Six Questions Every Elected Official Should Ask About Their City’s Retirement Benefits

NLC recently announced the Public Sector Retirement Initiative, designed to provide timely research and educational resources to help elected officials navigate the retirement landscape, solve local government retirement challenges, and help cities achieve greater fiscal sustainability.

For city leaders, navigating the waters of public sector retirement can be tricky. Nlc recently launched a new initiative to help identify trends, challenges and solutions to local government retirement issues. (Getty Images)

For city leaders, navigating the waters of public sector retirement can be tricky. NLC recently launched a new initiative to help identify trends, challenges and solutions to local government retirement issues. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Josh Hart.

In 2009, the city of Atlanta pensions were only 53 percent funded, facing a $1.5 billion shortfall. Mayor Kasim Reed knew that he needed to act. Focused on an inclusive and transparent reform process, the city established a panel with representatives from unions, elected officials and local businesses leaders to find a solution. The 18-month process ended with a plan unanimously approved by the Atlanta City Council requiring existing employees to make a larger contribution out of their own payroll to the pension, and placing all new employees in a so-called “hybrid” system with a reduced defined benefit plan tied to a 401(k)-type defined contribution benefit with mandatory participation. The reform package also reduced the city’s long-term pension liabilities by over $500 million.

City leaders across the country are faced with rising retiree-related costs, and a responsibility to ensure that the municipal workforce has secure retirement and healthcare. These priorities can at times seem conflicting, and the complexities of managing retirement and other post-employment benefits (OPEB) can be daunting. What options are available and what role can city leaders play?

NLC wants to educate municipal leaders

The National League of Cities (NLC) recently announced the Public Sector Retirement Initiative, designed to provide timely research and educational resources to help elected officials navigate these issues.

The initiative will explore questions every elected official needs to ask, including:

  1. What are the best practices for providing retirement benefits?
  2. What is my city spending to provide retirement and healthcare benefits? Is this a larger proportion of the budget than it was a few years ago?
  3. Do the benefits my municipality provides allow me to recruit and retain the workforce my city needs?
  4. How is my municipality fiscally responsible for the retirement benefits offered to employees?
  5. How will recently enacted Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) changes affect my municipality’s finances and cost of borrowing?
  6. How do employees use retiree health benefits between their retirement and Medicare eligibility?

Understanding the role of the state

The Public Sector Retirement Initiative will also explore and help city leaders understand the key elements of the city-state relationship affecting the management of retirement and OPEB. For example, many states allow or require some cities to participate in statewide pension systems; this requirement has many benefits, like reducing costs for participating cities. In some cases, state statute sets required pension contributions, limiting a city’s ability to address its liability – even when the city manages its own plans. And no matter how your plan is managed, GASB changes have made it abundantly clear that these liabilities are a part of your city’s fiscal health.

This is the first post in our new blog series on public sector retirement. In the coming weeks, we will have postings from members of NLC’s Public Sector Retirement Advisory Council, a group representing perspectives from the private sector, state municipal leagues, city leadership, academia and nonprofits to provide guidance and advice to the initiative. We hope you find this information useful as you think about your own city’s finances and workforce needs.

About the Author: Josh Hart is the Senior Fellow for Public Finance at the National League of Cities.

Cities Explore Ways to Reduce Overuse of Jails for Young Adults

“There is enough data that exist that shows that recidivism is also an indicator that our current justice system is not functioning properly. We must begin with the lightest touch in our system especially with youth that focuses on treatment and education if we are going to change course in America.”

Yvette Gentry, Chief of Community Building, Office of Mayor Greg Fischer, Louisville, Kentucky

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Cities increasingly show greater commitment to diversion at the point of arrest as an alternative to jail in order to reduce the inflow of young adults into local facilities — thus reducing long-term effects of incarceration while young. Employing the strategy often involves providing specialized training to frontline police officers and tightening links to mental and behavioral health providers.

Eight cities with a strong interest in early diversion and other jail-use reduction strategies – including Birmingham, Alabama; Enfield, Connecticut; Las Vegas; Long Beach, California; Louisville, Kentucky; Norristown, Pennsylvania; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle – recently gathered at the National League of Cities’ first City Leadership to Reduce Overuse of Jails for Young Adults Leadership Academy, in Denver. With help from expert faculty from the Vera Institute of Justice, the W. Haywood Burns Institute, and the Justice Management Institute, among others, cities developed or enhanced plans to explore policies for diverting young adults to mental health and substance abuse treatment services as an alternative to jail. The Leadership Academy also provided information on cross-system collaboration and data sharing, as well as proactive methods to reduce racial and ethnic disparities at the time of arrest.

Up to ten additional cities will participate in a second Leadership Academy that will take place October 19 – 21 in Chicago.

Leadership Academy attendees’ interest in diversion builds on successful and promising programs, as detailed by NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute), from around the country that focus on police collaborations with behavioral health providers, programs targeted to the young adult population, and adult citation-in-lieu-of-arrest programs.

A few existing programs receive funding and technical assistance from the GAINS Center for Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation, a division of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration with the US Department of Health and Human Services. The GAINS Center website also serves as a repository for resources, training opportunities and funding prospects.

Many city leaders have begun to explore the Seattle LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) program model. This program, piloted in two Seattle area neighborhoods, allows police officers to divert low-level offenders directly to community services. The LEAD National Support Bureau provides strategic guidance and technical support to other local jurisdictions.

The YEF Institute is developing a Peer Learning Network on jail reduction that will provide additional resources and connections to experts on topics such as diversion, jail reentry, reducing racial and ethnic disparities and other emerging strategies. For more information, email Heidi Cooper at cooper@nlc.org with the subject line “Jail Reduction Peer Learning Network.”

Heidi CooperAbout the Authors: Heidi Cooper is the Associate of Justice reform within NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

 

 

 

RDHeadshotRashawn Davis is an Amelior Graduate Fellow at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service.

Mayors Aren’t Just Talking About Housing and Homelessness – They’re Doing Something About It

For the third straight year, mayors have identified housing as a fundamental challenge facing their communities, according to our 2016 State of the Cities report.

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Recognizing the unique role that housing plays in the fabric of cities, 40 percent of mayors in our sample dedicated significant portions of their State of the City speeches to the issue. (michaeljung/Getty Images)

Nearly a decade since the housing and financial crisis, one of the cruel ironies continuing to grip many cities is the lack of affordable housing – even as they continue to struggle with large numbers of foreclosed or abandoned properties.

To address both of these issues in their State of the City speeches, the mayors of Baltimore and Nashville highlighted recent efforts. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake emphasized the city’s Vacants to Value initiative that has quadrupled demolition funding to $100 million over 10 years. “It makes me proud that Vacants to Value was recognized by the Clinton Global Initiative, and honored by the Financial Times as an original idea that has made life better for people living and working in cities,” said the mayor.

In Nashville, Mayor Megan Barry touted the launch of a Metro Property Donation Process for housing development. “Nearly 60 infill lots will be available for housing development throughout Davidson County. More than half of them are in the urban core. For the first time, we’re making Metro’s own property available for affordable housing,” said Mayor Barry.

The need for affordable housing has been underscored by an increased prevalence of “tent cities” in many communities. While some cities have attempted to address homeless encampments through ordinances banning sleeping or lying in public spaces, others such as Indianapolis have taken the route of proactively outlining how they will handle them.

In Charleston, South Carolina, Mayor John Tecklenburg has recognized that a part of the city’s solution involves improving access to existing housing stock owned or managed by private landlords. The mayor partnered with NLC to recruit landlords to house homeless veterans, and in his State of the City address he said his goal was to bring the area’s encampments to “a humane but clear and final end in the near future.”

Recognizing the need to take action on homelessness in a strategic manner, 883 local leaders across 45 states and the District of Columbia have joined the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. As a result of the increased focus, veteran homelessness has fallen 47 percent nationwide since 2010. Most notably, for the first time in history, federal partners have defined what it means to effectively end veteran homelessness and certified that 29 communities and two states have achieved those benchmarks. Last Friday, Austin was announced as the most recent city.

Like Mayor Tecklenburg, Austin, Texas, Mayor Steve Adler has also been actively involved in the recruitment of private landlords. Acknowledging the need to stop gentrification or forced displacement, he used his annual State of the City address to stress the need to develop housing “in a way that will actually achieve opportunities for permanent affordability.”

Our 2016 State of the Cities report found mayors acknowledging the unique needs facing veterans as a whole. When analyzing specific demographics mentioned in speeches, 20 percent discussed veterans. Notably, seniors emerged as another frequently mentioned special needs population. This should not be surprising, since we are now five years in to the “silver tsunami” in which 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 years old every day.

Given the central role that affordable housing plays in the health and vitality of a city, it is easy to see why the topic is a consistent feature in mayoral addresses. However, given the depth of the affordable housing crisis in all communities, mayors are taking innovative and strategic approaches to address the issue by focusing on key demographics. As recovery from the Great Recession continues, the cautious optimism expressed by mayors in all regions of the country is well grounded.

This post is part of a series expanding on NLC’s 2016 State of the Cities report. Check back next week as we delve deeper into what mayors had to say about public safety.

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

What Cities Need to Conquer Opioid and Prescription Abuse

Cities across the country are increasingly affected by the opioid crisis. Here’s our comprehensive roundup of the programs supported by NLC and the Obama Administration in fighting prescription drug and heroin abuse.

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Responding to record increases in prescription drug and heroin overdoses across America, the U.S. Communities Alliance made medications that can stop or reverse the effects of an opioid overdose available to the state and local government sector in October 2015. Now, a key medication is available to cities at a steep discount. (Photo: yanyong/Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Rasheeda Mitchell.

Many families are struggling with opioid and prescription drug abuse. It is not a topic often brought up in family conversations or that is easy to talk about with loved ones. A diverse group of families across the U.S. are affected by drug abuse and are collecting resources about how to get help in their city. Local officials realize opioid and prescription abuse walks into the lives of families and leaves them helpless in a short amount of time. Instead of being silent on the topic, let’s take a deeper dive on the opioid crisis and how health care stakeholders like CVS Health and U.S. Communities are taking steps to help these populations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, more people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any year on record. More than six out of every ten drug overdose deaths involve an opioid. And since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin) nearly quadrupled.

One way that companies like CVS Health are helping communities address and prevent drug abuse is by increasing availability of Naloxone. Also known as Narcan, this medication is used to reverse an opioid overdose. Naloxone has long been a prescription medication, but CVS Health is working with cities and states to increase access to the drug for patients without a prescription. Tom Davis, RPh, Vice President of Pharmacy Professional Practices at CVS Pharmacy says, “By establishing a physician-authorized standing order that allows our pharmacies to dispense naloxone to patients without an individual prescription, we strengthen our commitment to helping communities we serve begin to address the challenges of prescription drug abuse.”

According to CVS Health, there are 31 states where CVS Pharmacists can dispense Naloxone without a prescription: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. And CVS Health plans to make the medication available at CVS Pharmacy locations in more states before the end of this year.

Mental and physical health continues to be on the minds of local officials in every city in America. Health care is the primary concern for mayors in 2016, according to NLC State of Cities. CVS Health has two programs available at no cost to cities to increase awareness about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and make controlled substance disposal more accessible. Police departments can request medication disposal units through CVS Health’s Medication Disposal for Safer Communities Program. These units will help local communities safely dispose of unwanted medications. CVS Health has also created the Pharmacists Teach Program, which teaches high school-aged teens about the value of making positive choices and preventing prescription abuse.

Another program supported by the National League of Cities and the Obama Administration in fighting prescription drug and heroin abuse is a contract through U.S. Communities called Premier. U.S. Communities is a NLC Business Partner that provides local agencies in the U.S. with competitively bid public contracts for various products and services. Premier’s contract saves time and money for public entities by allowing access to 290 pharmaceutical manufacturers, which includes access to Narcan.

CVS Health is a NLC Business Partner that administers the NLC Prescription Discount Program for NLC member cities in the United States. CVS Health is dedicated to helping cities address and prevent drug abuse, including through its education program for teens and its work to increase safe drug disposal options. NLC continues to research topics that affect cities and deliver resources to local officials that alleviate stress while providing residents with a peace of mind. Our Savings and Solutions Programs continue to grow and guide key decision makers every day.

About the Author: Rasheeda Mitchell is the Senior Associate for Strategy & Partnerships at the National League of Cities. Follow Rasheeda on Twitter @LRasheeda.

A Window into the Opioid Crisis in Kentucky

NLC’s Jim Brooks shares an insightful and personal account of his recent trip to Kentucky with the National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic.

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Methadone is dispensed at NYK Med in Covington, Kentucky. (Tom Martin)

How do you take stock of human tragedy? Maybe it is wrong even to try. In a world overrun with numbers, is it still possible to understand suffering through statistics?

A few days ago, I learned first-hand the practical consequences of the opioid epidemic in northern Kentucky. I now have some faces to accompany numbers.

NKY Med, a northern Kentucky methadone clinic, serves 1,500 patients each day. They open before sunrise so that men and women going to work can receive their medication without fear of being late to work. Later in the morning, there is a time slot reserved for pregnant women.

The clinic is a busy place. Clients come with their children. The line moves purposefully as each dose is dispensed. The faces vary but all seem intense and focused, but also serene.

There is no shame here. The clinicians are business-like, yet attentive. Patient and care-giver get to know one another. These folks are in it for the long-haul. Methadone treatment lasts years. It may last a lifetime.

Those who walk through the doors of NKY Med are the lucky ones. Although it’s a for-profit clinic, the medication plus counseling plus peer networking — all paid for out of pocket — offers a haven in the midst of a region beaten down by opioid overdose deaths.

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Members of the City-County National Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic meet inmates in a peer-assisted treatment program at the Kenton County Detention Center. (Tom Martin)

Strangely enough, some other lucky people are not far away. They are the 107 men and women in the six-month substance abuse treatment program at the Kenton County Detention Center. To spend time with and talk to these men and women is to know the face of hope.

In an open plan dormitory absent cells or bars, the men gather together. The group huddle at the close of their morning talk-therapy session has all the feel of a college football practice session. They are young and old, mostly white. But they do not chafe or hang their heads when their day is interrupted by our band of well-intentioned city and county officials. With loud voice and clear eyes they welcome us. They talk to us. In this small space, for these few minutes, they share the hope of this facility’s extensive, complex, and interconnected addiction treatment program. A program that is both cost effective and medically appropriate.

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A door to a treatment room at the Kenton County Detention Facility in northern Kentucky. (Tom Martin)

In the days that followed I discussed what we saw at the clinic and the detention center with the city and county leaders in attendance. All are knowledgeable about the opioid crisis in their community, and all are devoted to finding answers. They all have been inside lots of jails in their roles as policy makers and planners. But this time, instead of beds counted, guard salaries allocated, and federal reimbursements accounted for, they too have faces and names to carry home.

The National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic will prepare a report with a set of recommendations and best practices to help local governments serve their communities. It was the preparation for that report that brought the task force to northern Kentucky, and the men and women serving on the task force will help to write this report.

I can only hope that by bearing witness to their determination to manage and eventually overcome addiction, all of us in some small way have contributed to a better outcome.

If you’d like us to send you the latest resources and tools for cities to tackle the opioid epidemic, please provide your email below:

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

Four Pieces of Advice for Women Leaders from Vice Mayor Dot LaMarche

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Youth delegates at the 2016 Congressional City Conference celebrate the National League of Cities “Cities Lead 2016” campaign platform. (Jason Dixson for NLC).

In celebration of Women’s Equality Day, we asked the president of NLC’s Women in Municipal Government (WIMG) constituency group – Vice Mayor Dot LaMarche of Farragut, Tennessee – for advice she would give to women aspiring to be effective local leaders. Here’s what she had to say.

1 — Run a Trustworthy and Clean Campaign — Always

Given the current climate of campaigns today, it’s easy to give into the temptation of running a negative campaign. But at the local level, your constituents are your friends and neighbors, and no one appreciates a smear campaign. Assess your skills and qualifications, and then sell them in a professional manner.

Use your experience to your advantage. I served as a registered nurse for 35 years, which helped me understand the value of service to others and helped me get to know the members of my community. I was also president of a home owner’s association, a member of my local zoning board of appeals, an alderwoman for my adopted home of Farragut – and most importantly, I’m a wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. When it came time to run for office, I leveraged all of my experiences, from bandaging boo-boos on the playground to coordinating patient care in the ER of Rex Hospital in Raleigh.

Win by taking pride in all of your work – not by taking away the pride others find in theirs.

2 — Communicate with Your Constituents

It goes without saying that your constituents are the reason we get elected into office in the first place. Never forget that.

We all know the stress of a full voicemail or a climbing number of unread messages in an inbox, but I have made it a habit to always respond to my constituents by letter, e-mail or phone. City leaders are very connected with the people they serve; we may shop in the same grocery store, go to the same PTA meetings, or attend the same church. Taking the time to say hello and chat goes a long way. They value when you listen, and will not forget what you say.

Communicating with your community is the best way to find out the needs of your residents, and the best first step in addressing their priorities.

3 — Never Stop Learning

I’ve been married 55 years and have been working even longer, but there is seldom a day that goes by when I don’t learn something new. Part of being an effective local leader is embracing learning as a full-time job requirement.

When I was first elected to city council in 2003, the world was a different place. We take them for granted now, but social media – especially Facebook and Twitter – has drastically changed the way we communicate with our residents. Part of being an effective leader is being able to use these new tools to reach our residents.

Once you are in office, constantly seek out ways to learn more about the issues facing your city and community. I have taken many educational seminars to refine my leadership and communication skills, and they have taken me far.

Your job is always changing, and there’s always room to improve.

4 — Network, Network, Network

This is my best advice for women in general.

Part of learning, is listening and sharing with your peers. Talk to other members of your town council, other leaders in your state and other local officials from around the country.

The networking opportunities that both my state municipal league and the National League of Cities (NLC) have afforded me are truly invaluable. In addition to making lifelong friends, attending annual conferences like City Summit and the Congressional City Conference allow city leaders from all around the country to meet and share their best practices and solutions.

But don’t stop there.

Women need to get involved and let our voices be heard. At NLC, you can make an impact by joining constituency groups, serving on federal advocacy committees, or applying to leadership positions. Choose groups that match your interests. Serving as the president of the Women in Municipal Government (WIMG) allows me to an advocate for women and raise awareness for the issues I care about most.

I can tell you one thing: more women need to get involved in local government!

About the Author: Dot LaMarche is vice mayor of Farragut, Tennessee, and serves as president of Women in Municipal Government (WIMG) and on NLC’s board of directors. 

 

This Week in Urban Affairs: Self-driving Uber Cars, Veteran Homelessness, and Why Climate Change Will Cost Millennials a Fortune

Our new weekly roundup of the latest reading materials filtered through an urban affairs lens.

Uber announced it will begin using self-driving cars, such as this modified Volvo XC90, in Pittsburgh this month. (Image courtesy of Uber)

Uber announced it will begin using self-driving cars, such as this modified Volvo XC90, in Pittsburgh this month. (Image courtesy of Uber)

Austin, Texas ends Veteran homelessness. Last Friday, Austin, Texas, joined the growing number of cities that have effectively ended veteran homelessness. The city housed 682 veterans since taking on first lady Michelle Obama’s Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness two years ago. Through enabling new partnerships between varying agencies, implementing innovative programs, and receiving $3 million in assistance from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Austin was able to achieve this goal.

Climate change will cost millennials dearly in lifetime savings. A new report by NextGen Climate and Demos estimates that climate change will cost U.S. residents currently in their 20s and 30s $8.8 trillion in potential earnings over their lifetime. Of the nearly 75 million millennials in the U.S., those with a college degree will lose $126,000 in lifetime income, and $187,000 in wealth, according to the report. The losses get worse for younger generations. A child born last year who earns a college degree will lose $467,000 in lifetime income, and $764,000 in wealth due to inaction around climate change. The report’s authors attribute the anticipated financial damages to bad public policies, including policy inaction.

Uber and Lyft will subsidize taxis in Massachusetts. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law this week a 20 cent per-trip fee on ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft. Ten cents of that tax will be designated for municipalities, five cents will go to a state transportation fund. The kicker: the remaining five cents of the tax will go to the taxi industry—Uber and Lyft’s biggest competitor. The subsidy for taxi drivers would be the first of its kind in the U.S. Brishen Rogers, a law professor at Temple University, suggests that the funds could be used for retraining taxi drivers to take other jobs.

Former Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield defends cities’ right to expand municipal broadband. Amid the recent U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that the FCC cannot block states from setting limits on municipal broadband expansion, former Mayor Littlefield argues that the decision is a major setback both for local economic development and the expansion of high speed broadband to underserved communities. Littlefield’s own Chattanooga, Tennessee has provided one of the fastest Internet connections in the world, community-wide, for the past five years with its municipal broadband system. The broadband system has also been able to attract new business investment and innovation in the small city.

Huntington, West Virginia has developed innovative ways to deal with the opioid addiction epidemic in its community. Located in a region that is one of the most affected by the country’s opioid epidemic, Huntington is taking bold steps to mitigate the epidemic’s impacts. In 2014, the city opened an office of drug control policy that brings together law enforcement, health officials, community and faith leaders, and other stake holders to tackle the problem. Eight of the West Virginia’s 28 medically assisted detox beds are located in Huntington. The city opened a center devoted to weaning babies from drugs, the state’s first syringe exchange, and a 100-bed recovery facility called Recovery Point. However, the city says it still lacks the resources it needs to continue to fight the epidemic.

Uber plans to put self-driving cars on the road in Pittsburgh this month. The company will begin using a few self-driving Volvo SUVs and Ford Focus cars this month, with plans to increase to a fleet of 100 in the city. Each self-driving car will be required to have two employees inside: One in the driver’s seat with hands on the steering wheel and another observing from the passenger seat. Uber Chief Executive Travis Kalanick said the technology is necessary to lower the cost of ride hailing and car ownership. Uber plans expand its use of autonomous cars to other cities.

 About the Author: Justin DeWaele is a Housing Policy Intern with NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research. Follow Justin on Twitter @jdewaele1.

How to Implement Afterschool and Summer Learning Programs in Your City

City leaders are increasingly embracing the strategy of afterschool and summer learning to help expand enrichment opportunities for youth and address a broad range of issues such as academic success, public safety, workforce preparedness, economic development, and health and wellness. Here’s how to jump on the bandwagon.

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“Effective education goes far beyond the traditional classroom experience. Afterschool and summer learning programs inspire learning and development outside of the classroom, and keep youth safe and engaged in positive experiences. As leaders in our communities, our support of these programs is critical for our youth’s educational success.”
-Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James (Martin Dimitrov/Getty Images)

Statewide summits organized by afterschool networks offer an effective way to educate municipal leaders on the importance of afterschool learning opportunities, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) finds. These summits promote city leadership in afterschool programs by showcasing best practices and detailing active roles that mayors and city councilmembers can play. Kansas City Mayor Sly James recently hosted a joint statewide municipal summit on afterschool and expanded learning with funding from NLC – and your city can do the same.

Statewide afterschool networks in all 50 states influence state policy on issues such as afterschool funding, program quality improvements, partnerships and sustainability of programming. Through these municipal summits, the statewide afterschool networks share data that clearly depict the need and demand for afterschool programs across the state, demonstrate cities’ best practices, and inspire local leaders to take action to establish new partnerships, increase access, and consider additional local investment. With 15 years of experience working on the issue, the YEF Institute documented prime examples of city leadership building coordinated citywide systems of afterschool programs in its Municipal Leadership for Afterschool guide.

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So how can city leaders take advantage of the information, networking opportunities, and funding solutions that these summits provide? Put simply, you can use the aforementioned links to get in touch with your respective afterschool networks, and use the networks to find out about, attend, and become more involved with these afterschool summits.

Convening local leaders to discuss cities’ afterschool programs is of particular importance this year. As voters head to the polls for the 2016 elections, it is important to ensure broad and diverse support from local leaders of all political parties for afterschool programs moving forward, as they can be an important facet of solutions to many critical concerns that communities face. The summits enable mayors and councilmembers to hear from their peers about how and why they have made afterschool programs a priority, how they have funded new programs, or about new partnerships they have created.

The municipal summits can also provide local leaders a forum to discuss their afterschool program needs and priorities with governors’ offices, state legislators, and state education department heads who will make budgetary decisions and set education policy. In addition, state leaders can use the summits as an opportunity to inform participants of legislative priorities and constraints, as well as and gather insights from mayors on how to target resources effectively.

Since 2009, the YEF institute has received funding support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and The Wallace Foundation to work with 23 state networks to host statewide municipal summits on afterschool and expanded learning. Collectively, more than 2,000 local elected officials – joined by school district, county, nonprofit, business, faith and philanthropic leaders – attended the events. Upcoming 2016 summits include Indiana, Ohio and Florida.

Click here for more information about the YEF Institute’s afterschool and expanded learning programs.

About the Author: Erika Pierson is the Associate for Expanded Learning at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

How Your City Can Improve Utility Collections While Helping Families

The LIFT-UP program offers city leaders a win-win scenario, allowing city utilities to recoup lost revenue due to unpaid bills while enabling residents to reduce outstanding balances and late fees, connect with financial empowerment services, and reduce the chances of a utility shut-off.

With July 2016 being the hottest month on record, energy and water bills are likely to spike in the coming weeks for U.S. households. (Getty Images) With July 2016 being the hottest month on record, energy and water bills are likely to spike in the coming weeks for U.S. households. (Getty Images)

With July 2016 being the hottest month on record, energy and water bills are likely to spike in the coming weeks for U.S. households. (Getty Images)

When families are unable to pay basic expenses such as water and electricity, it is frequently a sign of much deeper financial issues. Some of these families may have to make difficult choices this summer between paying for food, housing or a utility bill. Unfortunately, this scenario does not only occur during the hottest months of the year.

Fortunately, there are a handful of city leaders looking more judiciously at existing city programs, local partnerships and broader systems to improve financial outcomes for both families and cities. Three years ago, five of these cities – Houston, Texas; Louisville, Kentucky; Newark, New Jersey; Savannah, Georgia; and St. Petersburg, Florida – partnered with the National League of Cities to pilot a new program that accomplishes this.

Local Initiatives for Financial Empowerment and Utility Payments, or LIFT-UP, is an innovative framework that connects residents who are struggling to pay a municipal utility bill, like a water or sewer service bill, with financial empowerment services including financial counseling and access to public benefits. The result is a win-win scenario in which families receive the support they need to pay their bills and address their debt, and the city recoups lost revenue due to unpaid bills.

With at least a third of all residential accounts classified as delinquent in three of the pilot cities, NLC realized persistent utility debt was a major issue for both families and city leaders. In the last two years, we’ve witnessed mass residential water shut-offs around the country, including the Detroit Water and Sewage Department crisis when the city attempted to collect more than $90 million in overdue payments. Shannan Nobles, Houston’s chief deputy City Controller, says it makes sense for cities to consider the LIFT-UP program, because “if a new approach also lessens the burden on the entire city system, then all the better for everyone.”

Impact:  Participants pay bills on time and avoid water shut-offs

LIFT-UP offers a holistic approach to help cities collect unpaid bills. The results from an evaluation of the pilot program by the Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin-Madison showed that a mix of program elements including incentives, restructured payment plans, and access to financial counseling and other benefit programs improved payment outcomes in most of the cities that participated.

For example, customers in Houston and Newark were more likely to pay their bills on time compared to customers who were not offered LIFT-UP. Many of these customers were also able to reduce their outstanding bill balances by more than 30 percent at eight and 12 months after enrolling in the program. And customers in St. Petersburg, who were offered customized payment plans, were 53 percent less likely to experience a water shut-off compared to customers not in the program. Overall, these customers also saved on average $140 more in late fees and shut-off/turn-on charges compared to their counterparts in the evaluation group.

A framework to increase family financial stability

LIFT-UP identifies water customers struggling with payments and offers them the help they need to get back on their feet. The theory is that by helping struggling residents improve their financial management skills through financial coaching, residents can begin to become self-sufficient and build assets such as purchasing a home or saving for a rainy day.

In addition to offering financial counseling, all five cities restructured participants’ outstanding debt and incentivized participation, for example through waiving fees or crediting customer accounts to reward payments. Many customers in the program also received friendly calls, text messages and emails to remind them to make their payment.

LIFT-UP offers cities a new way to consider how they collect payments and pursue debt from residents – one that helps residents move forward in their financial lives. The evaluation suggests that the program model can be implemented in a manner that reduces costs to the city, which has implications for replication. LIFT-UP could be incorporated into the practices of other city and private entities that collect debt, such as private utilities, municipal courts, and public hospitals.  With this hot summer coming to an end and cities thinking ahead to missed payments and utility shut-offs anticipated in the dead of winter, we hope you will consider a LIFT-UP approach in your city.

For more information:

About the Authors:

Denise Belser is the Program Manager of Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment Program within NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

 

Heidi GoldbergHeidi 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.

This Week in Urban Affairs: Taxing Marijuana to Tackle Homelessness, D.C.’s ‘Smart City,’ & Drone Fences

Our new weekly roundup of the latest reading materials filtered through an urban affairs lens.

(Getty Images)

The city of Aurora, Colorado, used the additional revenue generated by its marijuana tax to allocate $4.5 million dollars to the homelessness issue over next three years. Aurora Homelessness Program Director Shelley McKittrick says her goal is to end homelessness by looking at nation best practices and applying them appropriately to Aurora. (Getty Images)

Affordable Housing & Homelessness
9News: How Aurora is Tackling Homelessness
August 16
Aurora, Colorado will allocate $4.5 million in revenue from the marijuana tax to tackling its homeless problem over the next three years. The new Aurora Homelessness Program Director Shelley McKittrick says her goal is to end homelessness in the city, implementing national best practices such as rapid re-housing.

Climate & Sustainability
CityLab: The Importance of Targeting Heavy-Duty Vehicle Emissions
August 17
On Tuesday the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation rolled out new regulations that will make trucks, buses and other heavy-duty vehicles more fuel efficient. Once they’re implemented, the new regulations are expected to cut fuel spending by about $170 billion, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 1.1 billion metric tons and reduce oil consumption by tens of billions of barrels. Trucks and other heavy-duty vehicles currently account for over 20 percent of transportation-related fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

Finance
Governing: The Growing Urgency for Serious Public Pension Reforms
August 18
This opinion piece calls for bold pension reform to help solve public pension insolvencies and poor performance. Arizona is used as an example for strong and effective reform. Among the reforms the state implemented are a reduction in the maximum salary for purposes of pension calculations from $265,000 to $110,000 and splitting current and future pension costs evenly between employers and employees.

Infrastructure
NY Times: Why Are the Streets Always Under Construction?
August 18
This piece explores New York’s uniquely complex infrastructure challenges. Unlike other local governments, the New York City government does not control the energy, telecommunications and electricity infrastructure underneath its ground—private companies have their own networks. The city has aging water, gas and steam piping, some of which is over a century old. City officials are trying to figure out ways to reduce the enormous amount of permit requests they gets each year, and incentivize utilities companies to upgrade their infrastructure.

Planning & Development
Washington Business Journal: Two Major Local Players Join Microsoft as Partners in Washington Area’s First ‘Smart City’
August 15
George Washington University and the Center for Innovative Technology have partnered with developer 22 Capital Partners to bring the D.C. Metro-accessible Gramercy District project to fruition. The District, branded as an ecosystem of smart city technology, will be located in Ashburn, Virginia. The District will supposedly be a prototype for a platform that links together all aspects of real estate development with a preconfigured, intelligent framework.

Public Safety
Washington Post: ‘I’m Going Home to See if I Have a Home’: Louisiana Flooding Leaves 11 Dead, Forces Thousands from Their Homes
August 16
At least 40,000 homes have been damaged and 11 people have died since historic levels of flooding hit the southern part of Louisiana last Thursday. 10,000 people are in shelters, and Governor John Bel Edwards said it will be difficult to identify the number of people stranded and still needing rescue. The Obama Administration’s federal disaster declaration has extended to 20 parishes and shelters are opening across the state.

Tech & Innovation
Route Fifty: 3 Gigabit Cities Using High-Speed Broadband for Civic Engagement
August 16
The cities of Raleigh, North Carolina, Austin, Texas, and Louisville, Kentucky, will each receive a $30,000 grant from Next Century Cities to leverage high-speed broadband on civic engagement projects. Next Century Cities is a universal broadband coalition of 145 U.S. city representatives, which chose projects it said were replicable in other cities. Austin’s project will help public housing residents near transit hubs access online services, Raleigh will develop a citizen planning tool, and Louisville will wire a community center in an underserved neighborhood with high-speed Internet.

GovTech: Virtual Barriers, Manipulation Tools Enlisted to Keep Drones at Bay
August 17
As amateur drone operators increasingly fly over corporate headquarters, sports venues and the private homes of tech celebrities, emerging counter-drone technologies are being put to use with increasing prevalence. Bay Area tech companies are protecting their headquarters with “geofences” that block drones that are programmed to respond to the fence. Robi Sen, founder and chief technology officer of communications and security company Department 13, said that drones can be used to steal trade secrets, so his firm is helping other companies implement technologies, like geofences, to thwart drones.

About the Author: Justin DeWaele is a Housing Policy Intern with NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research.