Sequestration: Ushering in a New Way for Programs to Lose Money?

Usually, funding for federal programming within the fields of workforce development, youth development, and education is determined through the appropriations process. During this process, members of the Congressional Appropriations Committees hear testimony by agency officials as well as outside experts to inform their decisions regarding funding for federal programs and activities.

Sequestration (for more information, see NYEC’s issue brief on sequestration), however, represents a very different approach to reducing funding for federal programming. Instead of cutting funding on a program-by-program basis according to a perceived decrease in need/effectiveness, sequestration will use the blunt instrument of across-the-board reductions in federal funding.  Besides the actual amounts cut from federal job training and education programs, this approach is significant because of its detrimental side effect for advocacy. Alternatives to sequestration are still possible, but the total amount that must be reduced will not change (unless federal revenues increase due to taxes), thus creating a zero-sum situation. All programs are connected, because lessening the cut for one program would increase the cuts to other programs.

Could reducing the budget through sequestration, be an indication for how funding is determined in the future? Will advocates and proponents for federal job training and education efforts be forced to choose between their programs or defense activities and national security? Considering a widespread desire among current lawmakers to avoid the sequestration cuts, this will likely not serve as a model for the future. However, some elements of sequestration could unfortunately still be applied on a smaller scale – instead of making non-defense programming compete with defense (like sequestration), non-defense programming could be singularly targeted for across-the-board cuts or tasked with reducing overall spending by a certain amount. This approach would create a competitive atmosphere, similar to the effects of sequestration, where service providers are pitted against each other in their attempts to save their programs.

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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.

Rallying Behind Disconnected Youth: Opportunity Nation Summit 2012

The campus of George Washington University was abuzz on September 19th with the Opportunity Nation Summit 2012.  Opportunity Nation is a bi-partisan, cross-sector campaign with a nationwide focus on a population labeled “opportunity youth,” which coincides with “disconnected youth.” The Summit served as an opportunity to all involved individuals (young people, service providers, policymakers, journalists, researchers, businesses, etc.) to come and rally together to promote promising practices and share challenges and lessons learned. Equally important was the opportunity to re-energize one’s passion for this work in the company of a multitude of dedicated individuals, given the challenges on this front.

The full day of events included breakout sessions that tackled issues ranging from strategies that employers can use to positively impact “opportunity youth” to the role of the media in covering this issue. In addition, the Summit served as a release event for multiple platforms. Not only did the Opportunity Nation campaign release a plan to keep the American Dream alive for all individuals, the National Council of Young Leaders promoted their Recommendations to Increase Opportunity and Decrease Poverty in America. Finally, the 2012 edition of the Opportunity Index was unveiled. This tool evaluates opportunity at the state and county levels according to a variety of indicators within the economy, education, and community arenas.