Impacts of Shutdown Day?

The deadline for Congress to finalize how to fund federal programming in Fiscal Year 2014 was last night at midnight. Because an agreement was not reached by that point, the federal government shuttered all “non-essential” activities. Regardless of how long a possible shutdown lasts, we want to hear from you about its impacts on your organization’s activities. Even if there are no impacts, or they are not immediate but still exist, please post that, as it is an important insight.

Participate in the conversation using the comment section below – please keep all comments specific to effects on your work within the fields of workforce development, education, and/or youth development for individuals in the 14-24 age range. You do not have to identify your program, but please provide some context regarding your operations.

Finally, feel free to forward this to colleagues, partner organizations, etc. so they can participate as well.

UPDATE: The shutdown officially ended on October 17th, but programs may experience some lag time and be unable to resume normal operations immediately.

 

Dulling the Double-Edged Sword: Immigration Reform in the Senate

Much of the media’s spotlight in the past few weeks has been shining on the debate and passage of the immigration bill in the Senate. However, within a package of amendments is a nugget of good news for youth workforce development advocates as well.

Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, along with six other Senators, authored a “Youth Jobs” amendment that appropriated $1.5 billion to youth employment programs. Some may consider this amendment irrelevant to the underlying purpose of the bill. Because the amendment affects all low-income youth, not just young undocumented-immigrants and “DREAMers,” critics could argue that it is outside the scope of the bill’s purpose. That assessment would be mistaken, however, as an influx of guest workers for low-wage and seasonal labor will hurt young workers the most. This amendment therefore stems the harm that may come from depressed wages and/or decreasing opportunities by providing training and employment tailored for youth.

The funds will be spent over two years with a minimum of $7.5 million going to each state. Amounts above that will be tied to the state’s unemployment rate. The program will be funded with a one-time $10 fee on each guest worker visa application that businesses use to bring in workers. Possible programs it could fund include job training during both the summer and the year for low-income students eligible for Workforce Investment Act (WIA) programming. These programs will be linked to educational opportunities in order to provide long-term value for these young workers. It is estimated that this amendment will create 400,000 jobs for the youth aged 16-24.

Fresh appropriations to youth workforce development are a small, but welcome infusion to decreased workforce investment spending. Youth unemployment remains high (over 16% for adolescents aged 16-24), and experiencing unemployment when young is very damaging to future career prospects. Thus, it is prudent to bolster funding to WIA programs. The best situation would be to actually reauthorize WIA, but this amendment is a step in the right direction.

Basement Dwellers: Social Programs at Bottom of Federal Funding Hierarchy

With the process underway to determine the federal funding levels for the next fiscal year (FY 2014 starts October 1, 2013), it is unclear how things will unfold for youth employment and education programming (primarily operating within the U.S. Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, Education). Based on the trend over the past several years, there should be no expectations that workforce development, education, and youth development will fare favorably overall.

Last year, the U.S House of Representatives Appropriations Committee voted on bills for all 12 clusters of federal government activity except for one.  Agencies within the U.S. Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, and Education were the sole entities, for which the Committee did not even vote on a bill. Providing context to that peculiarity, a former member of that Committee later commented about how the bill was so bad that no one wanted to attach their name to it.

Fast forward to March 2013, when Congress is attempting to determine the final funding levels for FY 2013. The proposals produced by the House of Representatives and the Senate offered updated funding levels and prioritization based on 2013 circumstances instead of outdated 2011 circumstances. However, the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, Education again were denied favorable treatment in this regard.

Subsequently, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) offered an amendment to the Senate’s March 2013 proposal that provided updated information and funding levels for activities within the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, Education. Senator Harkin’s amendment included many increases in funding for programs, and would not have added any cost to the bill. Ultimately, however, Senator Harkin’s proposal failed to garner enough votes within the Senate.

Why do the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, Education continue to get the short end of the stick within Congressional discussions regarding funding? While definitive answers are hard to provide, social programming in general (overwhelmingly falls within the Departments of Labor, Health & Human Services, Education) is a major point of partisan debate, which contributes greatly to the overall inaction.

Despite the grim trends for youth employment and education programming funding in the past, future prospects will depend on the efforts of advocates across the country.

Focus on Reducing Spending Is Ruining Goal of Good Programs

A recent event at the Brookings Institution discussed the post-election landscape for programming that impacts low-income populations. Often current discussions on reform focus on simplifying programming through only supporting activities that have an existing evidence base illustrating success. While promising and proven practices should be a goal, unfortunately many legislators link this model to the assumption that such reforms will automatically save much money. Therefore, those policymakers often attach up-front spending cuts to any proposals to improve programming. Trying to combat this perspective, there was an expressed desire among speakers at this Brookings event to find a way to separate attempts at cutting federal spending from attempts to reform and improve programs. Reducing spending through efficiency is an admirable goal, and hopefully reforms do make programs more efficient. But savings through simplification of service delivery should not be assumed outright and without regard to potentially increasing need. This focus on spending reduction is a key sticking point preventing legislators from finding common ground on reauthorizing or updating legislation, which would provide much-needed reforms to programs that assist youth and young adults.

With such intense focus on evidence-based practices, program evaluation is now explicitly tied to funding. Subsequently, service providers are often reluctant to let researchers in because they fear a bad evaluation, which could effectively eliminate any funding for their programming. As noted by researchers involved in evaluation during a September panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute, evaluation is meant to help programs improve their services for the future, not as a judge and jury to determine whether a program receives funding or not.

While speaking at the Brookings event, Gene Sperling, Director of the White House National Economic Council, similarly advocated for evaluation and data collection to be disconnected from funding decisions. A model that emphasizes evidence-based practices can be useful, but should not be taken so far as to determine the role of government in the employment training and education field. As Mr. Sperling pointed out, there should not be a double standard to programs for disadvantaged populations. He mentioned, for example, when particular medical research does not result in a cure for cancer, people do not respond by saying that the government should not dedicate resources to cancer research. Yet programming specifically designed to help disadvantaged populations must constantly face this funding-oriented obstacle.

Federal Funding: A Delicate Balance between Flexibility and Effectiveness

During the 2012 campaign season, there was renewed focus on a topic that has arisen in recent legislation that would affect workforce development, youth development, and education systems. The idea of sending more federal money straight to states has been mentioned in presidential debates, campaign speeches, bills to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, etc. Often this strategy takes the form of distributing block grants with little to no stipulations to state authorities, who then decide how best to spend those dollars.

The obvious benefit to this type of funding model is that it provides states with maximum flexibility, so they can focus on the most relevant issues in their regions. However, there is also an inherent detriment in that many of the guidelines, concerning how such funding should be used, are stripped. Many of these rules were created as the result of a specific need. For example, populations that are most in need, such as low-income youth and young adults, are generally (1) more difficult to serve or (2) they require different types of services or a different structure of service provision. When funding decisions are made only at the state level without any targeted provisions, such groups often receive ineffective/insufficient services or not at all, even though they need the services just as much as other individuals.

It difficult to try to choose between flexibility and ensuring that everyone has access to services, as there are clear benefits to both outcomes. Therefore the question becomes what is an effective combination of these two concepts.

National Youth Justice Awareness Month Event Highlights Need for Rehabilitative Perspective in Juvenile Justice System

On October 12th, the First Annual Justice for Youth Summit was held at American University in Washington, DC. The event featured a variety of presenters (formerly incarcerated youth, affected family members of (formerly) incarcerated youth, nonprofit service providers for incarcerated youth, lawyers, and a professional photographer.

An overarching theme was that far too often youth are being incorporated into the adult criminal justice system, which can be ineffective in reducing recidivism. Emphasis was placed on rehabilitative and treatment approaches like counseling, community service, education, treatment, and restitution. Post-release employment and recidivism are usually the two possible outcomes for formerly incarcerated individuals, and treating youth in the same manner as adult criminals unfortunately can direct young people towards the latter.

Advocacy for this issue is just as important as the work itself, because of general stigmas often placed on (youth) offenders. The federal government, however, has limited involvement – most juvenile justice policies are determined at the state level. Therefore, concerned citizens, activists, and advocates should educate themselves about their own state’s policies in regards to the treatment of youth and young adults within the criminal justice system.

Standing Room Only at the Capitol: Disconnected Youth Briefing Draws Crowd

On Tuesday, September 25th, disconnected youth were the focus for practitioners, advocates, and legislators alike. A Congressional briefing sponsored by the United Way Worldwide and the Campaign For Youth, entitled “Reclaiming Our Nation’s Disconnected Youth,” emphasized prevention and re-engagement strategies for individuals who were in danger of or had already dropped out from high school. The packed room (individuals had to be turned away at the door because the turnout was so great) heard from a five member panel that included representatives of the education, youth development, advocacy, and workforce development fields. Highlighting the importance of breaking down barriers between the multiple agencies, organizations, sectors,  etc. that provide essential services to youth and young adults, the guest speakers were able to provide concrete examples of what was working across the country. Later, some of these successes, along with the vast challenges facing disconnected youth and service providers, were brought to life by a group of young adults. Three young men elucidated the positive impact that targeted programs had on their life courses.