On February 22nd, Assistant Secretary Kathy Martinez, U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, and LEAD Center staff engaged high-level officials from select mayors' offices nationwide in a strategic planning session at the quarterly forum for the Cities for Financial Empowerment Coalition (CFE Coalition) in Miami.
As guests of the CFE Fund, ODEP and National Disability Institute’s LEAD Center joined CFE for the brainstorming session – the first phase in a unique partnership among the three organizations. The brainstorming session's goal is to design and implement a national integration strategy grounded in the positive theory that workforce development programs, much like other traditional social services, offer key touch points to build the financial capability of families and households. Fortifying these touch points helps families to develop stronger financial management skills and to take advantage of workforce development opportunities to increase income and financial stability. By deploying a combination of financial empowerment tools and strategies integrated into the delivery of workforce development services and supports, the goal of the LEAD Center and the CFE Fund is to test and demonstrate a strategic approach in select pilot cities that show how enhanced financial capability can boost the effectiveness and improve the outcomes of workforce development programs for jobseekers with and without disabilities.
The CFE Fund is pioneering municipal efforts to improve the financial stability of low- and moderate-income households by leveraging opportunities unique to local government. The Fund assists mayors and other local leaders to identify, develop, fund, implement and research pilots and programs to help families achieve financial stability, build assets and grow their financial resources. Financial empowerment focuses on four key areas: professional financial counseling and education, access to safe and affordable mainstream banking products and services, short- and long-term asset building activities, and consumer protection in the financial services marketplace.
Assistant Secretary Martinez provided opening remarks to set the stage for the strategic planning session. "American Job Centers offer an important venue to reach low-income job seekers with and without disabilities who are challenged by limited financial resources and debt," explained Assistant Secretary Martinez. She also offered the insight that the cities in attendance "are already serving job seekers with disabilities who are a significant segment of low-income populations who are also women, Latino, and people of color." Martinez urged the group to be creative in their planning to integrate financial empowerment and workforce development activities, and their work will offer the Department of Labor new options to replicate and sustain their activities nationwide.
NDI Executive Director Michael Morris and Associate Commissioner, Department of Consumer Affairs, Office of Financial Empowerment Amelia Erwitt, facilitated the planning session. Morris urged the group to think first not about persons with disabilities, but about universal design in terms of options for integrated service delivery that would benefit all service recipients in American Job Centers (AJCs). Participants from Seattle, San Francisco, Newark and San Antonio described current activities with free tax preparation assistance, financial education and financial coaching already being offered in the AJCs.
Development of a checklist as both an education and evaluation tool generated great interest to help the cities engage AJCs and the workforce development system in designing local-level collaboration. Participants also agreed defining the success of future LEAD Center pilot sites with standard metrics and an approach to measurement would leverage CFE's current approach to metrics and measurement with other pilot projects that are replicating financial empowerment activities.
Jonathan Mintz, co-chair of the CFE Coalition and the Commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs for New York City summed up the enthusiastic response of the Coalition members at the end of the planning session, saying, "I learned so much in 90 minutes. I get it. We have the opportunity collectively to change the nature of services delivered in the AJCs that improve financial capability and employment outcomes for everyone, both jobseekers with and without disabilities, and bring it to scale."
To learn more about the CFE fund, visit http://www.cfefund.org. To read more about Municipal Financial Empowerment: A Supervitamin for Public Programs visit http://www.nyc.gov/html/dca/downloads/pdf/SupervitaminReport.pdf
The strategic planning phase of the LEAD Center and CFE economic advancement initiative will continue over the next six months with the aim to pilot an integrated service delivery model in at least two cities in 2014.