In Focus: Building the Capacity of Communities

Jun 28, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

California Uncapped: Maximum Family Grant Repeal is a Win for Low-income Families

By: Nia West-Bey

This week, California finally ended an unjust policy that was on the books for more than two decades.  On June 27, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the state budget for FY 2017, which included a provision repealing the Maximum Family Grant (MFG), or “family cap” policy, which denied California families receiving TANF cash assistance an increase in benefits when they had a new baby.  This change will assist the families of up to 130,000 additional low-income children in 95,000 families who were previously denied help under the MFG rule.

Of the 17 states that had family cap policies in place, California was the largest—and with the highest child poverty rate in the nation of 27 percent, California was home to 48 percent of all children living under family caps nationwide.  The states’ low-income families are disproportionately families of color, with these families most adversely impacted by the MFG.

California’s repeal recognizes decades of research showing that family cap policies do not lower birth rates, but overwhelmingly drive vulnerable families into deeper poverty.  It also recognizes the accumulating evidence that a family’s circumstances during a baby’s infancy have a major impact on the child’s long-term health, learning, and development.  In addition, the repeal rejects racist and sexist stereotypes of low-income women’s reproductive and economic choices.  The repeal will allow low-income families to receive much needed support during the especially vulnerable period of infancy and help families to buy necessities such as diapers and clothing not covered by other public benefits.

The MFG provisions were particularly problematic for young parents, because mothers under 18 were required to live with a parent or guardian in order to receive assistance, but barred from assistance if that parent or guardian had been receiving aid for the last 10 months.  The MFG also promoted the use of particular birth control methods, without adequate attention to side effects and risks of long term use, especially for young women.  For young parents in particular, the repeal of the MFG means that young first-time mothers will no longer be prevented from obtaining assistance because their parent or legal guardian is receiving assistance, and birth control will no longer be tied to receipt of cash aid. 

Like all new parents, low-income parents deserve to raise their children in dignity and health with the help they need to give their babies the best possible start.  The evidence about infant development suggests that this start in life is crucial not only for the families themselves, but for all of us. With this repeal, California has helped to create a more equitable start for more than 100,000 low-income children and their families and will most likely reap long-term economic benefits from a generation that has some added protection from living their earliest days in deep poverty.  This change is a victory for the advocates and lawmakers who have long fought for this repeal, but most importantly for California’s children and families.  Hopefully, California’s example will encourage the 16 other states that still have family caps in place to end these harmful policies once and for all.

Feb 26, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

New Report Shows Significance of Summer Youth Employment

By Kisha Bird and Clarence Okoh

For many young people, early work experience is a touchstone on the path to continuous gainful employment. A new JP Morgan Chase report, Expanding Economic Opportunity for Youth through Summer Jobs, highlights the benefits of strategic investments in summer employment for low-income young people and suggests strategies for connecting more youth to these opportunities, which help them build skills and earn credentials to improve long-term economic success.

Far too many youth are economically insecure. Children and young adults experience the highest levels of poverty in the United States (21.1 percent and 19.7 percent respectively). Among them, children and young adults of color are disproportionately affected. Young adults, particularly youth of color, also experience the highest levels of unemployment. Along with these disparities, summer employment has declined 37 percent for teens over the last twenty years. In 2015, just 34 percent of teens had access to these opportunities.

According to research, teens who work are 86 percent more likely to be employed in the next year and older youth are almost 100 percent more likely to be employed if they worked more than 40 weeks in the previous year. Summer employment can also contribute to reduced involvement in the juvenile and criminal justice system as well as improved school attendance and educational outcomes, especially for those at risk of dropping out.

The report identifies four key findings that could help us design sustainable, systemic solutions that expand economic opportunity through summer employment, including:

  • Boosting skills-building for youth through scaling up models that emphasize year-round employment and connections to career education training and work experiences and other technical training opportunities.
  • Expanding and strengthening private sector engagement.
  • Expanding and tailoring services to youth who experience unique barriers to employment including youth of color and opportunity youth.  
  • Improving coordination with local workforce systems.

There are many challenges to connecting youth to quality summer work experiences, including funding, having adequate systems and infrastructure, and business and industry engagement. However, as highlighted in the report, many communities are pioneering innovative solutions that help serve young people. Through leadership and sustained investment from elected officials, the private sector, policymakers at all levels of government, and—most importantly—youth themselves, we can realize this pathway to economic opportunity.

Mar 4, 2010  |  PERMALINK »

It's Time to Give Youth More Opportunities to Succeed

Community youth leaders hold a Capitol Hill briefing to discuss Youth Opportunities with congressional staffers, federal agency representatives and policy makers

Not so long ago, Kendrick Campbell, Sharon Jackson, Special Sanders and Madeline Vasquez weren’t sure where they were going in life.  In many ways, the odds were stacked against them – they were among the more than five million young people ages 16-24 in the U.S. living in high poverty communities who knew they wanted more from life and wanted to do better, but didn’t know where to begin.  Fortunately, each of them lived in a community that had applied for and received a grant as part of a bold and innovative federal program to provide comprehensive services and support to keep in-school youth on track and reengage youth disconnected from education and employment.

Instituted in 2000, under the Workforce Investment Act, the Youth Opportunity Grants program provided $5 billion to 36 communities across the United States to develop and implement youth service delivery systems.  Federal funding for the program, which served more than 90,000 young people, ended in 2005.  Today on Capitol Hill, community leaders, program directors and graduates of those systems discussed the successes and lessons learned through the Youth Opportunity program and urged Congress to reinvest in youth services targeted to reconnect high school “dropouts” to education and workforce options.

"In the first half of the past decade, thousands of disconnected youth nationwide were able to continue or complete their education and enter the workforce thanks to Youth Opportunity programming," said Linda Harris, Director of Youth Policy for the Center for Law and Social Policy.  "Unfortunately, funding was discontinued in 2005 despite the increasingly difficult economic environment for our nation's youth - the worst since before World War II.  Reinvesting in a Youth Opportunity approach and the Campaign for Youth's job strategies would reverse these trends and ensure that we have the skilled, competitive workforce necessary to compete in the 21st century global economy."

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