Innovative Ways Cities are Meeting Residents’ Financial Needs

This is the seventh and final post in our blog series on financial inclusion. This post highlights an array of programs and services to meet the diverse financial needs of city residents.

Financial inclusion(Getty Images/Chris Hondros)

“To fully participate in the economic fabric of a community, all families must have access to the financial tools and pathways necessary to reduce debt and prepare for the future. The City of Nashville is committed to making this happen through programs and services to help residents build assets and become financially stable.”
Megan Barry, mayor, Nashville, Tennessee

Mayor Barry knows that in order for her city to thrive, families must be financially stable. Yet, over half of Americans lack emergency savings to weather a financial crisis, and many families do not have access to the tools and information necessary to make informed financial choices.

MetLife TA projectMany mayors are following Mayor Barry’s lead and taking steps to develop financial inclusion strategies and programs that address the financial challenges that families face every day. While some cities have had “pillar” programs in place for many years (programs that offer financial education or connect families to homeownership opportunities, public benefits and tax credits), in the last five to ten years there has been an emergence of new, innovative programs at the local level that address more complex financial challenges.

Figure05_ProgramsIn NLC’s report on financial inclusion efforts, a quarter of the cities surveyed for the report indicated that they have innovative programs in place to help families save, reduce debt, access safe and affordable financial services, and financially prepare for the future.

One of the more popular municipal strategies emerging from city halls across the country in recent years has been Bank On. In this model, cities work with community organizations and financial institutions to connect un- and underbanked residents, who often rely on high-cost predatory financial services such as check cashers and payday lenders, to safe and affordable bank accounts.

San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros and former Mayor Gavin Newsom first developed the Bank On model in 2006, and there are now over 100 Bank On programs in cities around the country.

Other local strategies focus on encouraging residents to save money. One way cities are doing this is through Individual Development Accounts (IDAs), which are designed to help low-income families save for homeownership, education or small business ownership. An individual’s or family’s savings are usually matched one to four times the amount of the deposit. For example, the city of Columbia, South Carolina offers residents an IDA with a city-funded 3:1 match.

Children’s savings accounts (CSAs) are another savings strategy that has caught the attention of many city leaders. San Francisco’s CSA, Kindergarten to College, offers all public kindergarten students a savings account for college with an automatic deposit of $50. St Louis, Missouri; Lansing, Michigan; and Caldwell, Idaho are offering similar accounts to young children, typically coupled with financial education for the whole family.

Debt reduction programs are also growing in popularity with city leaders. In partnership with NLC, five cities have implemented a new program in the last two years to connect residents in debt to public utilities to financial empowerment services in order to help these residents pay their debt while acquiring resources to improve their overall financial well-being.

Known as LIFT-UP (Local Interventions for Financial Empowerment through Utility Payments), this program is a win-win for cities that want to reduce their expenditures on utility debt collection and shut-offs while also helping struggling families. The city of Houston, for example, has integrated financial counseling into the city water utility’s customer service so that customers can receive the help they need on-site or over the phone.

This concept of financial inclusion service integration, which LIFT-UP employs, refers to the incorporation of financial inclusion programming into existing city programs and services, such as public housing and workforce development. For example, Seattle offers discounts on city services, such as utilities and car registration fees, to low-income residents that take advantage of financial coaching through the city’s Financial Empowerment Center (FEC).

FECs are one-stop centers where residents can receive financial coaching, help in managing debt and improving credit and access to financial services. Started in New York City by the CFE Fund, FECs have been replicated in cities around the country, including Nashville and San Antonio.

These examples offer a glimpse into the myriad ways that cities are making concerted efforts and thinking outside the box to make their communities more financially inclusive. As previous posts in this series have demonstrated, it takes bold leadership, a clear vision for success, strong partnerships and more to build a foundation from which innovative financial inclusion programs can grow and truly impact the lives of families in need.

Heidi Goldberg
About the Author:
Heidi Goldberg is the Director for Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Heidi on Twitter at @GoldbergHeidi.

City Issues Notably Absent from Third Republican Presidential Debate

This is a guest post by Devon Hawkins-Anderson.

Wednesday’s GOP presidential debate in Colorado produced the most substantive discussion we have seen to date from the Republican candidates – yet the local perspective was still lacking.

The ten top-polling 2016 GOP presidential candidates stepped up to the plate to debate economic issues at University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo., on October 28, 2015. (photo: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg)

Wednesday’s Republican presidential debate may have left many viewers with the impression that it was equal parts policy forum and popularity contest. While the past two contests resulted in more puns and personal attacks than policy statements, last night the candidates delved into the details of economic plans and entitlement programs. Most news sources agree that Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Ted Cruz, and Governor Chris Christie made the strongest showings.

Favorites and frontrunners Donald Trump, Governor Jeb Bush, and Governor John Kasich struggled to get a foothold. Regardless of reported winners and losers, all main stage candidates took a break from touting past economic accomplishments and submitted more substantive arguments for improving the economy and putting Americans to work. Still, there was scant talk of issues most affecting America’s cities.

Candidates seemed to over-promise when the discussion moved towards cutting taxes and creating jobs. As expected, Donald Trump demonstrated his trademark aplomb when describing his economic plan:

“Yes, it’s very simple. We’re going to make a really dynamic economy from what we have right now, which is not at all dynamic. We’re going to bring jobs back from Japan, we’re going to bring jobs back from China, we’re going to bring, frankly, jobs back from Mexico… We’re going to bring jobs and manufacturing back. We’re going to cut costs. We’re going to save Social Security, and we’re going to save Medicare.”

Consistent with the running theme of the GOP primary race, the competition balanced Mr. Trump’s larger-than-life assertions with more grounded and nuanced economic policy positions. Notably, Senator Rubio framed his vision for the country in terms of his personal experiences as the child of immigrants and a parent:

“I didn’t inherit any money. My dad was a bartender; my mother was a maid. They worked hard to provide us the chance at a better life. They didn’t save enough money for us to go to school. I had to work my way through school. I had to borrow money to go to school. I tried, early in my marriage, explaining to my wife why someone named Sallie Mae was taking $1,000 out of our bank account every month… it’s one of the reasons why my tax plan is a pro- family tax plan. It increases the per child tax credit, because I didn’t read about this in a book. I know for a fact how difficult it is to raise children, how expensive it’s become for working families. And I make a lot more than the average American. Imagine how hard it is for these people out there that are making 40, 50, $60,000 a year, and they’re trying to provide for their families at a time when this economy is not growing.”

Despite straight talk from Senator Rubio, Governor Kasich and others on economic issues facing all Americans, including mentions of investing in workforce development and training programs, we have yet to see significant time and attention paid to city priorities. Tax-exempt municipal bonds, Community Development Block Grants, and new market tax credits were conspicuously absent from the dialogue. All that has cities saying, “Close, but no cigar.” For the November 10 debate in Milwaukee, which will also focus on the economy, NLC urges debate moderators and candidates to let cities lead by discussing economic issues from a local perspective.

About the Author: Devon Hawkins-Anderson is the 2016 National Urban Fellow at National League of Cities. Contact Devon at

The Importance of Mayoral Leadership for Education

This is a guest post by Mayor Ralph Becker and Mayor Christopher B. Coleman. They are the co-founders of NLC’s Mayors’ Education Task Force.

Kids doing homework.(Getty Images/John Moore)

There appears to be a renewed surge of urgency from members of Congress to overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act – the most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). It’s vitally important this happens.

In the race to develop a highly educated and skilled workforce, America is lagging behind in the global economy. In 1990, the U.S. ranked first in the world in four-year college degree completion among 25-34 year olds; today, we rank 12th.

Many of our public schools, particularly those that serve primarily low-income students, need strong and sensible accountability mechanisms as well as additional resources to provide the highest quality education to all of their students. By high quality, we mean an education that prepares young people to not only attend but to graduate from college and to succeed in career and life.

Even a revamped ESEA will not be enough on its own to meet the challenges ahead, though.

A key element of any successful education reform effort must include a commitment to “go local.” To accelerate our progress and be truly competitive in the 21st century, we must close the opportunity gaps that now undercut academic achievement for far too many students and create more and better learning time for those most at risk of falling behind.

Some of this work can and must be done by school districts. Big pieces of the challenge, however, can only be addressed when entire communities rally to support education – and that’s why mayors must play a central role in developing and implementing strategies to move us forward as a nation.

In 2012, we worked through the National League of Cities (NLC) to form the Mayors’ Education Task Force, bringing mayors from across the country together to talk about ways to close opportunity and achievement gaps in our communities. Much of our conversation has focused on the need for strong partnerships between school districts, union leaders, local officials, community and faith-based organizations and local business leaders. Mayors are uniquely able to bring key leaders and community partners together to ensure all children have access to high-quality educational opportunities in the classroom and beyond.

To this end, in Salt Lake City we created A Capital City Education, a citywide, multi-sector alliance between the mayor’s office, the Salt Lake City School District, the University of Utah and Salt Lake Community College. The alliance focuses on college and career readiness for low-income youth and is committed to a shared investment of resources to achieve this goal.

In Saint Paul, we collaborated with community organizations and Saint Paul Public Schools to create Sprockets, a citywide network of afterschool and summer programs. The expanded learning opportunities that Sprockets provides are a key part of our strategy to provide more and better learning time and build social and emotional skills young people need to succeed in academics and in jobs

We, along with so many of our colleagues, recognize the need for a cradle-to-career approach to education. A growing body of research confirms that we need to start early, and that children who have the chance to participate in high-quality pre-kindergarten programs are better prepared to succeed in grade school, in high school and beyond.

We also know that our cities need new strategies for increasing postsecondary access and completion, thereby ensuring that improvements in K-12 education lead to more young people graduating from college and obtaining the skills they need to compete in a global economy. On both ends of the cradle-to-career pipeline, mayoral leadership is essential.

The returns on our investments in high-quality education systems – a more competitive workforce, the ability to attract and keep more families and businesses in cities, fewer residents living in poverty – are precisely those things that create healthy, safe and economically vibrant communities. Mayors have no more important job than this one.

About the Authors:
Ralph Becker, Mayor of Salt Lake City
Ralph Becker is the mayor of Salt Lake City, Utah and immediate past president of the National League of Cities (2014-2015).

Chris Coleman, mayor of Saint Paul
Christopher B. Coleman is the mayor of Saint Paul, Minnesota and past president of the National League of Cities (2013 – 2014).

City Leaders Gather in Portland to Hear From Black Male Millennials

This past week, city and community leaders gathered in Portland, Ore. to hear from black male millennials, learn about racial equity’s connection to black male achievement (BMA), share strategies on sustaining BMA, and gain insights for adopting/implementing comprehensive employment-focused policies.

(photo: National League of Cities)

(photo: National League of Cities)

All eyes were on a group of black male millennials from across the country sitting around a table in the center of the room.  Local elected officials, community leaders, and city staff leaned in to hear the conversation – listening intently to gain insights on the black male experience and understand how the society they live in impacts their daily lives.

As people peered into the “fishbowl,” the following question was raised, “What would our country look like without racism?”  The millennials sat for at least a minute in silence. One wonders: Could they even envision a society without racism?

Slowly, the young black millennials began to share their vision for a country without racism. One millennial mentioned that based on his experience, he could not envision a country without racism. He and some of the others struggled to see an equitable or hope-filled future where black men would not have to fear the police or be treated differently because they are seen as if they do not belong.

This opening conversation with millennials set an important tone for the convening NLC hosted in Portland, Ore. With generous support from the Campaign for Black Male Achievement and the Open Society Foundations, NLC convened six Black Male Achievement (BMA) cities – Charlottesville, Va.; Fort Wayne, Ind.; Milwaukee, Wisc.; Omaha, Neb.; Orlando, Fla.; and Portland, Ore. – in Portland, Ore. to share their progress, commitment, and hopes for changing the life outcomes for black men and boys in this country.

Over the three-day convening, NLC showcased the racial equity and BMA work in the city of Portland (site visits, NPR broadcast, press conference, and reception), brought national organizations to help support cities’ efforts to adopt and implement comprehensive employment-focused BMA policies, highlighted city examples of leveraged partnerships to sustain BMA, and centered the conversations on how to engage black men and boys. The objective was to facilitate the space for cities to develop actionable steps to create a healthy, thriving and inclusive community that includes black men and boys.

(photo: Anthony Smith)

(photos: Anthony Smith)

INSIGHT #1: Engaging Black men and boys should not be an option, but a requirement

Throughout the convening with the support of the Portland BMA Steering Committee and Cities United technical assistance providers, black male millennials were provided a space to lead discussions and drive the conversation with city and community leaders. Placing black males at the center of the convening helped to enforce the importance of black men and boys’ leadership and voice in the conversation.

Action Step: Cities should intentionally create sustained leadership and engagement spaces for black men and boys.

INSIGHT #2: Applying a racial equity lens is important for BMA Cities

Cities heard from the city of Portland, Multnomah County, and NLC’s Race, Equity And Leadership (REAL) on the importance of applying a racial equity lens and understanding its connection to BMA.

Action Step: Cities should apply racial equity lens to their work and clearly understand the connections to their BMA efforts.

INSIGHT #3: Sustaining the BMA work takes an “Inside-Outside” strategy

On the final day of the convening, PolicyLink led a discussion with BMA cities and CBMA on identifying strategies to sustain BMA within cities. This topic is critical to BMA cities as they are continuously forced to balance competing priorities and allocate resources accordingly. BMA city leads must be ready to justify the impact of explicitly focusing on black men and boys. As leadership and priorities change within a city, BMA should be integrally connected to the community and leveraged as a community-driven priority as part of a city leadership-“Inside-Outside” Strategy.

Action Step: Cities should develop internal and external capacities the allow BMA to continue beyond the political and economic constraints and/or changes.

INSIGHT #4: Adopting and implementing comprehensive employment policies create sustainable opportunities to improve the economic viability of black men and boys and their families

City leaders with expertise from the National Employment Law Project, the Council of State Governments, Justice Center and Cities United discussed how to adopt, implement, and enforce policies and strategies that provide economic opportunities for minority-owned businesses, small businesses, and returning citizens. Despite these policies not explicitly identifying black men and boys, they disproportionately impact opportunities for the target population.

Action step: Cities should determine how to create, update, and change employment-focused policies (Ban the Box, local/targeted hiring, contracting, etc.)

BMA cities during the three days were able to gain critical insights that helped them to take action, strengthen their peer network, and leverage strategies to sustain the BMA work locally and increase their engagement of black men and boys.  It is important for city leaders to take actions that continue to convey the fierce urgency to respond to the outcry we heard from the young men who cannot see a future without racism and who are holding on to the glimmer of hope filled with opportunities and unlimited potential. The convening in Portland offered powerful and tangible reminders of the importance for city leaders to work together with millennials and the community to impact the change they need to see in their communities.

To learn more about NLC’s BMA Initiative, contact Timothy A. Evans at or (202) 626-3014. To learn more about NLC’s REAL initiative, contact Leon T. Andrews, Jr. at or (202) 626-3039.

About the Author: Timothy A. Evans is a Senior Associate of NLC’s Race, Equity And Leadership (REAL) initiative.

How to Make a Creative City

Cities across the country have latched onto Richard Florida’s musings about the Creative Class — a group that includes both artists and engineers — and embarked on large scale development projects aimed at attracting this portion of the workforce. Last year for my senior thesis, I constructed a research project that would begin to answer the question: How do cities successfully attract the Creative Class?

The project took on the form of a case study which included data from in-person interviews with policymakers and stakeholders as well as the Census. The focus of my study was Roanoke, Va. It is a city located in the Blue Ridge Mountains with a population under 100,000 that also happens to be my hometown.

Over the last 15 years or so, Roanoke has seen a considerable amount of development seemingly geared towards attracting and growing a creative economy. Amenities such as a riverside greenway, a new amphitheater park, a renovated farmers market and food court, and a contemporary art museum have all sprouted up in the downtown district. During this same time, the downtown population grew substantially, with the influx coming largely in the form of knowledge-based workers.

The Roanoke City government has worked hard to couple its place-making efforts with real growth in the creative economy sectors such as software development and medical research. When Virginia Tech decided it was time to build a medical school, it chose Roanoke as its home. Accepting its first class in 2010, the school is paired with a biomedical institute that doubles as a business incubator. Still on the horizon for the city is a state-funded technology accelerator and instillation of gigabit internet.

My conversations with local leaders from government, business and nonprofits clued me in on what decisions were made to attract and retain the Creative Class in Roanoke. Comparing these insights with Florida’s writings, I was able to make the following suggestions for how to make a creative city.

Be Creative

With so many rusted-out, shrinking cities building amenities, I really wanted to know if it is possible to build a creative city from scratch. I can’t answer that after looking at just one city, but what I can say is that Roanoke’s Creative Class growth is helped by its creative advantage. Roanoke is not the most creative place. It doesn’t lead the country in technology, talent or tolerance — key characteristics of a creative city. It is, however, an urban oasis in an otherwise very rural area. There’s a natural draw of knowledge based workers to the city from the outlying areas who likely wouldn’t be able to find jobs at home.

Already being recognized as a creative city, either in the form of a college town or vibrant arts scene, is an obvious leg up in the race to attract creative workers. Highlighting your city’s creative attributes can only help to build that branding.

Build Amenities and Spaces for Creative Interaction

Business leaders are increasingly admitting that what they want most out of local government is help building up the amenities that will attract and retain the talent pool they want to pull from. This is stated over and over again in the literature on the Creative Class, which suggests cities benefit from live music venues, dog parks and coffee shops. But creatives also require a certain level of proximity and shared workspace to develop and grow their ideas. Roanoke benefits from the work of community leaders who have cultivated shared workspaces, such as the CoLab, for both startup entrepreneurs and artists.

It is important to note that amenity building isn’t a one-and-done kind of thing. In the 1970s and 1980s, city leaders redeveloped the downtown space, anchoring the district with a renovated farmers market and an arts and cultural center. Today’s projects, such as the amphitheater and art museum, are only successful because of the work of previous generations.

Develop the Arts and Technology Sectors

Artists and software engineers are two professions situated in what Florida calls the “Creative Core.” Cities like Roanoke are doing what they can to grow these sectors, but are ultimately limited by the strength of their overall economies. To its credit though, Roanoke is a very art friendly place. It is one of only a few cities in the country that devotes a portion of the city budget to public art projects. Coupling this openness with the scenic beauty that surrounds it, Roanoke has been a draw for artists over the years. Roanoke is also doing what it can to capture its part of the growing technology sector. City leaders spoke frequently about the startups that originated and have stayed in Roanoke. With the new accelerator and research center, Roanoke hopes to see even more startups develop in the future.

Recognize Your Assets and Market Them

One of the most interesting ways Roanoke is working to attract creatives and knowledge industries is through the Roanoke Regional Partnership. A joint effort between business and local governments, the Partnership has developed into a pseudo-marketing firm for the region, focusing only on the outdoor amenities. The Partnership realized that creatives and millennials love to partake in outdoor recreation and Roanoke has a tremendous amount to offer. Through its many websites and publications, the Partnership promotes these activities. Its efforts to build brand ambassadors are working. In my interviews, I was told again and again that Roanoke’s most unique attribute was its access to both the outdoor and urban amenities. While not every city is situated among rivers, lakes and mountains, every city has something that makes it special. Recognizing what those assets are and turning them into your city’s brand is essential to attracting outside talent.

To read my entire research paper, click here.

About the Author: Trevor Langan is a graduate intern with the National League of Cities.

How Cities Can Harness the Benefits of Shared Mobility

When it comes to new forms of shared-use mobility – including bikesharing, carsharing and ridehailing – no one stands to benefit more than our nation’s cities.

Shared-use mobility works differently in every city. One of the truly innovative aspects of cities is their ability to experiment and develop unique, locally-driven solutions to new challenges. (image: National League of Cities)

This is a guest post by Sharon Feigon.

Communities both large and small have begun to use shared mobility combined with transit as an effective tool to cut auto congestion and emissions, provide first and last-mile connections, and expand access to jobs and a better quality of life for their residents.

As these new services proliferate, however, city governments have also found themselves playing catch-up as they try to manage their growth and balance varied goals such as preserving safety, ensuring equitable service and allocating parking and use of curb space.

To address these issues, the Shared-Use Mobility Center (SUMC) recently convened a unique cross-section of public sector transportation leaders, private sector innovators and community representatives in Chicago for the 2015 national shared mobility summit Move Together.

The summit’s 500 attendees – including mayors, transit agency officials and department of transportation executives from across the nation – discussed the latest developments in shared mobility and explored new solutions related to integration of all modes and how these services can successfully work for diverse neighborhoods, in smaller cities, and with all different age groups.

In particular, the discussion centered on several strategies that cities can pursue to overcome challenges and better realize the benefits of shared mobility. Those include:

Elected officials and civic leaders celebrate the launch of an electric carsharing pilot serving low-income communities in Los Angeles earlier this year. (Photo: NK Artography)

Elected officials and civic leaders celebrate the launch of an electric carsharing pilot serving low-income communities in Los Angeles earlier this year. (Photo: NK Artography)

Set Mode Split Goals

To focus attention on the big shifts in mobility needed, SUMC kicked off the Move Together summit by advancing an ambitious goal – take 1 million cars off the road in the U.S. within the next five years by expanding shared mobility and public transit in 15 metropolitan regions.

We estimate that we could reach this goal if:

  • 8 percent of the adult population in the 15 cities evaluated joins carsharing
  • 4 percent joins bikesharing
  • 4 percent takes one trip per week using ridesharing or ridesourcing instead of driving alone
  • Transit ridership increases by 3 percent

In all, the effort would reduce annual vehicle miles traveled by 2.9 billion – the equivalent of 10 round trips to Mars. It would also result in 134 fewer gallons of gas consumed, $8.6 billion in household transportation savings and more than 1.6 million metric tons of CO2 averted, equivalent to planting 40 million trees.

Setting mode split goals can help cities focus attention on the need to cut congestion and reduce overreliance on private auto. And, they can be incredibly effective.

For instance the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) set ambitious goals a few years ago and organized its workflow to support them. Earlier this year, the agency announced it had surpassed its goal to reduce private car trips to 50 percent of all city trips by 2018. The SFMTA credited the shift to tactics such as encouraging compact development and using smart land-use and parking policies to chance travel behavior – actions that any city can take.

Take a Proactive Approach to Setting Policy

Cities are often forced to react to new developments in shared mobility, whether it is grappling with issues related to the sudden launch of ridehailing providers like Uber and Lyft or responding to demands for bikesharing or increased transportation options.

It’s not easy to balance the need to protect the public without stifling innovation. But the best path forward for cities is to decide – before they’re forced to – what mobility services they want to attract, how they want to manage them, and what they need to do to establish an effective policy framework.

SUMC’s new shared mobility database – which summarizes more than 500 of the most important shared-use mobility policies, studies and strategic plans in the United States – highlights best practices of several cities in addressing issues related to shared mobility.

For instance, cities such as Portland, Seattle and New York City have included reporting requirements in their agreements with ridesourcing providers to ensure they have access to important performance and user trip data, which they can use for planning and to address equity-related concerns.

Cities such as San Francisco and Washington, D.C. have developed successful strategies for managing on-street parking for carsharing vehicles. The SFMTA launched a pilot offering a total of 900 street spots to carshare providers and used outreach to residents and businesses to help reduce conflicts over this use of parking space.

Washington, D.C. – which has also made parking available for one-way carsharing – has mandated that carsharing operators place at least as many cars in private parking locations as public spots, and that they locate at least one car in each D.C. ward to ensure equitable distribution of vehicles.

Experiment with Pilot Projects

Sometimes it is hard to tell what will work in your city until you try it out. Pilots allow cities to experiment with solutions and make necessary adjustments before moving to a full-scale investment or entering into long-term agreements with mobility providers.

Many successful shared mobility systems – such as Capital Bikeshare and Zipcar’s ONE>WAY carsharing service – started out as pilot projects before expanding. Cities such as Portland have also used pilot projects as a way to more closely manage the operation of ridesourcing providers like Uber and Lyft.

Recently, the City of Los Angeles announced that it will work with SUMC and the California Air Resources Board to launch an electric carsharing pilot project focused on serving low-income residents in L.A. The goal of the three-year pilot, which will be funded with $1.6 million in state cap-and-trade revenues, is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve mobility by introducing electric carsharing fleets into disadvantaged communities. SUMC is also managing a peer-to-peer carsharing pilot in Chicago in several low-income areas and in a suburban community as well.

Additionally, we are working to develop a full-service shared mobility toolkit including an interactive map and gap analysis tool that cities can use to identify pilot opportunities by better understanding where greater service is needed and what shared modes the market can support using a high-quality data set.

While issues related to shared mobility can present challenges for cities today, the benefits far outweigh any perceived negatives. By actively engaging and experimenting, cities both large and small can harness the power of shared mobility to increase transportation choice and help improve the environment and the quality of life in their regions.

About the Author: Sharon Feigon is the executive director of the Shared-Use Mobility Center, a national public interest organization working to foster collaboration in shared mobility and extend its benefits for all. Prior to SUMC, Feigon served as CEO of IGO Carsharing, the nonprofit that started carsharing in the Chicago area.

An Interaction with Police Doesn’t Have to Mean Detention for Young People

“Every interaction between police officers and our young people is, or can be, an opportunity for prevention or intervention.”  
– Betsy Hodges, mayor, Minneapolis

Decades of evidence support Mayor Hodges’ comment. Systems that overuse detention and other harsh corrections methods often make young people more likely to reoffend and in doing so, harm them, their families and their communities. The good news is that with the right services, most first-time youth offenders never have further problems with the law.

Diversion programs, which are often developed by municipal police departments, are systems that allow low-level offenders to avoid criminal charges and convictions, and are an important way cities can implement juvenile justice reform.

These programs hold youth accountable for offenses while keeping them in school and in their communities, all while providing access to services that address unmet needs such as mental health services and family support. Access to these services can be the key for young people to make positive and lasting changes.

Leadership academy in action

Captain Tanya Washington of the Little Rock Police Department (left) and Shirley Torres of Homeboy Industries work on action plans for juvenile justice reforms in their cities.

Over two days at NLC’s recent Municipal Leadership for Juvenile Justice Reform Leadership Academy in Minneapolis, 38 motivated and passionate city leaders, police and probation officers and service providers met to discuss ways their jurisdiction could identify and implement alternatives to traditional detention. Led by national juvenile justice reform experts, teams from cities as diverse as Farmington Hills, Michigan and Los Angeles met to learn and exchange ideas about how diversion programs could work in their jurisdictions.

Key lessons that emerged from the leadership academy include:

  • The most effective diversion programs offer as many “off ramps” as possible to help youth avoid continued involvement with the juvenile justice system;
  • Status offenses, acts such as truancy or curfew violations that are only considered offenses when committed by minors, can often signal unmet individual and family needs. Community partners are critical in helping law enforcement direct youth to appropriate resources;
  • To improve public safety and provide effective rehabilitation, the juvenile justice system must work to align with the latest research on youth development and mental health;
  • Reform efforts must address racial and ethnic disparities at every point in a young person’s contact with the justice system.

Leadership academy attendee citiesThe meeting also featured a tour of Minneapolis’s Juvenile Supervision Center (JSC). The JSC, located in city hall, provides a safe place for police to bring youth picked up for truancy, curfew violation or other low-level offenses. The JSC provides an exemplary model of collaboration between city, county and school department stakeholders. Of the over 2,000 youth seen annually at the JSC, less than 10 percent re-enter the center while their case is active. The center has also helped reduce the time police officers need to process cases from several hours to five minutes.

Finally, participants planned next steps to implement in their communities, including:

  • Developing champions at multiple local agencies and organizations to encourage the use of productive data sharing;
  • Completing an analysis of demographic data to get a clear picture of racial and ethnic disparities;
  • Creating a civil citation program to avoid detaining offenders who are not a risk to the public or to themselves.

Heidi Cooper
About the Author:
Heidi Cooper is the Justice Reform Associate in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

How State Policies Can Support Local Reengagement Efforts

Nationwide, members of the Reengagement Network are taking notice of the potential for state policy to support local efforts to increase the high school graduation rate in their communities.

Empty classroom(Getty/XiXinXing)

The impact of state policies on local efforts to reengage students who have left school varies widely. Policies can drive resources to the local level, or aid in the development of peer-learning networks. States also have the ability to push innovation on a large scale, via services ranging from leadership development to potential curriculum platforms.

Providing broad student supports and adding to the range of local return-to-school alternatives are some of the biggest challenges to expanding reengagement efforts. Working with out-of-school youth requires funding for recruitment to ensure young people stay in school after they reenroll. Existing funding and accountability structures may make it difficult for schools to reenroll older youth.

In the face of these challenges, several states, including Texas, Washington, Illinois and Iowa have successfully enacted legislation that provides support for local reengagement activity, including funding.

In Texas, HB 1137 authorizes funding for school districts to help youth up to the age of 26 earn a high school diploma. Enacted in 2007, the law encourages local districts to recover students that have dropped out, and prevent those who may be at risk from being pushed out.

As a case in point, the College, Career & Technology Academy (CCTA) serves youth in the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo School District in Texas, and receives funding from HB 1137. CCTA, through its partnership with South Texas College, provides youth with college coursework that meets their needs. In addition to on-campus classes, students earn credits through hybrid courses. During the first four years of operation, 1,000 students graduated from CCTA.

Washington State’s Open Doors legislation (HB1418) became law in 2010, with the aim to expand outreach, education and case management services for disconnected youth. Through Open Doors, the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction currently provides small-scale grant funds to nearly 40 separate programs around the state. Most commonly, school districts operate Open Doors programs. Numerous programs are jointly sponsored by school districts and local community colleges.

Open Doors supports a diverse variety of models and partnerships — testament to the state’s interest in accommodating all types of learners. The legislation supports programs that:

  • Encourage partnerships with community colleges and community–based organizations,
  • Create multiple pathways for students to realize success,
  • Create a pathway to post-secondary achievement through a performance based, individualized support model, and
  • Emphasize college and career readiness.

GRAVITY (GED + Reengagement Alternative Vocational Individualized Training for Youth) was the first reengagement program approved by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction in Washington. At GRAVITY, students prepare for the GED and develop skills to enter the workforce. Twenty-three different school districts in the state of Washington have implemented GRAVITY, and in the 2013-2014 school year, 687 students enrolled in a GRAVITY program.

Chicago Student Outreach And Reengagement Center

Chicago Student Outreach And Reengagement Center (SOAR)

In Illinois, the Truants Alternative and Optional Education Program (TAOEP) provides grants to programs that serve out-of-school youth up to age 21. Similar to programs in Texas and Washington, TAOEP programs in Illinois work with community organizations to supplement state funding to meet young people’s needs. In Chicago, four utilize TAOEP funds to reengage over 2,100 youth annually.

In Iowa, the Department of Education enacted Modified Allowable Growth for Dropout Prevention, (MAG-DoP), a funding mechanism for school districts which covers 25-75 percent of the approved budget for programs that reengage youth, or provide services to students at risk of dropping out. Typically, districts and other partners such as local community colleges or foundations supply the balance of funds for such efforts. In the 2015-2016 academic year, 336 districts received state funds for their dropout reengagement and prevention programs through MAG-DoP. Dubuque Community School District receives a portion of the funding for   from MAG-DoP.

Together, cities and states can overcome some of the challenges that face reengagement programs as they expand and work to achieve stability. As more states play an active role in local reengagement efforts, assistance should expand beyond funding.

States can set goals to reduce the dropout rate and incentivize local organizations to create coalitions to reengage youth. Partnerships can lead to the creation of stronger strategies and increase the resources available to create more sustainable programs.

Zachia Nazarzai
About the Author:
Zachia Nazarzai is the Reengagement Fellow with NLC’d Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. She is a graduate student at the Heinz School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University. Contact Zachia at

Paying for Economic Development: How Your City Can Benefit from Creative Financing Techniques

This is a guest post by Lynn Cherry.

(Image courtesy Khalid Rasulli, NSP Country Manager, Sanayee Development Organization)

As the economy continues to improve after the Great Recession, cities across the nation are doing their best to bring their communities back to where they used to be. The continuous devolution of the federal government, ever-increasing demand from the growing populace, and declining infrastructure are all factors placing fiscal and political pressures on localities in their attempt to deliver quality public services.

With that in mind, as more demands are being placed on local governments and as federal funds are declining in combination with stagnating budgets, municipal governments are looking towards innovative and creative financing techniques to meet the needs of their communities.

Many local governing bodies are increasingly turning towards the private sector for help. These partnerships are helping municipalities fill that troublesome “funding gap.” Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) allow the public and private sectors to identify a shared value, minimizing costs, share risks, and increase overall benefits. If contracted and implemented correctly, PPPs can be an effective, efficient and valuable means of delivering services to the public. However, facilitating these partnerships can often times be tricky, complicated, and expensive if not pursued correctly.

How could this apply to your city? This November, NLC University has teamed up with several leading PPP experts to provide an informative and engaging session on exactly how you can benefit from using this innovative financing. Some of these experts include Mike Higbee of DC Development Concepts, the Honorable Tom Murphy, former Mayor of Pittsburgh and senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute, and Bert Mathews of the Nashville-based Mathews Company.

Not only will attendees receive great insights from leading PPP specialists, two attendees will have the opportunity to present a local case study of a real estate project for which they’d like to find financing. After their presentations, two participants will receive on-the-spot advice from the panel of experts about how their projects could be launched. Registering for the session will automatically enter you into the drawing. On Monday, October 26, two lucky names will be drawn, so make sure you are registered by Sunday, October 25 for this great session and special opportunity.

Click here for more information on this session.

About the Author: Lynn Cherry is the Coordinator of Outreach & Public Policy for the National League of Cities University.

Local Financial Inclusion Programs Build a Strong Foundation for Financial Well-Being

This is the sixth post in our blog series on financial inclusion. The series provides examples and action steps to help city leaders start or strengthen financial inclusion efforts. This post highlights local financial inclusion programming, with a focus on the four most common types of programs.

Couple working on finances(Getty/Fuse)

Proven, effective financial inclusion programs and services are essential to city leaders in helping residents become more financially secure. Local financial inclusion programs can vary widely in strategy, but they succeed when key components are in place, including strong champions, community commitment and partnerships and a clear vision for success.

In our recent scan of municipal financial inclusion programs, NLC found that those cities with the most successful and comprehensive financial inclusion programs tend to have a set of foundational or “pillar” programs in place. Sixty-three percent of the cities surveyed as part of our scan reported having at least one of four common financial inclusion Figure04_Pillars“pillar” programs in place:

  • Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) outreach,
  • Multi-benefit outreach and access,
  • Financial education, counseling and/or coaching, and
  • Homeownership assistance.

By investing in these pillar programs, cities can customize tried and tested strategies, and by doing so can propel innovation and increase impact. Many cities have had some of these pillar programs in place for several years, which has positioned them to build out their financial inclusion strategy through ongoing services and partnerships.

Pillar programs tend to attract attention from community partners interested in expanding their financial assistance program offerings. This type of community buy-in increases the likelihood of additional funding for local financial inclusion programs from state and federal sources as well as private funders, such as banks.

Figure05_ProgramsVolunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)/ Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Outreach
VITA is a federally-funded program that provides free tax preparation for low- to moderate-income families. It also helps increase awareness of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a federal credit for low- and moderate-income workers. Fifty-two percent of survey respondents indicated their city has a VITA/EITC outreach program in place.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that in 2013, the EITC lifted about 6.2 million people out of poverty, including 3.2 million children. VITA protects residents from predatory tax services while increasing the EITC’s financial impact.

Currently, 25 states and the District of Columbia have their own local EITCs to supplement the federal credit. For example, Chicago directly funds VITA and EITC outreach efforts, with city officials lending support by promoting these services to residents. In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Mayor Johnny Dupree started the city-funded Education Initiative to provide free tax preparation services to residents and promote awareness of the federal EITC and the Child Tax Credit.

Multi-Benefit Outreach and Access
Cities are boosting the economic well-being of residents directly by connecting them to federal benefit programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and federal health insurance benefits like Medicaid through direct outreach, often joining with local nonprofits to refer residents to programs and help them complete benefit applications.

Over 48 percent of survey respondents indicated their city operates at least one multi-benefit outreach or access program. Pittsburgh has incorporated health benefits outreach into their 3-1-1 call system. When residents call, they hear a message about health coverage and enrollment assistance. Operators are trained to answer questions and refer residents to agencies that can help them get enrolled in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program.


(Getty/Wavebreakmedia Ltd)

Financial Education, Coaching and Counseling
Financial education help residents learn to create a budget, manage debt, improve credit, build savings and plan for retirement. Financial counseling helps financially struggling individuals and families to manage immediate problems, typically providing a short-term intervention, and financial coaching offers one-on-one interactions with a trained financial counselor to identify issues such as wasteful personal spending patterns, for example. Coaches work with clients to design a plan for improvement and track their progress.

Forty-six percent of the cities surveyed indicated they have financial education, coaching and counseling programs in place, including Garden City, Michigan. The city offers the Financial Peace University curriculum, which teaches residents how to manage debt, build savings and plan for retirement. The city also offers a similar curriculum designed for teens that focuses on savings and understanding credit.

Homeownership Assistance
Cities provide homeownership assistance in many forms. Like financial education, coaching and counseling, homeownership assistance, 46 percent of cities surveyed said they offer homeownership assistance to residents. For example, Providence, R.I. provides home repair grants and support for first-time home buyers, including pre-purchase education. St. Petersburg, Florida offers home repair loans to residents who are at or under the city’s median household income. Grants are also available to physically, visually or hearing impaired home owners and renters for ramps, chair lifts and other features that make a home accessible for persons with disabilities.

These pillar programs can provide cities with a strong foundation from which to build a more advanced and comprehensive financial inclusion agenda. Through these programs, residents can improve their financial well-being by gaining access to assets such as tax credits, nutrition benefits, financial information and the ultimate American dream of owning a home.

However, the potential for local action to improve their residents’ financial state expands well beyond some of these “tried and true” local strategies. Many cities have implemented or are in the process of putting in place innovative programs to help residents build financial stability. These more advanced, innovative programs will be featured in our next and final blog in this series. Stay tuned!

Heidi Goldberg
About the Author:
Heidi Goldberg is the Director for Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Heidi on Twitter at @GoldbergHeidi.