Supporting programs that fuel economic opportunity and raise standards of living should be a bipartisan goal. In the wake of the State of the Union address, LISC’s senior vice president for policy, Matt Josephs, looks at the policies that advance common goals, with a lasting impact on the quality of life for all Americans.
Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about the State of the Union address and what community developers might be able to take away from it. Though there were no new policies or significant shifts related to our work, there were a number of connection points that are worth exploring as we continue to advocate for programs that fuel economic opportunity and raise standards of living for millions of Americans.
Infrastructure: Invest in the Backbone of Communities
Infrastructure is about much more than roads, bridges, and highways. LISC has proposed that the Department of Transportation create a transit-oriented development loan fund that would help attract investment capital to projects near transit centers and railway stations in underserved urban and rural communities. A transportation bill passed in 2015 enabled the Department of Transportation to fund economic development activity adjacent to infrastructure projects. But, thus, far, it has been difficult to attract the investment capital needed for the program to flourish. A TOD fund could help spur that private-sector investment.
Infrastructure also encompasses a host of other critical community assets beyond transportation. LISC supports expanding the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and the close to 100,000 construction jobs it creates annually; permanently authorizing the New Markets Tax Credit to help bring commercial revitalization, jobs and services to communities in desperate need of all three; and passage of the Neighborhood Homes Investment Act (NHIA) to incentivize private-sector investments in single family housing in distressed communities.
Safety: Eliminating Silos and Engaging Residents
A comprehensive federal crime reduction strategy must acknowledge that poverty and crime are mutually reinforcing. We urge the Administration and Congress to support cost-effective approaches that are place-based, data-driven and community-oriented. Robust funding and authorization of the Innovations in Community Cased Crime Reduction (CBCR) Program would ensure that more places are able to develop comprehensive, evidence-informed strategies, while helping law enforcement and residents work together to rebuild the economic and social fabric of their neighborhoods.
Jobs: Investing in Workforce Development Necessitates an Investment in Financial Stability
We applaud the President’s call to “invest in workforce development and job training.” The first step to making good on this promise is to adequately resource the federal workforce system and the interagency programs that support it. People want to be self-sufficient, earn a steady paycheck, budget, build good credit and save for education and retirement. Future budgets and correlated appropriations bills should adequately fund Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) programs, which are critical to this effort.
The federal government should draw from innovations in the financial capability sector. LISC’s Financial Opportunity Centers (FOCs) and Bridges to Career Opportunities (BCO) programs have identified integrated services (employment and career services, financial coaching, income supports and low-cost financial credit and savings products) as key factors in promoting financial stability. FOC clients are 50 percent more likely to land a well-paying job than people receiving employment services alone; long-term job retention—holding a job for a year or more—almost doubles when financial coaching reinforces the work of employment counseling.
Additionally, LISC believes that the path to lifting families from “poverty to prosperity”, as the president has called for, begins for many families by establishing good credit. That’s why LISC supports a credit-building initiative that would encourage the administrators of HUD public and assisted housing programs to report the on-time rental payments of their residents to the credit agencies.
Talent: Our People are our Best Resources
There is a heated national debate about immigration, but it sometimes overlooks a critical point: there is a deep well of human capital in our communities that can help fuel our national innovation and growth. Immigrants are a fundamental part of that talent pool.
Our CEO, Maurice Jones, said it best in comments last fall on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program: “It’s impossible to describe the assets and enduring promise of this country without praising the contributions of immigrants. Indeed, the American Dream is a shared aspiration of millions of people, many of whom came here in search of freedom, safety and a better life. Willing to work hard, share their talents and energies, and serve their new nation, they were—and continue to be—catalysts of American progress.”
Dreamers are valuable contributors to the quality of life in our communities. We encourage Congress to provide them with a pathway to citizenship.
We look forward to working with the Administration and Congress on these and many other opportunities to make our communities stronger and more prosperous.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Matt Josephs, Senior Vice President for Policy
Matt manages the team that is responsible for developing LISC’s federal policy agenda; communicating this agenda to LISC employees, board members, funders and other stakeholders; and pursuing this agenda through engagement with members of Congress and other federal officials.