot about that because many people here know a lot more about those things than I do. But I also think about disparities in education, disparities in access to capital, disparities in terms of safety and peacefulness, disparities in access to parks, and a whole host of things. And there's a large body of research which has shown that these things actually matter.
But there's a new one that we're talking about today, which I think is also quite important. And that's disparities in incentives. The disparities that are caused by the incentives that we see in programs and in governmental programs. And today we're actually going to talk about the incentives that are laid out in assistance programs. And this is actually an important insight, that the way that the incentives are set up for many of the programs that we have, they are actually leading people to be reluctant to invest in themselves, to invest in the human capital, and to actually make themselves better and put themselves on a more sustainable trajectory that allows them to more fully contribute and participate in the U.S. economy. Now, the idea here is, well this is true for a particular program, but this actually multiplies and builds on itself. When we recognize that people are often on multiple assistance programs. And that is the benefits cliff.
So, if we're going to fix that, we actually need to think about how we engage with all of the assistance programs together, collectively. And this is necessarily going to be an interdisciplinary collaboration. We're all going to have to come together. We're all going to have to recognize the incentives that exist in our sister assistance programs. And then we're all going to have to figure out how we're going to act in a coordinated way to make sure that the incentives are not sending the wrong signal to people, but rather pushes them and drives them to invest in themselves and get themselves to a more stable place.
And this brings us fully back to where I started, which is why I'm so excited about the collaboration that we have. We all need to be in this together. We need to be having a collective conversation together. And I'm glad that this is happening and I've really been excited, just over time, of the energy and the willingness that I've seen people have to engage this and try to make it right. Because I've heard complaints about this issue from elected officials in Washington. And they understand that much of the work that needs to be done is going to be done by folks like you. And so thank you for being here. I really appreciate that.
Now there's one last point I want to make in all of this. A lot of people think about the Fed as sitting back in an ivory tower and we do some research and we run some numbers and we make decisions. I actually think that a notable and important thing here is that we are focused on solutions. We're focused on evidence-based policy, and we're focused on real change on the ground. Our goal here is to work toward creating a more equitable economy that every person in America sees and feels. And one that ultimately works for everyone. Because if we achieve this, this then will allow every person in America to contribute fully to our economy and without constraints. And this, to flip it fully back to the Fed, will allow us to truly achieve our maximum economic potential.
I saw on the opening slide that the hashtag for this program is #EveryonesEconomy. And I actually think that's a perfect hashtag because one of the things that we are trying to accomplish by making progress on things like the benefits cliff is to make sure that this economy does work for everyone. And that everyone has an opportunity in our economy to fully participate and fully contribute so that all of our lives and all of our communities can be stronger. They can be more resilient, and they can be sources of vibrant innovation and quality of life. And that's ultimately what we're trying to get to. So let me stop there. I want to thank everyone for joining us again. And let me turn this over to Dave Altig.
Dave Altig: Thanks, Raphael. And it's my opportunity this morning to say a little bit about some of those initiatives that we are taking at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, in particular, to address the agenda that Raphael just so articulately expressed. So, I'm really going to talk about some work we're doing related to the benefits cliff. And I want to start off my comments by making a few observations about the economy, and particularly the economy post-COVID pandemic.
So, Alex, the first slide. So here is a breakdown of the distribution of job types in the economy in February. I've divided them into low skill, middle skill, high skill. This is a pretty standard approach among economists. I want to make clear that skill here relates to the type of job, not the type of person in those jobs. And it has really [been] divided down by task and the complexity of the task and, more importantly, the training necessary in each of these groups of jobs.
So low skill was primarily service-type jobs; middle skill are things like construction and production, manufacturing jobs; and high skill tend to be professional technical jobs... management. What you can see is that in February, basically, middle skill and high skill were about 20 percent or about 40 percent each of the total number of jobs in the economy, and this service sector, lower-skill, highly correlated with lower-wage jobs, a little bit under 20 percent. (Skip ahead two slides, will you Alex?)
So here's the first point I want to make about this, I've juxtaposed with that distribution of job types on the green bars, these orange bars, which is who and where have the jobs been lost as a result of the COVID event that is between February and the latest data we have on this in February. And what you see is that those individuals and the lower-skill jobs, the lower-wage jobs primarily, have borne a disproportionate amount of the burden of the job and labor market difficulties as a result of the pandemic.
I would point out that this is not always the case. In fact, in many cases, not even typical. During the 2007, 2009 global recession associated with the great financial crisis, low-skill jobs did not fall as much as the other types of jobs and, in particular, middle-skill jobs were extraordinarily hard hit, as you might guess, since they're sort of centered on things like construction and production. So that's the first observation. The first observation is this is a recession that is disproportionately hitting the lower end of the wage scale. And the people who very clearly are probably least likely to be able to manage these difficulties. (Next slide, Alex.)
The second point is that if we ask businesses—and this is a couple of results from a survey we do with Duke University and the Richmond Fed—what they think is going to happen to employment as we go forward, you see that the left-hand bar there is what they're reporting to us employment is going to look like through the end of this year: a large negative number. And if we ask them through the end of next year, they're telling us we'll be maybe back close to normal, but normal is only defined here as back to the level that we were before the pandemic hit. So not even a full recovery quite by the end of 2021, let alone the type of employment growth we would have seen if there had been no pandemic in the first place. And I will add to this that they're reporting a very high lack of confidence in these sorts of numbers. (Next slide, Alex.)
So one other point to make about this is that even if the projections of the previous slide come true and we're at least back to February employment levels by the end of next year, they will not be the same jobs. So I could have shown you this a bunch of different ways. This is one way we show it in results from another survey we do of businesses, Survey of Business Uncertainty, with Stanford University and the University of Chicago. The pace of job shifting and changing is likely to be much accelerated relative to where it was pre-COVID. So there are three main points here. The main points: It is the lower end of the scale and wage distribution that is disproportionally hit. The recovery is likely to be very slow in employment. And third, the jobs that existed prior to the COVID event are not likely to be the same jobs that are going to exist even after things "normalize." (Next slide, Alex.)
All of which is to mean there's going to be a bunch of "Leahs" out there. So some of you have heard us talk about this before. Leah is our hypothetical mom, a single mom with children ages 4 and 6, working at a movie theater in Birmingham, Alabama, in this case. Her challenge, of course, is that job may no longer exist when the dust settles on the pandemic. That's also an opportunity, because if we get our act together and do these things right, this is the opportunity to put the workforce development system into force. So Leah can contemplate a better future than what she might've faced if she had stayed, and had the capacity even, to stay in her previous job. (Next slide, Alex.)
So we're going to think about this in terms of a workforce development framework, and think about Leah's opportunity here to move up a career pathway. Here's a very common one, a model in which we think of entering into a profession and obtaining, sequentially, a series of stackable credentials, moving Leah up the skill and wage scale to what hopefully becomes a sustainable living income. (Next slide.)
Now there's another piece of Leah's circumstance that we have to pay attention to. And that is she is currently, in her movie concession job, supported by a variety of public assistance programs. And we're going to assume it's this mix here, and this is a very common mix across the country. In fact, [it's the] most common mix in some states. So once we introduce this, of course, we introduce the notion of the benefit cliff as if, in fact, Leah enters into these career pathways, gains more and more skills, gains more and more in the way of income, and then faces the possibility of losing these mean-tested benefits. (Next slide.)
Here's the common way that I'm sure most of you, probably, are familiar with, thinking about the benefits cliff. It's sometimes called a family resource calculator, and it just plots net resources—defined as income and benefits, minus taxes and expenses—for various levels of income. What it illustrates quite clearly is the loss of benefits as income increases for a particular person in a particular place, and in this case, again, that's Leah with her children living in Birmingham. Now, this has been a very useful and important way of thinking about things, but it's not particularly well-suited for the workforce development orientation that I'm suggesting we might want to look at, in the case of Leah's opportunities. The reason is it doesn't tell you much about what an actual career pathway looks like and what a future looks like as you enter a profession and move up the scale in that profession. So, that's where we've stepped in. (Next slide. Alex, get the next slide. There we go.)
Here is a picture of different career opportunities and the wage path associated with them in Birmingham, Alabama. The red line is basically a minimum wage job that Leah is in currently, the orange line would be a certified nursing assistant, and then the green line, a licensed practical nurse. Now, this is based upon local wages from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and our estimates of what growth in these professions would look like in that locality. To the left there, you see some shaded areas. Those are the training periods that would be required to enter into these professions from the minimum wage job. We assume that there's part-time work during that period of training before full-time employment enters at the higher credential and higher wage. Now, the problem with this picture is it doesn't show what the previous chart showed, which is the benefit cliffs problem and the net resources that Leah really has at her disposal. (Next slide, Alex.)
We've done some calculations to adjust this picture. (Alex, can you advance the slide?) And provide a net resource picture as that family resource calculator does in the context of these benefit cliffs along these career pathways. These are the same three lines—minimum wage to CNA to LPN—and you see some things very clearly here. One is the absolute benefit cliff, which is highlighted there, which is an outright decline in resources as income rises. (Next slide.)
We also see, in some circumstances, what we are calling a benefit plateau. That is a period of time where you don't actually hit the cliff in net resources, but you experience a very long period of time of stagnating resources and not much advancement, even though your wages are growing as benefits fall off. Finally, the thing that we really focus on a lot in these discussions, is the low incentive to even engage in the training to move up these career pathways as benefit cliffs begin to mitigate and eat away at some of the benefits of higher wages. If you think back to that earlier picture, the green line was substantially above the orange line there, but once we take into the benefit cliff problems, that's not so true anymore for a very long period of time, and a very long period of time is what might be most important in this instance. (Next slide.)
I'll try to get to the punchline here. All of this comes from a tool that we've developed, which we call CLIFF: the Career Ladder Identifier and Financial Forecaster, which we're deploying with many of our partners engaged in these workforce development efforts, which are so important at the moment. (Next slide.)
Here's what the dashboard here does. It essentially will work with our partners to customize a CLIFF tool where the user can choose from a menu that specifies all the important things you might want to know about somebody like Leah. Her geographic area, the career pathway she's interested in, the family structure, and her benefit packages. (Next slide, please.)
The tool generates, through tabs, those wage and net resource paths that I just showed you in the earlier slides, although not necessarily for the healthcare pathway or for a Leah-specific scenario, but rather for whatever our partners think are the important set of configurations of these things that they would like to consider. (Next slide, please.)
There's also, in these additional tabs, important information on benefit eligibility so that someone using the tool can actually see the pathway of benefits as they fade away, if income rises. And importantly, because this is essentially a tax calculator, of sorts, data that's relevant to policymakers. That is, a look at the public return to moving Leah up the career path—paying higher taxes and receiving fewer benefits. (Next slide, please.)
I'll briefly just show you what that tab generates. It's something that looks like this, as we move Leah up a career pathway, in this case, from the healthcare pathway—from CNA to LPN to RN—what is the return to the public? What is the return to the taxpayer? You can see from these calculations, they are sizeable. Over $300,000 over Leah's working lifetime return to the public, if we can just move her from this minimum wage job up to a higher level of living for herself. One way we always like to put this is if you can spend anything less than $320,000 over time on Leah, it's a win for everyone. (Let's skip a couple slides here, Alex, to the partner slide.)
There are lots of use cases for this. They have to do with looking at your own, or an institution's own, workforce development efforts to find out whether the wage or the career possibilities that they are offering to citizens for whom they are providing services. There is a policy analysis piece, and there is even an individual counseling piece where the CLIFF tool itself is being modified so that it can actually address individual circumstances in a counseling-type setting. We've developed many, many important partnerships. You'll hear from Nick Moore later, Alabama's one of them; but here's some of the others who are using the CLIFF framework to address their own needs as they try to address all of the Leah's that are in their orbit and under their care. (Finally, next slide, please.)
I think the important thing to say is, we're trying to build a house collectively, all of us on this call. We have a tool, but of course we need the architects and we need the skilled craftsmen, and that's who all of our partners are. And if you are potentially interested or see a use case for a tool like this in your own efforts, here is a link to a demo of the dashboard where you can just root around. If you have any questions or would like to see more information from us on this, please give us a call. We'd like to hear from you and like to offer you what we have to offer. With that, I'll stop.
Alex Ruder: Thank you, Carlis. Thank you, Raphael. And thank you, Dave. If all three of you can please turn on your cameras—Carlis, Raphael, and Dave.
My name is Alex Ruder. I'm a principal adviser at the Atlanta Fed, and thank you all for your great opening comments. It's a pleasure to be here. I want to follow up on some of the points that were raised in the panel discussion, and my first follow-up question will be for Raphael.
Raphael, in your remarks, you talked about housing. You talked about the Department of Housing and Urban Development. You, of course, are a former assistant secretary at HUD. You're an economist who studies housing. I think most of us on this call realize that housing is one of the big benefits cliffs. It is a major barrier for families as they try to transition off of public assistance in housing.
So you're familiar with this issue. My question for you is, now you're president and CEO of the Atlanta Fed, in leadership of a major employer. How now in your current role, do you think about benefits cliffs differently?
Raphael Bostic: Well, Alex, it's actually very interesting thinking about this. I knew this day was coming, so I started thinking about some of the things we were doing when I was at HUD, and we were well aware of the benefit cliff associated with housing vouchers and housing assistance. We've run, actually, experiments to try to shuffle around and reshape the incentives to reduce the disincentive that those cliffs introduce for people. We haven't settled on anything, but that awareness was there. In terms of other programs and other assistance programs, most of the focus that we had at that time was really about reducing administrative burden. There'd be a case manager for every assistance program, and we would be trying to see if there are ways to [inaudible].
But today, I've actually been led to think about really that early conception that we had at HUD, that this benefit cliff for housing was a problem. It grossly underestimates the magnitude of the cliff that people are actually facing. I think we didn't really appreciate the depth of the disincentive or the amount of disincentive that is set up by this. Our little tweak was not going to be enough, and I actually have a much clearer appreciation for that now than I did when I started.
The other thing that I think has really crystallized for me on this is that it's us—it's the designers, it's the policymakers, it's society that has made it difficult for people who are in situations like Leah's, that Dave described. We are the ones who have done it. Their situation is incredibly difficult. We're asking a lot of them. I think we need to recognize where we've put a huge burden on them.:
And the last point on this and today's point: this is actually costing us a lot of money. $320,000, that's real money for most people, so if we can reduce that, I think it just tells me there's a lot of potential for progress here.
Alex Ruder: Thank you, Raphael. My second follow-up question is for Dave. Dave, you're also an economist, and I think also many of us on the webinar today realize that economists have been studying this challenge for many years. It's typically studied using terms such as "effective marginal tax rate" or the "marginal tax rate on effective income." My question for you is, as we talk today about solutions, is it overly simplistic to say changing incentives alone will matter? And if so, what else do we need to be doing?
Dave Altig: The economist in me wants me to say that I can always tell some story that redefines incentives in such a way that it's not too narrow, but that's the hubris of economists, I think. So, if you're just thinking in terms of reducing the tax rate associated with these benefit cliffs, that's clearly too narrow. There's three dimensions along which I think we have to additionally worry. There's at least three, but three that come to my mind. One of them is capacity, the second is risk, and the third is uncertainty.
By capacity, I mean, we can essentially set the tax rate or the benefit loss of something like childcare to zero, but if childcare services are not available to someone living a real life in a real place, then the removal of the disincentive is going to be pretty useless, because we got to make sure that we have the infrastructure to actually support people as they attempt to improve their material lot and avail themselves of these opportunities for career advancement.
Risk is the second element, which we do recognize that an investment in your own career is an investment, and it's a risky investment, and there are lots of risks involved. One of the ones that always strikes me is, start off with someone like Leah. Now, we didn't have Leah receiving housing benefits or housing subsidies, but if you were, one of the calculations you have to make is, well, I'm entering a career pathway. I've seen COVID. I've seen jobs disappear. I've seen it happen before in professions, so there's no guarantee that this investment I'm making is going to provide me a guaranteed level of income. Now, if I jump off of housing subsidies, get out of Section 8, if I have a reversal of fortune, then I may never get those benefits back and I'm going to be stuck, so I'm losing a very important source of insurance. Without insurance, we know risk is very hard to manage. I think we've got to think through those problems pretty carefully.
The third is basically uncertainty. Economists make the distinction between risk is uncertainty. Risk is about the probability of something happening that you can more or less get your arms around. Uncertainty is, "I just don't know." Really, one of the things we're trying to do with our efforts on the CLIFF tool is to eliminate and reduce—we can't eliminate probably—but we can reduce some of that uncertainty. In some cases, it's just that we don't know what the consequences of these things are and don't have the analytics always to figure it out. So, like everyone on this call, I bet, one of the things we need to do is shine a light on the problem and fill in as many of those informational gaps as we can. I think those three pillars are the necessary parts of the equation that will allow us to actually fix the incentives and be effective, if we can fix it.
Alex Ruder: Thank you, Dave. So, risk, uncertainty, and that supply of supports are all critical, in addition to changing the incentives. Thank you.
My final question is for Carlis. Carlis, today on the webinar, we're going to hear a lot about program models that are being implemented around the country. One of the questions that comes up frequently is, when a new location or a new site sees a model program working well and says, "You know what? We're going to bring that program to our area." And they adopt the program, but oftentimes, what we may see happen is that program may struggle to enroll participants. It may struggle to recruit enough individuals to demonstrate success. At the same time, it may not implement that program model exactly as the program was designed, leading to a risk that the program won't succeed.
So, my question, Carlis, is, drawing from your experience in the field, why has this sort of challenge replicating programs and implementing programs in a new location, why has that challenge been there, and what can we do to be more successful in replication?
Carlis Williams: Thanks, Alex, for that question. It's kind of a difficult question, but it's a question, as you stated, that we all struggle with. There are a number of reasons that we don't realize the results that we'd like to see in participation and follow-through from many of our clients. Even if a program has proven to do well in one situation, it may not be the same in another, which is an important factor because we have to make sure the programs are designed based on the environment, the context, wherever it's being implemented. Those things have to be certainly taken into consideration. Know your audience, know your clients, know your situation when you're implementing a new program.
But also, some of the problems stem from obstacles that the clients themselves face trying to fulfill the requirements of a given program. Issues around reliable transportation, the lack of quality in consistent childcare, the lack of a social network to support folks when they are trying to make a change in their lives, and they come across situations that are difficult for them to adjust to. The other issue, I think, that we can't forget is that, in working with folks who have been in difficult situations, sometimes that lack of hope and belief that they can actually overcome some of these challenges that they're facing pose a problem for program and service providers in working with this clientele.
We also have to look at our service delivery models that are out there. Are they really designed to be inclusive of the whole family and their unique circumstances? You have to take a look at that as well. Are we looking at the family? Are we really trying to understand the overall issues that they're facing and the challenges, and are we addressing them? Something that Raphael mentioned, these collaborations that need to occur across domains in service delivery models. We cannot expect there to be a change in the outcomes that we're looking for if we're not changing the way that we provide the service delivery models. Also, the culture in our institutions has to be changed so that those cultures are more intentional and more inclusive about what it is that you're trying to accomplish.
Then, we focus on outcomes that are determined with the client, because often when a client goes into a program, they're told, "You have to get this job," and "This is the best. This is the jobs that are out there and you better go grab one," so to speak. As opposed to, what is it that you're trying to get to? In other words, what I'm saying is, we should change our models so that we're working with the end in mind. We know what the goal is, based on working with the family, and we're able to design with them a continuum that addresses these cliffs. We asset map the assets and the resources that will mitigate these cliffs as we go along. We do that in coordination and in partnership with the various disciplines, safety net programs, that work with these clients such as TANF, such as WIOA, SNAP, HUD, so that we come together as a collective in providing the services.
Another piece that I think is important for maintaining and retaining clients in a positive trajectory is this idea around case management or case coordination. Because as you know, many of these folks, not all of them, but many of them, have difficulties that they've gone through previously. So, helping them to learn how to adjust to some of these challenges is important because often, they don't know how to get where it is that they want to get to. I think that's something that we should consider as well.
Just making sure that we realize that there are circumstances around a family, not just that individual that walks through the door. We're looking at the culture of our organizations across these safety net programs that will assist a client to get to the goal that they're planning to get to. Having that end goal in mind, I think, is so critical for folks so they can actually see where they're moving toward, as opposed to just doing something right here in the moment and not really looking at in its possible totality for the family.
Alex Ruder: Thank you very much, Carlis. I think that was a fantastic answer to, as you said, a challenging question, as we start to think about solutions. We are actually out of time for our first panel, so we're not going to have time for audience Q and A, unfortunately, at this panel. But I do want to thank, Carlis, Rafael, Dave, for your very thoughtful comments at this opening. I think you really set the stage for a great discussion for the rest of our program today. Thank you very much.
I'm going to now transition into our next panel, which is going to be led by principal adviser of the Atlanta Fed, Brittany Birken. She's going to talk about state-level policy solutions and activities related to the benefits cliff. Brittany.
Brittany Birken: Thank you, Alex. I really echo your sentiments of that framework, set the stage, and thinking in particular of the answers to the questions that we just heard on, and we actually had a question come in through Q and A on, what can we do? What are some of the solutions? We're going to pivot now to think a little bit about state-level opportunities, and it's my great pleasure to introduce the next set of speakers for the summit.
We're joined today by two state leaders that are working to improve economic self-sufficiency, but with different approaches and areas of focus. State leaders are uniquely positioned to identify and address systemic challenges, economic mobility, to align systems, and identify potential changes in practice and policy that can support career advancement and increase economic self-sufficiency. Important to this effort is focused work with communities to understand the opportunities and barriers for career pathways and advancement, as well as a really human-centered approach to understanding the challenges and opportunities for individuals and families. These state approaches involve work-based solutions with an emphasis on solutions.
With us today to share about the significant innovation for workforce development and career pathway advancement in Alabama is Nick Moore. Nick is the education policy adviser and coordinator in the Governor's Office of Education and Workforce Transformation. After Nick speaks, we'll hear from Maggie Mickler, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Economic Self-Sufficiency from the Florida Department of Children and Families. She's joining us today to share insight on the care coordination framework that is focused on reducing the length of time families are reliant on government assistance, and expediting economic self-sufficiency. Nick, I will turn it over. The virtual floor is yours.
Nick Moore: Thank you so much, and I want to first begin by thanking Dr. Bostic, Dr. Altig, Dr. Ruder, the entire team at the Atlanta Fed for their steadfast partnership with the State of Alabama. Governor Ivey and her entire administration is truly grateful for the commitment, and quite frankly, the visionary leadership that Dr. Bostic has brought to the table. Also, I want to thank the administrator of the Administration for Children and Families and your entire team for your partnership as well, because what's very important is Governor Ivey's talent development and human capital strategic plan are about connecting workforce training and human services for human capital development and talent development. What we want to talk about today is how we have put together an infrastructure to connect competency-based systems to workforce training and human services to allow people to reach the full measure of their potential and to have the type of full participation in the labor market that Dr. Bostic spoke of. (Next slide, please.)
Governor Ivey's strategic plan is focused on not only reaching—many states have set—post-secondary attainment goals, but we've also set a goal of increasing the labor force participation rate to the national average. Many states in the union, particularly in the Southeast, have lagged. It really has declined precipitously since the mid-90s, and we are focused intentionally on an equity-based strategy to look at all of the populations with barriers to entering education in the workforce, and as Administrator Williams mentioned, we do expect quite a bit of folks that may not even have their basic needs met at the time. So, what our focus on is resolving as many of the barriers that are in the way of individuals in the short term so that they could reach their long-term potential. (Next slide, please.)
And so our talent development strategic plan really is predicated on human-capital development. And what I mean by that is, in our 2020 WIOA plan we've included all the human services, SNAP and TANF. And the key thing is that we're combining a benefit feedback loop between employers, individuals, and education and training providers that is based on all of the populations with barriers to entering education in the workforce in the WIOA 2020 plan.
We've also included Perkins CTE for the first time, and we're developing a training plan for our entire public workforce system that is called a No Wrong Door Approach to the Workforce System. This is a two-generation approach that understands that parents are their child's best first teacher, that oftentimes the best approach to getting someone into adult education is working through the prism of them educating their own child.
We are looking at every aspect of what it takes to have—we call it an evangelical approach, not in a religious sense, but in the sense of going out and finding Alabamians that have barriers and not waiting for them to come in the door of our one-stop centers.
In the WIOA plan the governor has made the denominator for our performance indicators, how many people are in each of our seven workforce regions that, in fact, do have a barrier? Whether it's someone that may have a disability, someone that is recovering from substance abuse, or someone who may have a mental illness, or someone who is a veteran, or needs to up-skill, or has been long-term unemployed. So anybody that might have a barrier, we want to have a system that meets their needs and provides a benefit package that creates a bridge to long-term employment that is based on their individual characteristics. (Next slide, please.)
I won't belabor this, but this is our logic model, as it were, for connecting pre-K and birth all the way through the workforce. We've connected our K-to-12 plan, our post-secondary education attainment goal, and our economic development plan to create the feedback loop between our economic development community, workforce community, and individuals so that we are not only developing the human capital, but also the social capital that is really required to help people thrive and for communities to flourish. (Next slide, please.)
One of the elements that we have done to make sure that our employer community of business and industry is at the forefront of providing pathways to self-sufficiency is the Alabama Committee on Credentialing and Career Pathways. It's got a two-fold mission of identifying our in-demand jobs and then developing competency-based frameworks and competency models and pathways that will then allow our business and industry, and education and training providers, to align their program offerings to those opportunities. (Next slide, please.)
This is just an example of what our five-star rubric looks like, and we do consider factors beyond just raw demand. We want to make sure that people have a pathway that maybe begins with an entry-level job, but also with a couple more credentials, a little bit more training, they upscale into an opportunity occupation and then a destination occupation, getting a progressive wage increase along the way and then having transferability of skills.
As we say here, we're not trying to sell anybody a wooden nickel. We do know that in the COVID-19 environment, there is a strong demand for short-term asynchronous programs that are delivered virtually, but we want to make sure that those programs have not only the short-term labor market value, but also a general mix of academic and long-term skills that we know provides the right mix, that provides long-term value in the labor market. (Next slide, please.)
Part of that work is developing the Alabama Occupational Ontology. Some of the current occupational classification systems, such as O*Net, were a little bit too static for us, so what we did was developed a framework, sort of a table of elements, for all of the competencies and all of the credentials, and we register all of our credentials from our employers and we develop our occupational ontology that will allow someone to connect all the skills they need to know to the credentials that they need to earn to denote mastery of those skills. (Next slide, please.)
And this is just an example of our non-degree quality assurance criteria, and I show this to you to make the point that as we review credentials, just in the same way that we review occupations, we want to make sure that people are able to enjoy a wage premium over a high school diploma and that they have the type of portable, traceable, and trackable skills that give them the type of mobility in the labor market that will allow them to achieve self-sufficiency. (Next slide, please.)
Then again, just to make a deeper note on our credential registry, it's very important for any state that's developing a system of competency-based learning to reach a tipping point to where all of your non-degree credentials are registered. This also helps equalize non-degree pathways and creates articulation so that someone can begin a short-term, non-degree program and then articulate that credit towards a long-term degree, and then that gets us towards the right mix of general and employability skills that gives us a long-term labor market value. (Next slide, please.)
This is an example of one of the competency models that we built. What it would show if this one was a particular occupation, you would see many different blocks within each of the tiers, and this is essentially the DNA for a job. And we create lattices and linear pathways and dynamic pathways and we survey each of our employer sectors every year to make sure that these are living and are as close to up-to-date as possible with current labor market information. (Next slide, please.)
And so this is just an example of our two-prong Career Pathway Model to show that we're connecting and braiding funds, and using those competency models and occupations that we've identified to provide to youths and adults the same program of study. But for youth we're compressing the time and allowing a young person in high school to earn credentials, an apprenticeship and an associate degree at the time of graduation. And for adults, to co-enroll in adult basic education, get wraparound services and then be able to, sort of like an interstate, have multiple on-ramps and off-ramps as they earn more skills, and through that credential currency, up-skill each time. (Next slide, please.)
I'll mention that to operationalize much of the infrastructure that I've shown to you, we applied for and we're very fortunate to successfully compete for, a Reimagining Workforce Prep Grant to fund the Alabama Workforce Stabilization Program. It's going to serve almost 8,000 people and focus on advanced manufacturing, IT, healthcare, construction, transportation, distribution, and logistics.
And the point that Dr. Bostic made, and Dr. Altig, that many of the jobs that were displaced by COVID may not be coming back. We had a two-focus population before COVID—our high school seniors and those that were not participating in the labor force. We see now that we have a third population, the 800,000 Alabamians that have been displaced by COVID-19. And we want to make sure that as we are re-skilling and up-skilling, we look and provide the wraparound services. There's going to be a lot of trauma. There's going to be a lot of other externalities that we're going to have to deal with. So the program, the Alabama Workforce Stabilization Program, is to begin someone with the wraparound supports they need to begin an entry-level occupation. And then through the ability to do a benefit program through the U.S. Department of Education, access Pell Grant, if they don't have a high school diploma or its equivalency for long-term post-secondary education. (Next slide, please.)
We are building our longitudinal data system to connect all of our inter-agency data to make this work, and we'll slide past this onto the next slide.
What I want to make a point here, is that we are returning all of this data back to the people of Alabama through the Alabama College and Career Exploration Tool. And the asset serves as a learning and employment record so that when an employer makes a skills-based job description using one of the competency models I showed you, they can geo-fence a pool of candidates that has the precise set of skills that's linked to that job description. And so it's going to cut down on hiring costs for employers and make it a lot more known and transparent process for job seekers. (Next slide, please.)
So that brings us to the culmination, DAVID—the Dashboard for Alabamians to Visualize Income Determinations. We know that when facing benefit cliffs and marginal tax increases, many individuals need help navigating the short-term pain in order to get into a long-term path to self-sufficiency. So, what we're doing, is working with all of our public workforce system staff in our career centers, whether it's adult education providers, vocational rehab, and also SNAP and TANF case managers, and we're training them to use the Dashboard for Alabamians to Visualize Income Determinations. It uses the cliff technology that Dr. Altig and Dr. Ruder had mentioned, and due to our partnership with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, we are now at a point to where we're getting ready to launch DAVID.
We're going to continue adding more and more dynamic pathways and all of our various family dynamics, so that any Alabamian who enters into our public workforce system as part of the WIOA intake, or human services intake process, this will be part of the process that allows us to provide for them what we call the Goldilocks package of benefits—it's not too much or not too little—that allows them to have the bridge that gets past these marginal tax rate increases.
This is a huge part of our strategy, not only to increase our labor force participation rate, but also to help the individuals who have been displaced by COVID-19, that for the first time in many years, may be thinking about retraining. It's very scary when you think about, "I know what I have right now, but I'm going into a situation where there's many unknown factors." This is one tool in our toolkit that is very powerful. It's going to help make that transition just a little bit more known and a little bit more easy for Alabamians who right now are, quite frankly, very frightened about that transition.
Again, I want to thank Dr. Bostic, Dr. Altig, Dr. Ruder, Administrator Williams, for your partnership with the State of Alabama on behalf of Governor Ivey. Just want to tell you it has been instrumental in the ability for us, not only to implement our 2020 WIOA plan, but for Alabama to be able to serve the 800,000 individuals who have, unfortunately, been displaced due to this pandemic.
Thanks so much. And I would now like to turn it over to Maggie, who's going to share with us some interesting work that has taken place in Florida.
Thank you to ACF and the Federal Reserve Bank [inaudible].
My name is Maggie Mickler, and I have the honor of serving the [inaudible] Department of Children and Families.
Those of you who are not familiar with the Economic Self-Sufficiency Program, or ESS, we administer [inaudible] cash and medical assistance. Many of you know these programs as SNAP.
Also housed within the Department of Children and Families, is the Office of Child Welfare, Substance Abuse and [inaudible] Adult Protective Services [inaudible] within our department, we serve some of Florida's most vulnerable populations.
Today I want to take a moment to discuss with you the agency's shift in approach in serving these populations and specifically [inaudible] economic self-sufficiency rate. (Alex, if you'll go to my first slide, please.)
Brittany Birken: Maggie, we're struggling to hear you. Can you lean into your mic a little bit?
Maggie Mickler: Let me know if that's better for you, Brittany.
Brittany Birken: Yes, much better. Thank you.
Maggie Mickler: Today I wanted to, again, cover what we're doing here within Florida, within the Department of Children and Families. Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, the Florida Department of Children and Families has prioritized prevention as our top priority and goal. When Secretary Chad Poppell took over the agency in 2019, it quickly became clear to him [inaudible] operated more like an emergency room instead of focusing on reducing or mitigating crisis before [inaudible]. And as you can imagine, mitigating crisis and prevention for the department looks vastly different across the board for each of our program areas.
So to align the agency, Secretary Poppell brought in and institutionalized the 4DX Franklin Covey model to create one large important goal that all of the agency's 12,000 employees could [inaudible]. Franklin Covey calls these massive stretch goals WIGs, which stands for a Wildly Important Goal. Department's WIG is to reduce the number of families in crisis by 20 percent by June 2021. And with this WIG, Secretary Poppell started aligning each program area to begin to shift its resources, time, and energy on prevention. For the ESS program, we use this process to start to align our operations with our programming.
We are called the Office of Economic Self-Sufficiency because [inaudible] to help our clients achieve [inaudible]. So I wanted to take a quick moment here to pause and say, the reason why our program is able to go through this transformation, best providing benefits for our clients, helping our clients in a more meaningful way, is because the program meets federal [inaudible].
So in going back to the WIG and Secretary Poppell's charge, we began to look and itemize our data to help identify ESS crisis populations. We define crisis as not simply just being on benefit, chronically on public benefit. It's okay that a family comes into our benefit rolls, not okay is that the family stays chronically dependent on public benefit. What we found when we were looking at the trends of our current population and data is that after the 21 mark of being on benefits, the likelihood that someone was chronically going to be dependent on public benefit drastically [inaudible].
So, therefore, we identified our crisis population as those individuals who stayed on benefits [inaudible] specifically ESS to find this crisis population of individuals 18-59 on SNAP or TANF after the 21st mark. So we have 21 months to work programmatically with individuals to help them find meaningful employment and financial independence before they enter the 22nd month in benefits.
We see the ESS program as a front door to services within our agency. Our assumption is if we can help Florida families gain self-sufficiency by removing the financial burden and stress from the home when they first apply for benefits, you will help reduce the number of individuals who then spill over into the child welfare and substance abuse [inaudible]. Again, if we can identify the need for critical services and get a family help earlier, we will be able to hopefully help that family avoid a more significant crisis event by helping them get help early on. And this mindset and our approach has shifted the operations of the agency's programs. And we've worked to align our terminology, to share resources, data, and information, and use common tools [inaudible]. Simply stated, the entire department is working to identify and help families sooner, before crisis occurs. And the Department of Children and Families is focusing and shifting its resources from being emergent.
And so to shift the ESS program from just providing benefits to prevention services, we established a new program called Care Coordination, to help clients identify and [inaudible]. Now Care Coordination is not a new term. And in fact, is used commonly in the medical field. Care Coordination is a patient-centered approach where providers and specialists come together with the patient while developing a united plan to address a client's healthcare issues. Care Coordination for ESS was developed in a similar concept, but instead of addressing the client's medical needs, it worked to address their employment and [inaudible]. We worked to build our model from the ground up using input from the frontline team members and local community [inaudible]. Over a three- to four-month period, the team worked to build an assessment, developed a tracking tool to find the process flow and the frequency and interaction with our clients, to create extensive trainings, [inaudible] interviewing technique [inaudible].
We worked hard to standardize a process from beginning to end, so the model can be tweaked and eventually adopted statewide. And so Care Coordination is a voluntary program. It was developed to follow our normal business processes across the public benefit application process to offer this opportunity to willing clients. Again, frame of mind is important, and it must be critical that the client actually wants to [inaudible] the program. After the client fills out an application for benefits, an eligibility specialist while conducting the required interview will ask their client a series of questions to see if they're interested in participating in Care Coordination. If the client accepts, the eligibility specialist will do a warm handoff to the Care Coordinator, at a time to conduct a more intensive questionnaire or assessment with their client. And the assessment includes everything from capturing goals of the client, to the family dynamics, indicators of substance abuse and barriers, and of course, barriers to employment and what their personal goals are. And the purpose of the assessment is to outline any and all barriers that the client, and really the family unit, may need assistance in addressing.
And this is critical for us because we've found that, particularly with family units, there could be other members of the family, such as teenagers that we can go ahead and start enrolling in some of those youth workforce programs. And again, to start trying to change the trajectory of that family and that [inaudible]. We also found it critical to start gathering information, help guide the future referrals to the agency programs, which are basically [inaudible] help child welfare and homelessness programs. So once barriers and goals are outlined, the Care Coordinator will refer the client to a suite of services and resources within the Department's network of community partners, sister agencies, nonprofits, and faith-based providers. This step is particularly important for our process, as the Care Coordinator will work to provide a warm handoff to these resources, showing that the client is aware of the services and resources that will be provided, and that the provider is aware of the department's expectations of the client.
Once services are received, the Care Coordinator will follow up with the client and the provider to get back on the services that were [inaudible]. This referral process will continue until all barriers are identified and removed, before the individual is able [inaudible].
We officially launched Care Coordination in Florida in August, after a slight delay due to the public health emergency. We started offering the initial program in two of our six regions [inaudible]. And we deployed this model with existing resources, shifting 30 FTEs initially, while piloting the program in the Northwest and Central region for our state. We meet weekly with the team to discuss the model, provide support needed from the program area and to review [inaudible]. Our regional teams have worked to expand our network of providers and partners to ensure all barriers identified can be [inaudible]. Common barriers so far for our clients continue to be employment, education, bill payment assistance, housing, basic needs such as personal hygiene and clothing.
And again, while the program is very new, early outcomes are promising. So, so far we have seen more than a thousand referrals, of which more than half of these cases being active and open. And even more exciting is that currently have a higher acceptance rate for Care Coordination than we do for some of our mandatory required programs in Florida. And again, all of this is new. We have a lot riding on the success of this program and we will continually evaluate our successes and pitfalls every six months. [inaudible] this program and expand that [inaudible] statewide [inaudible] serve more of our clients.
The second circle to your right would be... To the right of Care Coordination is the elimination of fiscal cliffs and [inaudible]. So Care Coordination is our programmatic shift or our transformation of a larger issue to be addressed in our state is how can we align our resources, policies, and initiatives to make [inaudible] difference in closing benefit gaps in ending generational poverty. When the program began talking to advocates like Carlis with ACF and Brittany with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, it was clear that the agencies have one small [inaudible] and that to make meaningful change, we needed to gather the experts from across the respective fields to start digging into these complex issues together. (Alex, if you'd go to my second slide real quick.)
So, in July [crosstalk].
Brittany Birken: Oh, go ahead. I'm sorry, Maggie. It's, we're still having a hard time with audio for you and I did not want to disrupt, but before Alex moves to the next slide... in the fun, new virtual land of working things through, what I'd like to do is pick up on what I think we're going to ask anyway, in our Q and A panel on some of the state partners.
Maggie Mickler: Okay.
Brittany Birken: And then in the meantime, if it's okay with you, we're going to go ahead and invite Nick back on and then see if you can make an adjustment heard. I hope everyone was able to glean from you, the Department of Children and Families in Florida has really undertaken a very significant shift in operations and moved to a strong prevention model on Care Coordination and can send some follow-up to our registrants after, because it is work that we really wanted to make sure that we could lift up.
What we heard was two very different approaches from two state leaders working on improving economic self-sufficiency. One through a really significant focus on workforce development, the other from a human services and social services angle, and know that you all have a lot of crossover and work with partners, which is actually what I'd like to lift up first and ask each of you. Systems change at the level and magnitude that you described requires considerable strategy and partnerships. How have you all approached stakeholder engagement? And can you share a bit about key partnerships? Maggie, I'll ask to go ahead and respond first and we'll see if we can get some good audio for you.
Maggie Mickler: Let's see, is that a little bit better?
Brittany Birken: A little... let's keep trying.
Maggie Mickler: Okay. And I'll lean in some too. So, partners, obviously are critical. And what we're finding in Florida is that government is just now starting to use technology. Basically, we start tapping into our partnership and to gain support and services statewide. So, one of the units we initially created when we came to the ESS program was a strategic partnership and stakeholders' unit to prioritize and evaluate the building of strong statewide and local partners. And it's critical that we have trusted advisers at the local level at the table, because as you know, community-based providers are the trusted advisers within the community. Just like you and I don't ask government where to take our child to daycare, those that work in the community are those trusted advisers that our clients go to, to remove barriers and find services that we need. So we refer to this in Florida a lot as our social capital, or our social network, and helping our clients navigate and build those connections locally is basically, in a nutshell, Care Coordination for us.
So, to help align our resources and stakeholder network, we've been working in Florida to catalog basically all of our partnerships underneath one tool. And under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, Florida has launched the MyFloridaMyFamily.com hub, which offers services online for not only individuals who have a need—they can go on and search by ZIP code and find the services to help support them—but it also will connect faith-based institutions to the needs of families being served within DCF system of care and allows our faith-based providers to respond to and resolve the needs of vulnerable families. And so you have basically thousands of churches that have enrolled in this technology and using this tool and their congregations who are full of talent that are helping Florida directly serve families in need through technology, which is an incredible resource.
And so you have these pockets of great things going on throughout the Sunshine State. One of the things that we've found is the Florida Chamber has a ZIP code initiative, where they're bringing in the private sector to help resolve poverty within specific communities throughout the state. And they did so because they basically came to the assumption that if government can solve poverty, we would have already done it. And so you got this thing called a ZIP code champion that they're, again, they're popping up locally throughout Florida, and they're asking businesses to buy-in and commit to being part of the solution to end poverty. And you also have exceptional work going on with Florida's Children's Council, who's done extensive work in this realm. And our workforce boards clearly here in Florida, CareerSource Florida, who's invested in Pathways to Prosperity grants and support [inaudible].
So, what we did in Florida is we brought all of these stakeholders together and several more—the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the Department of Economic Opportunity, Florida Department of Education. And we brought all of these stakeholders together to build a work group, to basically start aligning our resources, aligning our initiatives, starting to use common definitions and terms, and really to start outlining what the barriers are within our state for individuals who are on poverty and how we can start working collectively to close these benefit gaps.
Each of these partners are doing exceptional work throughout the state, but collectively we've got to start merging these initiatives together, removing those structural barriers, and again, start collaborating to solve some of these complex problems.
Brittany Birken: Thank you, Maggie. And yes, there is a lot of synergy between work that's happening at the community level and creating that circular feedback loop is really remarkable and admirable that you've set a table with both private and public funders and investors in the system and stakeholders to do that work. So, Nick, now I'll ask you the same question. Can you share a little bit about the partnerships that have been established to help really strengthen [inaudible] work in Alabama?
Nick Moore: Yes ma'am. And I'll say that Governor Ivey understood that it takes gubernatorial leadership to get the ball rolling on something like this. And so what she did was first began by turning all of what used to be compliance documents and division statements for our state. So, all of the federal plans that a state has to send in to get WIOA funds or Perkins funds or ESEA funds in many cases often can just be a compliance exercise and you fill out the paperwork and get your funds. The governor wanted to be something very much more than that and realized that all of those programs have been reauthorized and aligned by design to create an education-to-workforce system. But it takes leadership and vision to make that happen, which she provided. And then began recognizing that if we're going to mitigate benefit cliffs, we first have to recognize that re-engaging community organizations and really rebuilding social capital is key to rebuilding human capital.
We could look at the marginal tax rate increases, and sometimes some of the short-term effects that many of our transfer programs have really caused people to rectify with. Another one of them is a fact that often much of the work that is happening at the community level sometimes is just not amplified in the way that it should be, because often people turn to state or federal resources first.
And so what we want to do is prioritize first, the work that people are actually doing in their own communities, and also taking the tactic that people don't need to be told what to do. For too long people have been coming into places like Alabama and trying to tell people what they need to do in their own community to improve themselves. And that's certainly the wrong approach.
What we need to do, and Governor Ivey's doing is listening to people in their communities. And what you find is when you listen, what's missing are resources, they know what they need to do. And so, if you can simply help them leverage other partnerships, they know what needs to get done. And so that has proven very successful, when you amplify the leadership element that has been put into place of breaking down silos in state agencies. Because all of a sudden, it's not a matter of turf, "Oh, this is my place over here and I'm going to guard my pile." It's more about this community has told us what their needs are and then everybody, your job is to go get it done. And so that is why I go back to my original point that gubernatorial leadership is so key. But I'll echo what Maggie said on technology. Technology is helping us democratize access to that social capital. And so, whereas before it would've been through word of mouth or just through the power of colloquial devices that they're around, now we're able to ...
... for example, through the Alabama Family Connection, similar to what she mentioned of connecting all of our childcare and early learning resources, but also what we're doing through David and through the Alabama College and Career Exploration tool to where all of the local nonprofit providers and the state and federal resources are all there. So that when we're looking at we're looking at an individual and a caseworker, it's sort of, here's my needs that I've shown to you. And then here is the full panoply of benefits that are available, and then it's just plug and play based on what that person's unique circumstances are. So, it's very exciting. And I'll say we're not at the end, but maybe we're at the end of the beginning of, of implementing some of these systems.
Brittany Birken: Thank you, Nick. That transitions us beautifully into my next and last question for you all. And I'm sure there are many lessons, but you all have both talked about client center approaches and how important that is to put the individuals and families at the center of what you're doing. And so for those who are listening and thinking about their work, what is a lesson learned that you would share that could be helpful in how other states and community leaders think about approaching this work? Nick, I'll kick it to you first.
Nick Moore: There are so many people that are looking to help if you'll just reach out. I would say that one thing that anybody, whether you're in a governor's office or a state agency, or a nonprofit, use your convening authority to bring people together and begin talking about the hard subjects and make it... whether it's a long-term plan, short term plan, you first have got to convene the right people at the table and begin having those tough conversations because everybody's already having those conversations, but they might just be doing it in smaller groups. And so if you really want to begin breaking down silos and see some big work getting done, convening people together and creating a dialogue, you've got to allow people to be vulnerable. You got to have a diverse group of stakeholders at the table, you've got to have the voices at the table that truly represent the groups that you're trying to make the biggest impact for.
So that is a lesson that continued to rise to the top, whether it's through our WIOA planning work or the work that we've done with, for example, Ms. Julie Kornegay, who is one of our liaisons here in Birmingham who originally got us connected and talking with Dr. Ruder and Dr. Altig. And so bringing people together in one setting might develop and create a project that you weren't even thinking about. And so it, in a sense, becomes a sort of conveyor belt to progress if you pull it off.
Brittany Birken: Absolutely. Thank you so much. And same question to you, Maggie.
Maggie Mickler: So, I'll just echo Nick's sentiment to that. Clearly, having the support of your governor and executive leadership team is critical. But also having the support of our federal partners that provided the flexibility for our state in order to respond to new approaches and to develop innovation within our program. And again, I just kind of wanted to echo that a lesson for us is really realizing that we have a terrible way of government, where we expect someone to walk in our door and specifically ask for that service that they need. And we really like it when they know what kind of funding source that it's connected to. And that's just a ludicrous frame of mind to have.
And so we talked in Florida, like Nick was saying, about no wrong door to government, meaning that no matter how you enter into our system or a level here, our service delivery team is this vast network that's easy for us to navigate because a true client-centered approach should be invisible to the client. The client just needs to know that they need help and they need to walk into the door, and we should make it seamless and easy for them in our state in order to help them. And so continuing to build this large, vast network of community-based providers—in a state that's as large and diverse as our state—it can be very trying and difficult, which is why it's important for us to use technology, to ensure that our employees have the ability to navigate a system that's easy and provide those resources as quickly as possible to the client.
And then the last thing I would say here too is, a lot of our model hasn't been perfect from the beginning. So just get started, start convening the right people to bring them to the table, start building your model, start having these in-depth conversations, start digging in. Don't let the pursuit of perfection keep you from starting to try new things within your state and program areas.
Brittany Birken: Thank you both. We really appreciate you sharing key state system changes that can tangibly support career advancement and opportunities for using benefits cliffs.
We're now going to transition to a community conversation. As we think about community efforts to connect local systems, work directly with individuals and families, and identify resources and mechanisms for mitigating benefits cliffs. We know that work largely happens within the context of state laws and systems. Two of our community panelists hail from Florida and Alabama. So there's an opportunity to think about the synergy between the community and state efforts that we just heard. It's my pleasure to introduce Jeffrey Fredericks, special assistant to the regional administrator for the Administration for Children and Families, who will moderate our panel on community virtues.
Jeffrey Fredericks: Thank you, Brit. It's my pleasure to be with you today. And this final session will focus on the importance of community work, local partnerships, and testbeds for demonstration opportunities to show effectiveness and better serving clients and their families. The construct of this summit has started with visions from the top, offering a broader window through which to view the need of the work. We move then to the states that offered some frameworks for action. And this final session, we'll talk about end line product, where the rubber hits the road, if you will, boots on the ground and folks actually touching the clients. I'd like to start by saying that through Dave and Carlis' leadership, the theme has always been about action, not about admiring the problem and wringing your hands, but it's not a one-and-done. And what we need to do is understand what can be taken for action.
And as President Bostic pointed out, it's about change on the ground. And then Carlis talked about the change, at best, being intentional, inclusive, and innovative. So this panel is about what does it look like on the ground to those that are actually serving the clients and what is their perspective on what is needed to move ahead.
I'd like to start with James and ask him to share a bit about his work and respond to our first question, which is as follows: Input from local providers can inform federal and state officials as they consider legislative framework and policies to address the cliffs. With work to improve past practice on the cliffs already underway on many fronts, including work with employers in the philanthropic community, we have, however, lost a historic favorable employment situation and instead must address these challenges of reopening a hardened economy, including childcare and the continued threat of COVID, which has unveiled the disparity space by many populations. James, can you talk a bit about your work and the thoughts or lessons learned that you believe are most important to you [inaudible] since have rapidly transformed?
James Pasley: Well, thank you, Jeff. My name is James Pasley. I'm the Executive Director and CEO for Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council here in South Carolina. We're a community action agency serving the Tri-County area of Ori, Williamsburg, and Georgetown County. We're coastal counties.
Our experience thus far in looking at the impact of COVID on the population that we serve has been substantial. And in looking at what has impacted them with the impacts of COVID. First of all, we start out with some root causes of our situation impacting poverty. Some of these root causes are the wealth gap. When we look at the fact that the average white family is eight times wealthier than the black family and five times wealthier than a Hispanic family. That's one of the factors of where they're starting from. Black and Hispanic families and low-income white families and other minorities, they have to go to work. They have to work in this environment. They are overrepresented in terms of those testing positive and are dying from COVID. Which means they need more assistance.
They need assistance, as well, in many different types of assistance. One of the things that we've been experiencing in our providing of services, just in COVID relief alone, we've had almost a thousand additional clients above our normal participants. We've given—dispersed—close to three quarters of a million dollars in additional resources just in the last six months. So, these are some of the impacts of COVID that have impacted this population.
We also look at some of the social determinants of health that have a negative impact on them. The ZIP code in which they live, issues around healthcare and not having sufficient health care, the higher costs, which pushes them into that cycle of poverty. Now, the project that we have looked at to try to begin to address some of these things, particularly with our youth and individuals with children, trying to look at it from a two-generation approach, we've developed a pilot project that really has hands-on services trying to impact this population.
It's our step-up program. It is designed with intense case management to try to help these young people set goals that are realistic, with the ultimate goal in mind of getting them to a livable wage. And we've targeted that livable wage at $15 an hour with benefits, in order to try to get them on an upward trajectory out of that cycle of poverty. We're approaching this, as I said before, with a two-generation approach. We begin by looking at where that particular applicant is. We do mapping for that individual, determining their skill set, where they're starting from, as well as doing asset mapping in the community and helping that individual set a plan to secure a job that's going to begin to move them out of poverty and take it into account the impacts of the benefit cliff and how we address that as they move forward to get to that level of their goal of that $15 an hour and a job with benefits. So that's where we're beginning. And those are some of the things that we've seen.
Jeffrey Fredericks: Thank you, James. Others, any response to question one?
Pam Bates: This is Pam Bates and I'm the Executive Director of East Lake Initiative in Birmingham, Alabama, and also happy to be part of an organization called Thrive Together, which is a collaboration of nonprofits that just comes together to serve the families of Jefferson County, in the state of Alabama. And so I can agree with James on much of... we've seen much of the same thing as far as what's taking place during COVID. We're an organization that does holistic community development, and we work within the framework of housing, health, and education, and then workforce development. And, obviously, those things are not possible unless you work in collaboration with other organizations. But with the outbreak of COVID, one of the things that we've seen as far as negative effects on our families has been the change in the workforce. The way people are expected to work. Many of our families have been asked to work from home, which for them is a great difficulty because they don't have the technology and they may not have the resources available for that.
So one of the things that we have implemented is a program called Hustle, which allows them... it's a micro grant program, which allows them to access funding, to be able to purchase the equipment that they need. And then also access the internet capabilities to be able to be competitive as far as workforce is concerned. And the other thing that we have really... our families have been struggling with is the childcare piece. We have about 63 percent of our childcares are open right now in, within the city limits. And so there's a limit on the number of available spots, particularly for those that are school age. Our local school system is still doing remote learning. And so you can imagine how difficult that is for moms, to be able to go back to work if they're still trying to take care of their children. So those are things that we're trying to face.
And we're combating that by really focusing on what is the core that we have done all along. And we call that just the three Cs. And it's coaching, communication, and commitment. We make a long-term commitment to the families that we serve. And so we seek to serve them for three to five years so that we can help them figure out what the options and resources are and how they can best access those resources so that they can move forward and thrive. And we have found because that was our setup ahead of COVID, that during the time that we've had to do things remotely, we've been able to continue doing that through our coaching format. And so right now we look forward to joining with others. I'm grateful that we're having this conversation on how we can best work together to see families thrive.
Nick Moore: This is Nick, and I'll say, thanks for the great work you're doing Ms. Bates in Birmingham. And I want to just make a point at the state level on a comment you made that childcare definitely has been a big issue. And one thing that we have done as part of... so there was some funds in the Cares Act that went through actually through ACF. So, thank you for that. And we were allowed to then stabilize our providers and went from 63 percent statewide. They were open to 75 percent, but certainly as you alluded to, there are some pockets where that continues to be lower. And we've coupled that with a big outreach, particularly on K-12 for access to broadband internet. And so there was a $100 million voucher program and it was really simple. Somebody, the school system, provided the information about the families that are eligible, and they got the voucher.
But obviously if you're at the end of the line and that's not there, that's still a problem because you don't have the infrastructure. So, you still don't have access, but that has somewhat closed the gap. And for the communities that didn't even have the infrastructure, we have a program to where we actually stationing school buses with Wi-Fi signals throughout rural counties. And that has closed the gap for those that are down the end of the line, but that will continue to be a [inaudible] focus going forward for the Ivey administration and thinking about rural broadband and getting to a hundred percent access in the 2020s in the same way that we thought about rural electrification and the 1920s and 1930s.
Jeffrey Fredericks: Important point. Thank you, Nick, James... and Pam, thank you as well. Michelle, I'd like you, if you would please, to discuss your work in Florida, and if you would, lead us in your response to our second question which is: With many of your clients experiencing setbacks that are the benefits cliffs, or if they are successful in our programs, they will often face the cliffs. How have you made adjustments in your partnerships programs' case management to support clients before the cliffs, before they start their journey, during their journey, and after their work through what I think we can fairly call an imperfect pathway, including any help in sustaining gains and stabilizing well-being.
Michele Watson: Wonderful. Thank you so much. My name is Michele Watson. I am the CEO of the Florida Children's Council. And we represent voter referendum-approved special districts that are throughout the state of Florida. And through these special districts, we're able to use funding in really innovative ways. And one of the ways that our districts have done that is we have created a demonstration project called Families Ascent to Economic Security, or FATES. And what this does is it specifically looks at the real-life application of the cliff. How do we help families transition from subsidized childcare in a job sector, advancement pathway through that cliff that we know is going to hit around childcare and potentially housing, and ease that cliff for them? So, what we've done is we've worked with communities in St. Lucie and Martin County with their career source team, our children's services councils, as well as our early learning coalitions.
And ways that we do that is we look at families with young children who are about to become income-ineligible in childcare, look at their job sector—what job sector are they in—and then provide them resources and support to our career source partners to determine if there is a job sector pathway that can help them advance in their careers, through education, job training, and supports that will help them ease the cliffs.
Where the children's services council then comes in as they lay over those subsidized childcare dollars. So when the family becomes ineligible, they will pay for subsidized childcare on a pathway to self-sufficiency for up to three years, with the burden of the childcare subsidy being borne by the parent as the parent's trajectory and job advancement continues. So what we're really hoping to do is get these families to a place of true economic security in the sense that they're not in that delicate position of one traumatic event or one experience away from not having enough assets that they're going to have to come back in through a social service door.
And so that's the way that our program FATES is really working to address the cliff and be really thoughtful. We were really intentional and started with the health sector, and COVID has allowed us to go back and look at what job sectors actually survived the COVID pandemic and have opportunities for advancements and create more pathways as job seekers are going to come back into the fold in looking for job placement and job career opportunities. We're going to have a lot more data and information and the ability to show them the trajectory if they have the patience and the commitment. The three Cs that Pam talked about were really, really important as well as having that dedicated person who is going to stick with them through this process and help them navigate their way through this path. Because it is hard for these families and they need to know that they have a cheerleader at the end of the day. And so that's the way that, in Florida, we've been able to take what we know on paper makes sense, and really begin to demonstrate what that looks like in real life.
Jeffrey Fredericks: Thank you Michele, I appreciate that. Richard, would you kindly introduce your work, and would you like to reflect on question 2 before we move on to question 3?
Richard Barr: Good morning everyone in the Southeast, my name is Richard Barr. I am from the South Carolina Center for Fathers and Families in the state of South Carolina, which is a statewide nonprofit with offices in every region of the state. We focus on a family development model where we focus on the man as the head of that family and we flow everything out of him from a service perspective. We have a model that can help stabilize the man and make him strong. And then we can get his assets—mind, body and spirit—together. He can strengthen the rest of his family. We birthed that model primarily in the late '90s after we did a social scan, realizing that there were a lot of services for women and children, but very little for men. And the downfall to that is, is that men have something you may have heard of called "pride." And because of that, it often stopped them from seeking services and begin to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, until we realized that many of the men we served did not have boots at all.
But we developed a growth model. Sometimes we call it Families Advancing Together through Health, Economics, and Relationship. We focus primarily on three areas: We focus on the holistic health of the man, the economic development of the man, [and] his relational structures and the development of those things and the things that flow out of his relationship. And we do that in a holistic model by looking at from whence he came, from where he is, and into the future of his children, to make sure that they never have to deal with maybe the things he dealt with, and that we can stabilize their life to a point where their future is better than their past.
To address the question, Jeff: We primarily try to make things real simple. One thing I've learned—the more complicated you become, the more simple you have to be in order to be effective. So we've broken stuff down, even to colors when it comes down to even our program model.
So one thing that we asked, in this particular season, was, what is left? Where is it? How does he get there? And what does he need? So we can determine what's there. Then we can determine where it is. And then we can put the support services on there to how to get him to that place and to make sure that he has what he needs to be, what we call... mobility. We really like to focus on mobility, stability. If you learned anything in our social circuit, stability is probably a service myth. There's really no such thing as true stability. As a matter of fact, if you look at the word itself, it just starts with "stab." So when ice turns into water, you just lost that stability. So the mobility model is focusing on the mentality of a man, because as it relates to the cliff, there are two major things that we consider. The two biggest cliffs are the fear cliff and the change cliff.
That's what people fear the most. It's like, if I make this move, what is that going to cost me? That's fear, and the fear of the change itself. So we make sure that we put him in what we call a service model, where he does not have to worry about—let's go ahead and call those the basic needs—food, clothing, and shelter. And so he can actually mobilize himself without having to worry about the bare necessities of mobility.
Jeffrey Fredericks: Thank you, Richard. Pam or James, anything you care to add on the second question before we move on?
James Pasley: I'd like to share this, if I could. We're a part of a CAP agency in South Carolina. There are 16 CAP agencies covering every county. And one of the things that we do to address the cliff internally, under our umbrella of services, we have Head Start, CSBG, Weatherization. Some of our sister agencies even have housing associated with it. But as in addressing the cliff, we try to do as much as we can internally within the structure of our CAP, with the services that are under our umbrella, to smooth the transition as they move forward. In working with these young people, helping them to understand that there is a better way, there is an opportunity, and there are many services out there for them. But coming from where they are, what they have been exposed to, unless someone can shepherd them, if you will, through this process, it's hard for them to access all of the available services. So, one of the things that we do is we have intense case management working with our partners, and the fatherhood group is one of our partners.
We work with our partners to fill in and leverage services to meet the needs of these young people as we guide them on their journey to that sustainable... to that job that's going to pay them a living wage with benefits. So the coordination of services is important, but that case management is a key piece. And I say intense case management—working with them along with the other partners—to make sure that they stay on track, don't get discouraged, and have a plan to address the benefit cliffs that we can't meet internally within the CAP, that we go outside and get other resources and work with state government and other agencies, to try to adjust their policies where they have flexibility to not let the impact of the cliff discourage these young people from continuing to break that cycle of poverty.
And I think that's the key, letting them know that they're not going to be left to fend for themselves through this process; that case manager is going to be there to help them navigate the handoff to those other providers of service, to assist them on this journey to getting to that job that's going to pay them a living wage with benefits.
Richard Barr: Jeff, if you don't mind, I believe Mr. Pasley is exactly right. We call it going from a tourist model to a tour guide model. In other words, if you've ever been on a trip, you've got a travel agent and you've got a tour guide. The travel agent says, "Go over there!" The tour guide says, "Let me come with you." And so the word that Mr. Pasley used called "shepherding" is critical. Oftentimes we have a function that we call "outreach coordinators," and we make it our business to go to actually where they live. Because if I know where you live, I know what you're dealing with. And often it's how we found out that they really aren't living anywhere. They're mobile. They're at momma's house one day, girlfriend's house the next day, auntie's house the next day. And so then we realize that we're dealing with a basic need of, I need a place to stay because what I've been trying to do, I'm just trying to navigate my way until I land someplace.
It's very hard, as everybody knows on here that works in the social sector, to work with somebody who was here one day and somewhere else the next. So we even let their family know what they're involved in because there's something called "driving forces" and "restraining forces." And if we can get their support system to drive them to us, as well, then that creates a net of support that actually includes their family.
Jeffrey Fredericks: Okay. Pam, did you want to jump in?
Pam Bates: Yeah, I would just say that I agree with everything that's been said, and what we find is that it's important to have those short-term goals, but the key is to have the long-term goals. We're so grateful for the tool that the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta is producing because it allows us to look at things three to five years out and project where those cliffs are going to occur, and our organization is able to then lay out for the family, over the next three to five years, these are the resources you're going to need to access.
We're able to offer housing subsidies as well as childcare subsidies. We offer food market subsidies. So when they know that even though they're going to see a reduction in benefits, we're going to be able to help fill that gap, they can make those choices now to know, as you proceed in education, even though your income is going to go down, there's going to be a support system there for you. And I think Carlis said it in her comments, that hope is key and encouragement is essential, and I think that's what we, as organizations, can provide is just that hope and that encouragement that someone is going to walk with you. Michele said it best: We have to make a long-term commitment if we want to see families be able to progress toward thriving.
Jeffrey Fredericks: Thank you, Pam. The shepherding, and the tour guide, travel agent and things like that its important, because how we understand the problem—and the attempt today was to try to broaden the window through which we see the challenge—how we talk about things matter. And Richard, I'm going to ask you to kick off our response to our final question, which is: Reflecting on what we've heard today and your hands-on experience, how might we better frame discussions of the safety net, benefits cliffs, economic mobility, and strengthening community in order to forge more productive legislation and policy that promotes self-sufficiency and ultimately disrupts intergenerational poverty?
Richard Barr: Sir, I appreciate it. Like I said, I like to make things simple, no matter who I'm talking to, whether I'm talking to a first grader or a five-year senator. One thing everybody understands is the concept of what a cliff is. A cliff is a place where either you're going to hit a point where you're going to go up or you're going to fall off. How do we actually frame that into a conversation for both sides? So on one side where you have participants, this is what you, this is where you will end up if you do not move. On the other side, you have legislators that, if we do not make this investment, this is where we [inaudible]. So, stagnation will occur on both sides. You won't have a progressive economy, and you'll have stagnated people. And so what will you get? Everybody's in the ravine any way you look at. The question is when you hit a cliff, what is—many of y'all may have seen this, the tight rope thing where somebody walks from one side of the mountain to the other.
That thing involves about three different factors. It involves what we call progressive movement that the participant has to do, and gradual growth. Or progressive movement and gradual growth will actually grow on the same string if everybody participates. Other words, we tell the participant, "If you have progressive movement, we'll surround you with the safety net, per se, as long as you're moving." But allow them to actually opt out of not moving, and I think as the young man from Alabama said, "Don't necessarily tell them what to do, but allow them to make the decision." So they realize that they actually get stuck because they chose to take themselves out of the process. But as they progressively move, that progressive movement from one side of the mountain to the other side actually includes gradual growth. So, oftentimes we tell people to move and it's either a flat line or it's a dip. So there has to be a gradual growth sector to it, and so in the process, what we have to do is emphasize gains over losses.
One thing we try to do is make sure our employees have a healthy psyche when it comes to helping people. If we're not careful, sometimes in the social sector we can stir the waters of sickness. And we keep talking about what you don't have, what you don't have. We talk about what you can achieve, what's next, what's more. We're getting ready to implement a housing thing, called H2O Home Ownership. It's all about gains over losses, and as long as you stay on a progressive movement—and you got to be, you have to have a growing mentality to do that. In other words, if you look at the frame from which you are in, you'll probably will never see it because it's hard to see the picture from inside the frame, i.e., our current situation. None of us saw this coming and we sure didn't think it was going to last this long. We were like, "We're going to be on Zoom for about a month." And now you're about Zoomed out!
So the thing about it is, we focus on progressive movement, gradual growth, gains over losses, and then we make sure that people do not lose their basic needs in the process. We know what those things are: food, clothes, and shelter. And by doing that, what do you do? You reduce anxiety so they can continue to move, and we have to show them the increments of gradual growth. And before they realize it— here's the kicker—they have achieved past the cliff without actually dealing with the anxiety of falling into the pit itself.
So that's kind of how we deal with it, how we deal with the types of security that people worry about, primarily three types of security—physical, emotional, and relational. Sometimes when you move up, you lose people, but most people can deal with that as long as they don't lose that sense of, I've lost my physical needs and my emotional stability may be in flux, but it's not out, it's not totally out of bounds.
Jeffrey Fredericks: Thank you, Richard. Michele, is there anything you'd like to add?
Michele Watson: No. I think that Richard is absolutely right. That there are those social, emotional barriers that hold people back. But I also feel like there are folks that are really dealing with service fatigue. And so what's so exciting about what is happening with this movement is you are now having local agencies partnering with state agencies, with governor support, who are working with legislative members, who are using the term "fiscal cliff." Who are coming up with comprehensive service models. Who are really, really being thoughtful about how to reconfigure services to really, really help families. And I think it's a real exciting time, from a policy and stakeholder perspective, is that now you have momentum, you have strength in numbers, you have folks really, really talking about this issue.
And legislative members—the governor is hearing fiscal cliff, economic security, how do we get families there? It's great for the economy. It's great for second generational poverty as all of those wraparound services. I think one of it is absolutely, yes, what do you get from a very finite perspective. But then how is this movement swell really happening and becoming something that is gaining momentum and is going to be addressed. And is being addressed really thoughtfully by the work that DCF is doing in Florida with Maggie and her team, and the secretary with the support of the governor, the demonstration work we're doing at the local level, how we're continuing to gather data... look at services thoughtfully... is really a systems change that is going to be really exciting to hopefully see within the next five years.
Jeffrey Fredericks: Thank you, Michele. Pam and James, we are truly down to seconds only. Is there anything you'd like to add?
James Pasley: I would certainly say improving lives, empowering people. That's our agency model. That's what we have to do. Instilling pride and ambition as part of it, and that's what we need to do in terms of—with this population of people and getting people—getting the power structure to see that there is an ROI, there's a return on this investment of addressing the cliff with this group of people.
Pam Bates: I would just add that, Michele mentioned service fatigue, and I think that's one thing we've seen with some of our families. And when we collaborate, I'm excited about hearing everyone talk about the possibility of even greater collaboration. But what we've seen is as we've collaborated across agencies, is we're able to streamline our services and streamline our finances. It reduces the amount of time that each family has to spend going from agency to agency. We have a unified database, and so we're able to share information that way and it just, it has been a process that our families have really appreciated and has been an asset for them. And it certainly has been an asset for us. So I just encourage greater collaboration. I think it's a win for everyone.
Jeffrey Fredericks: Well, I'd like to thank you all. It's an honor to work with you and I look forward to continued work. If folks have questions of the panel, please submit them and we'll be sure to get back to you.
With that I thank the panel, and I now have the great pleasure to turn it back over to Carlis Williams, and thank you all.
Carlis Williams: Thank you, Jeff. We've heard from some great panels today. But now, we're going to move into our closing arena and have all that we've heard bringing it all together from our assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, Lynn Johnson. She served as executive director of Jefferson County Human Services in Colorado before assuming her position as assistant secretary for ACF. She's very passionate about economic mobility, the work that's happening across the country, and resilience for clients and family. So, Lynn, if you're available and on here, come on down and let's hear from you.
Lynn Johnson: Can you hear me?
Carlis Williams: Yes, we can.
Lynn Johnson: I'm on, it says you have to share my video. Good. Hello everybody. I just want to share as I was listening to... It's just a check. You can hear me now?
Carlis Williams: Yes, we can hear you.
Lynn Johnson: Thanks, Carlis. Just listening to the speakers before this, I want you to know you have given me such hope. The plans, the strategy, the dignity of those people we serve was so evident in every speaker's comments and it just warmed my heart to know that we are moving in this direction as we address the cliff, as we address getting people back to work, and as we absolutely value those that are taking services from us. Thank you so much, from me.
Good afternoon, everyone. I want to thank you and the experts that spoke so well today about economic mobility and the impact in so many areas directly impacting our children and our families. I definitely want to recognize the hard work our Region 4 states and our Region 4 administrator, Carlis Williams, are doing—before and during and after, and continuing, this pandemic, where we've learned new ways to communicate and innovate. And we're cognizant that due to COVID many have fallen on hard times, and it is especially important now, more than ever before, that we're having this discussion.
We had this scheduled to have this conversation pre-COVID and then the pandemic hit. And here we're having the conversation, and how timely, as we are moving forward to help people in ways that we've never done before. I do want to uplift the partnership between the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and our R4 office for their innovative work around this issue that has received the attention of a number of states and other Federal Reserve Banks, as they seek to reimagine serving vulnerable families and communities. I remember when I first mentioned that I'm working with the Federal Reserve Bank, and people just kept saying, "And that helps you and does what?" And the work has been outstanding. So, thank you all so much for all that you're doing.
During my tenure as assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families, I've adopted two pillars. This two-pillar approach for the 60-plus programs that we administer across this country is what we are moving forward. The first pillar is primary prevention, which also impacts the economic mobility. We believe that we should be purposeful about intervening in the lives of those that are economically and socially vulnerable before the crisis hits. Before they need to enter our system for public support. And particularly, as I speak about child welfare, you've heard me say that the dollars we put up front ultimately saves millions, if not billions, of dollars by not having people stuck in a government program. The value of helping on the front end—I don't know if we actually have a good cost measurement, but we should.
The second pillar is more closely aligned with the focus of this convening. That is economic mobility. Once those amongst us find themselves in need of both vital public supports that are offered by the public safety net, it should be our intention, not just to provide those benefits, goods, or services, but to work with that individual or family to help them grow beyond their economic and social vulnerabilities and challenges. And I heard one of the speakers earlier say that they use a navigator-type concept. They actually assist that individual to manage the multiple systems rather than multiple systems working together, but still requiring our customers to jump through each one of our hoops. And I just think that is one of the best things I've heard. Fantastic.
You may have heard me say that I view this as jumping on a trampoline. Rather than getting stuck in a net like fish do when you're fishing with a net, we jump on a trampoline and we catch somebody and we take care of them, but we help them jump right back up to success. We believe that for those who need it, the safety net should serve as a mile marker in a person's life journey, not a destination into itself. Anything less does not recognize the inherent dignity and the value of the people we serve as we move people to self-sufficiency. As our economy gets back on its feet—and it is getting back on its feet again—industries are looking at untapped labor pools, and that includes those who receive benefits and are working hard to get to the next level in life.
On the path to upward mobility, families can run into trouble by getting to that next level only to feel that they've fallen off a cliff by losing vital benefits because of increased wages. What a negative incentive. Wages that don't actually cover the cost of the benefits they were receiving, and you all know that's the cliff effect. I had a school in my previous job that was around Head Start, and the whole goal was to end poverty, and we worked very closely with the families, who were volunteering to move on a journey to get out of poverty. And when we had a young woman with three young children who was so close to being successful, self-sufficient, not needing government supports. And when I said to her, "So what's next?" And we do with, not for... and we walked with, didn't push people, when they were ready, we helped if they asked.
And this mom said to me, "Lynn, you're not just pushing me off a cliff if I do these things. I feel like I'm standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, and you're asking me to fly over it and I do not see a net or a trampoline underneath to catch me." What wise words from someone who had been in crisis most of her life, in trauma most of her life, to make me realize the cliff is real and the transition out needs to be thoughtful and helpful and not that scary. Otherwise, it will not work. So I thought that was great and I don't ever want to push anybody over the cliff into the Grand Canyon. And I heard from all the speakers that neither do you.
So how do we help those who want to move out of poverty and into mobility while not getting penalized for doing so, but not get them stuck in a system? There are two initiatives in our economic priorities that speak to our efforts to build economic capacity and resilience.
I and two counterparts from the Department of Labor and the Department of Agriculture have teamed up in a cross-agency initiative to leverage the resources of the three major workforce programs—TANF, WIOA, and SNAP. We are changing the narrative. Our goal is a culture of "yes." Our goal is to take a comprehensive approach to helping those affected by COVID-19 so they can get safely and effectively reconnected to the labor force. But as you have heard today, we must engage others at all levels in coordinated approaches and coordinated service delivery models. We must see a broad table with businesses... we must set a broad table with businesses, education, community organizations, housing, transportation, and, of course, the families so that we can hear them. And if we want them to obtain real success, we walk with them. Don't do for them. Each entity must look inward to see how they can better address the challenges and look outward to see who else can engage to move the work forward. This is a real big challenge right now, especially under COVID, and a big window of opportunity for all of us to get it right.
Let me move into the second initiative. This involves our proposals to reform the TANF program. I worked at the local level, I worked at the state level, now I sit at the federal level. I've never heard anybody jump up and down and say, "Give me more work participation rates." So, we're working on that. Work is essential to the economic and social well-being of the individuals and families we serve. It creates a pathway to freedom and a life of one's own choosing. But, unfortunately, the way work is currently administered in the TANF program is cumbersome. One example is that work participation rate, which is currently structured, and it does not necessarily indicate that someone is moving up and out of poverty, moving up and out of low income. It indicates that they're going to work. It doesn't really indicate if it's an $8 an hour job or a $50 an hour job. So when we look for an outcome, we don't know by looking alone at just the work participation, right?
So, we are looking at how we secure gainful employment that is a pathway to self-sufficiency. To address this, my agency has proposed shifting to an employment outcomes framework with a strong emphasis on case management, and a requirement to engage everyone eligible to work in the program. We initially proposed these changes in the president's 2020 budget and we will continue to advocate for this common-sense outcome-based reform. It is important that we hear what is stopping people, and a barrier is when we measure compliance instead of measuring the outcome of success for the human being, and the dignity and respect must come with that.
I'm also excited about the support some states are doing around early childhood learning, Head Starts, and building community collaboration around these programs to strengthen families. North Carolina, New Hampshire, Georgia, Massachusetts, among others, have been doing some great work around these collaborations, because everyone is at the table, including federal, regional, and state leaders. And working together, leveraging their resources to avoid the cliff effect, is moving more and more families out of poverty.
The categorical siloed and program-centric nature of our current model acts as a mere band-aid to this problem, and it keeps people tied into poverty and the cliff effect. I've been doing this work for over 40 years. We have had these same conversations over 40 years, probably longer, and it is time that we as leaders and our communities and our families join together and say "enough." We do know there are answers, and we do know there are ways to get it done, so let's go there.
Let's not be afraid to walk into that world, change the status , and really make a difference for the people that we serve. The challenges and vulnerabilities faced by those we serve run deep, they are complex, and they're connected. Addressing them requires an integrated service delivery model that meets the complexity and the connectedness. Coming out of the pandemic and the unprecedented health and economic challenges presented to us, we need to seize this opportunity as the next big, bold mission for our society. A new way of human service delivery. No better time than right now. Those we serve, our customers, they deserve no less.
In conclusion, I believe we must remake our safety net to not only be an aggregation of single-purpose programs, but rather a comprehensive, integrated, and connected antigen for human well-being. For the children, for the moms, for the dads, for the grandmas, for auntie, for the neighbors, for everybody that connects in a social asset model to make a difference for these families. And all of you, and others, bring the diverse components needed to build that engine. The urgency of this task can only be matched by our knowledge, skills, and dedicated compassion for those that we serve. We have the answer. Let's do this together. And thank you again for all that you're talking about, and for bringing hope to those that we serve. Have a wonderful rest of your day.
Carlis Williams: Lynn, thank you so much for your inspiration, really, and acknowledgement of the work that's happening around the country... work to help families to thrive. I'm really excited about the partnership with ACF, Food and Nutrition Services, Department of Labor, Employment and Training, and what that ... how those [inaudible] for all of us out here in the field doing the work. So, thank you so much, and appreciate your taking the time to join with us today. Thank you.
Lynn Johnson: Thank you for having me, Carlis. I'm so thrilled to be here.
Carlis Williams: All right. We're moving into our closing now. And I think David is going to join me on-screen. Again, I'd like to thank all of you for attending. I think it's been such a rich conversation. We've heard from work that is being done at the federal, state, and local levels. We know that we have to really look at how we can... in this field... re-imagine the delivery models that we're working on and that our clients are entering into, and you all are doing that.
I was really impressed with what I heard from our states, and also from our local folks. Folks that are on the ground in the communities, working with our families and working in partnership with the state and others to make sure that the services that they're providing are reaping positive benefits and success for clients. This event has been a call to action for us to really always go back and revisit what it is that we're doing, what kind of progress we're making, and make those tweaks, where necessary, in order to continue to grow and succeed. And I want to thank the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, President Bostic, and Dave and Alex and Brittany, and the whole team over there, for our continued partnership with them in doing this work. I'll turn it over to Dave.
Dave Altig: I'll be brief here in closing. Again, I want to reinforce our gratitude to everyone who agreed to participate in the program today. A special thanks to Secretary Johnson, who... I can't use a word better than inspirational, which Carlis already used, but I'll just repeat it. When Carlis and Jeff and those of us at the Atlanta Fed put together these programs, our intention was to foster to this community of, in what surely must be the catchword of the day, "tour guides." I love that metaphor and I will steal it liberally going forward. This is very far from the last event like this and the last word on this. Rafael started off the day by saying we are in the business of change, and making a real difference in the lives of real people. And that's what these initiatives are all about. I know that's what you're all interested in, and we will continue on to the best of our ability to be a part of a progress towards that end.
To that end, there were two things I just want to note. One is that my colleague, Stu Andreason, has been putting up all sorts of links to information during all of the talks today, and lots of the participants have been weighing in with lots of good links and references to resources. We will put all that together and provide that information to the participants in this event. So it will be available soon. Second, we're going to follow up with a survey. I ask that if you can, take the time to fill that out. So as we progress and proceed, we can make these even more effective programs in the future.
So with that, thank you so much for spending the first part of your day with us. Have a good rest of the one, and keep on keeping on and surviving in this weirdest of all times that we're all going through right now. Next time, face to face, I hope!