OLYMPIA — Gov. Jay Inslee recently awarded $5.8 million in grants to fight poverty in Washington.
The grants, awarded from the governor’s federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Statewide Activities fund, will support organizations in four local Workforce Development Areas developing plans and sustainable activities to lift about 900 poverty-level families to above 200 percent of federal poverty level.
“These grants will make a tremendous difference for these 900 families and for communities all over Washington,” Inslee said. “They will empower local areas to build sustainable models and creative partnerships to address the needs of families and others who experience poverty.”
The Economic Security for All grant awards money to organizations to systematically approach the problem of poverty and design measurable poverty reduction systems. The state will measure success on two key statistics: the number of families receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program who move all the way up to income over 200 percent of the FPL, and net poverty reduction for their entire community by March 2022.
People experiencing poverty are expected to be a big part in the design and implementation of the local poverty reduction systems.
Their firsthand experience provides a perspective that will be incorporated into the implementation details on financial and personal stability.
“The root cause of poverty can be different for each person,” said Suzi LeVine, state Employment Security Department commissioner. “That’s why we’re taking an inclusive approach by joining forces with those experiencing it and the communities in which they live. This will give them the opportunity to share their stories and find practical solutions to escape poverty.”
Grant awardees are not expected to accomplish this with the grant funding alone. Rather, it’s expected the grant funding will spur groups to reorganize how they use their larger existing funding streams and encourage them to work together in creating a poverty reduction system.
The grant stipulates that at least one local community partner who has expertise serving individuals in poverty and the local Department of Social and Health Services community service office must help design and lead the work.
“Poverty is a complex issue and helping to lift families out of poverty will be equally complex,” said Cheryl Strange, Department of Social and Health Services secretary. “We’re excited to learn from and partner with local community organizations to find ways to expand this work and transform the lives of families statewide.”
Economic Security for All is intended to support a long-term, systemic approach to helping Washingtonians move out of poverty at large scale.
The first round of funding provided $5.8 million for four communities in Washington to lead the way, by demonstrating that they can reduce the number of people living in poverty in a specific geographic community.
The grants require a systemic approach. First, the funds must drive change in existing programs and funding streams, so that local programs work together seamlessly to reduce poverty in their communities. Next, it requires communities to be high-poverty, geographically defined communities, such as counties, cities, towns, or tribal reservations, sized such that the investment can be expected to generate a noticeable and measurable reduction in poverty.
The federal poverty level for a family of two was $16,240 in 2017.
Areas who received grants under EcSA:
• Benton/Franklin Workforce Development Area received $856,775. The expected outcome is 115 families moved out of poverty.
The EcSA model will focus on remote Connell, building a partnership around four pillars of support: transportation, healthcare, childcare and employment. EcSA Benton-Franklin will establish regular transportation to connect residents of Connell to opportunities and resources in the Tri-Cities; provide access to physical and mental healthcare; support access to affordable, reliable, and quality childcare; and focus employment and training efforts on high-demand occupations in Connell and the Tri-Cities. This model is designed to enable replication in other rural population centers in Washington, upon request.
• Southwest Workforce Development Area received $1.6 million. The expected outcome is 280 families will be moved out of poverty. The EcSA model will serve families in Cowlitz County’s South Kelso and Highlands neighborhoods in a public-private partnership with the local manufacturing industry and additional private investments. The model takes a new approach to enhance and connect a wide array of community partnerships and link previously disparate programs to provide the necessary targeted services for individuals to gain support, skills, and employment to move up out of poverty. Efforts will focus on engaging local government and industry to promote changes to policies, practices, and workplace culture that lead to more equitable and inclusive workplaces; targeting outreach to under-employed individuals; and providing jobsite access to partner services to support hiring, training, and retention of underemployed individuals in employment that provides income at or above 200 percent of the FPL. This model is designed to enable replication in other rural population centers and smaller cities in Washington, upon request.
• Spokane Workforce Development Area received $1.7 million. Expected outcome: 250 families will be moved out of poverty.
EcSA Spokane will build upon ongoing collaborative efforts that recently led to the creation of the Spokane Resource Center.
The goals of the SRC are to provide resources and support designed to reduce poverty, address and prevent homelessness; to give greater access to healthcare, substance abuse, and mental health services; and to cluster many services in one place designed to help families step into self-sufficiency.
The EcSA model plans to serve families in West Central, Downtown, East Central, and parts of Northeast Spokane who are accessing services at the Spokane Resource Center and WorkSource campus.
EcSA Spokane will create additional capacity to serve recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in the target area, providing participant navigators and supporting coordinated holistic assessment and intensive and personalized services for SNAP recipients so that they can attain the skills and training necessary to transition into careers with a family-sustaining wage.