CLASP Launches Economic Equity Project in Mississippi and North Carolina

By Suzanne Wikle:

CLASP recently launched a new project, Building Equitable Economic Supports in the South (BEES). Through the BEES project CLASP is working directly with community organizations and policy organizations in Mississippi and North Carolina to improve the economic well-being of people experiencing poverty.

In Mississippi we’re pleased to partner with Springboard to Opportunities and the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative. Work in Mississippi will focus on improving access to affordable child care, with an emphasis on supporting Black mothers and Black child care providers. The MS groups will also examine ways for more families to access cash assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. In North Carolina, we’re excited to partner with Blueprint NC and the NC Budget & Tax Center (with generous in-state support from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust). This work will focus on improving access to Medicaid through reducing and eliminating barriers identified by people with lived experience.

CLASP chose to target southern states for the BEES project because of our commitment to focus our work on eliminating systemic racism and advancing racial equity. Southern states have historically limited public benefit access through both eligibility and administrative burdens more severely than other regions. Coupled with high poverty rates and large populations of Black people and other people of color, some of the greatest gains in equity stand to be achieved in southern states.

Our theory of change for this work emphasizes directly engaging people experiencing poverty or near poverty to identify barriers to public benefit programs, recognizing that families often need public benefit programs to meet their needs and achieve economic success. The state groups will focus the first phase of the work on community engagement and gathering insight and ideas from people eligible for the identified benefit programs. With technical assistance from CLASP staff, the community input will be used to craft a policy agenda that aims to decrease barriers and improve access to programs. Once policy priorities are identified, the community groups and state policy groups will coordinate a joint advocacy plan to move the agenda forward.

Benefit programs, such as Medicaid, nutrition assistance, child care assistance, and cash assistance through TANF, are not reaching everyone who is eligible because of complicated and confusing eligibility rules and application processes – administrative burdens. Work to increase access to benefit programs often focuses on increasing eligibility. This tactic is necessary, but without also focusing on the barriers that eligible people face in the application, enrollment, and renewal processes, people and families will continue to go without supports they need and are eligible for. Too often, these administrative burdens weigh most heavily on people of color. Administrative burdens within the process and systems, including effects of systemic racism seen in public benefit systems, are exactly what CLASP is addressing in Mississippi and North Carolina.

CLASP firmly believes rooting our public benefit access work in southern states is necessary to address systemic racism in public benefits and advance racial equity. We also firmly believe this work must be done in authentic partnership and with leadership from people and communities that are eligible for public benefit programs. The BEES project encompasses these two beliefs and has the potential to achieve the ultimate goal of making public benefit programs more accessible and more equitable in the target states.

This work is made possible by the generous support of Community Impact and Investment at Capital One.