By Leah Lundquist
Problem: Many social welfare systems currently in place are a reaction to poverty, not created around opportunities to build prosperity.
As Abou gave you a taste of last month, these were the ideas that the Citizen's League asked Common Grounds, a student initiative partner of CIL, to research and make recommendations on this semester.
Due to the overwhelming interest of students from law, public policy, and business to be involved in this student group this year, we were able to provide a lot of brainpower, breaking into 3 groups of 10 each to research these prosperity-building innovations.
On November 22nd we presented our findings to the Citizen's League and our fellow Common Grounds peers. For me, that night was exactly what I'd hoped for when I applied to be involved with the group--we discussed our various recommendations, different perspectives were shared, classroom learning was applied, and questions abounded.
It struck me, however, that perhaps we focused our research too heavily on the mechanics and models of the innovations and not enough on the importance of target audience. While I believe the information we provided was well-informed, there was little emphasis on the importance of making sure the implementation of "pathways to prosperity" responds to the racial lines along which poverty runs here in Minnesota. Efforts to build prosperity in Minnesota must focus on communities of color, including immigrant communities like our Somali neighbors here in Cedar-Riverside.
It's a reality that must be repeated over and over again as we consider who's actually applying for and getting the subsidized jobs from a wage subsidy program or is eligible and actually participating in a time bank. Just putting an initiative in place isn't enough--it must be targeted carefully and be culturally specific enough to reach those communities who are most removed from opportunities to build assets.
From the feedback we've received so far, our recommendations are already proving useful to the Citizen's League. Here is a brief summary of our recommendations:
- We did not recommend complementary currencies or time banks as a pathway to prosperity due to their lack of incentives for saving and applicability more as a "keep-business-local" solution than a low-income asset-building strategy.
- Though a wage subsidy program, such as the one proposed earlier this year by Al Franken, are not currently politically feasible under tight budget constraints, we recommended that the Citizen's League continue to build support for the wage subsidy concept with state and local stakeholders for policy consideration when state or local funding is more flexible.
- We recommended that the Citizen's League consider exploring partnerships with those conditional cash transfer programs (in the form of Individual Development Accounts) already in existence in Minnesota. Crucial steps to getting an effective program in place are the defining of the target audience and selecting appropriate conditions and size for the cash transfer.
Any thoughts on our recommendations? If you're interested in hearing the discussion that took place about these recommendations (which was definitely the most interesting part!), videos of the presentation is posted at the Common Grounds page at the CIL website: Introduction and Presentation on Complimentary Currencies and Time Banks, Presentations on Wage Subsidies and Conditional Cash Transfers, Q & A.
Common Grounds is currently reviewing clients for next semester. We're looking forward to seeing what new challenge we'll get to tackle! If you're interested in partnering with Common Grounds in the future to bring an interdisciplinary approach to an issue your organization needs addressed, let us know!