Poverty Politics: Go Ahead – Change the Game

— By Steve Payne, NASCSP Board President —

In last night’s State of the Union address, the President unveiled the big initiatives of his second term. The pundits say this could be his last big speech. Second terms have notoriously small windows of opportunity before all attention turns to the next presidential race. As the President seizes his last chance to effect change, we are also at a similarly critical moment. We have an all too brief window of time in which to ensure success or fade into irrelevance. Like a second-term president, we need to roll out our own big plans. We know what works. It’s time to take Weatherization and CSBG to new levels of innovation and scale. We can either lead to effect the changes we want to see or let others make decisions about the future for us.

The President put some big ideas on the table, “Tonight, let’s declare that, in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty.” He laid out a bold plan for universal early childhood education and doubling energy efficiency for homes and businesses, and he called on the States to help make it happen. The President’s agenda could be game-changing for us if we choose to take up the leadership role he’s offering.

Here are some questions to ask ourselves:

What are we about?
The President is keeping his focus on reviving the economy, building new ladders of opportunity into the middle class, and making America a strong contender in a newly hot, flat, and crowded world. We have 50 years of accumulated wisdom in creating income and energy security for all Americans. Are we just a strategy, a program, or a particular delivery system? Or are we a comprehensive and flexible system for eliminating the causes and effects of poverty?

What do we need to stop doing?
Whatever doesn’t work. Sometimes we need the most courage not to embark on a new initiative, but to pull the plug on things we’ve done for years whose numbers don’t add up. This is an integral part of running an efficient and smarter government program.

What do we need to start doing?
Only what works. The President challenged us, “to invest in the best ideas.” We need to use our positions as State leaders to impact the entire country by fixating fanatically on what’s demonstrably effective. Take the creative ideas that are working locally and promote them for replication on a state and national level. Take promising practices, wherever you find them, to scale for maximum impact.

We have the tools and resources. We have a national network to use as an incubator to take things to scale across the country. We know how to partner, link, and leverage community resources.

Go ahead. Change the game.