Poverty Politics: Shortcut Solutions

There are no shortcuts in life–only those we imagine. ~ Frank Leahy 

Shortcut Solutions

Federal funding is tight. This point is obvious as you listen to political rhetoric from both sides of the aisle on how we can reduce the deficit and where we can find savings in the Federal budget. As the economy struggles and families are forced to trim their budgets, people look to the Federal government to do the same. In light of this, we need to discuss new approaches and strategies to ensure efficiency and maximize our impact. Greater efficiency and clear impact will result in increased visibility, and hopefully, increased funding.

At NASCSP, our primary concern is for low-income people and strengthening the structures that support them. Shortcut solutions for patching the safety net are ill-advised at a time like this when so many are struggling to make ends meet. Quick and “easy” solutions only address immediate needs and neglect the long term future of vulnerable families. Instead what we need are bold, innovative, holistic strategies that move people toward long term prosperity and well-being. State oversight and management are critical to ensuring a robust, efficient and cutting-edge delivery system.

As advocates of low-income programs, it is not in our interest, nor in the interest of low-income people, to bicker about which low-income programs should be funded and which ones shouldn’t. Rather, we should be working together to ensure all of these programs are funded and benefit those we serve. Working together with other programs and developing alliances with them may very well be the only way that we survive this economic situation. So, while a shortcut solution would be to declare that our program should be funded at the expense of others and the low-income we serve, we will instead look to repair our nation’s safety net by partnering and strengthen all low-income programs through innovative and collaborative efforts.

“What has the State done for me?”

This is a valid question and all administrative and accountability structures should be asked to respond to the question of their effectiveness. So, in the Community Action Network the question is, what has the State done? The State is a necessary layer of accountability for Community Action Agencies (CAAs) in an era of ever-increasing accountability and transparency. Monitoring is done every three years, with many States monitoring more often. State monitoring exposes issues and allows for the swift provision of technical assistance that strengthens agency operations and outcomes. State offices also have a unique understanding of local situations, which they use to provide opportunities for training and technical assistance that are tailored to the CAAs needs and allow for the sharing of best practices.

Over 55% of trainings across the country have been funded through the State administrative funds. State agencies also allow the flexibility for program integration and collaboration. There are a multitude of resources flowing through the Network. While local agencies are receiving funding from the Department of Energy (DOE), Health and Human Services (DHHS), Labor (DOL),  Agriculture (USDA), etc., State offices are the central focus point that can coordinate trainings, data collection, and an environment for innovative solutions. States do all of these things with only 5% of the CSBG allocation for their State. The administrative allocation amounts to a very small portion of funding per agency. A shortcut solution would be to remove States from the formula and provide funding directly to agencies. However, the crucial accountability structure and State flexibility would be lost, weakening the entire structure, and hindering the effectiveness of the program.

We will take no shortcut solutions, because those will only provide shortcut results and hurt the program long-term. Let us be careful and strategic as we address these issues, always remembering who we’re serving.

— Mark Schmeissing, Policy & Research Analyst —