What the Philanthropic and Business Sectors Can Do to Help Reduce Violence and Gun Crime

This post is part of a series, ‘Galvanizing the Civic Sector to Reduce Gun Violence.’  The series focuses on what several sectors – including parents, teens, schools, hospitals, the faith community and city leaders – can do, independent of state and federal legislative activity, to reduce violence and the number of gun-related deaths.

Most private or business-related foundations do not list violence prevention among their top funding priorities.  However, if one views violence prevention work through a wide lens, then many if not most foundations play some role in helping to reduce violence.  In point of fact, if one sees violence prevention as stopping crime and helping to build vital communities that do not generate crime, then initiatives such as mentoring, afterschool programs, family support, job training and neighborhood improvement all can and do fit under the rubric of violence prevention.  The potency of such initiatives is maximized if they are part of a comprehensive citywide plan blending prevention, intervention, enforcement and reentry.

Because of its ability to move fast, take risks and tailor the work to community realities, the private sector’s participation in violence prevention is essential.  America, with five percent of the world’s population, locks up 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.  At a cost of $80 billion, one in every 107 Americans was behind bars and one in every 34 was under correctional supervision at the end of 2011.  On the basis of these staggering prison costs, and realizing the status quo is neither effective nor efficient, those on both sides of the political spectrum now argue together for fundamental changes.  Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent critique of “draconian mandatory minimums,” which result in the warehousing of low-level offenders, signals a growing consensus that the U.S. must reduce its excessive dependence on incarceration.  This shift will mean, in part, an increased demand for proven, evidence-based community programs that affix responsibility and provide help for such offenders.

Activists and policymakers at the local, state and federal levels will almost certainly turn to the private sector for help, and local officials should balance their needs with an assessment of what particular foundations stand for and what they have funded in the past.  City leaders who are spearheading violence prevention efforts must think pragmatically, too.  Low crime and little fear mean citizens are unafraid to shop; a violence-free environment is good for business.  Local businesses should be among a city’s active partners.

Finally, city leaders can show potential supporters how their investment connects to others.  Single interventions are okay, but limited unless part of a larger context.  Showing funders how their support fits into a comprehensive plan, how it will be leveraged, increases the chances of securing funding.

What Factors have Brought Foundations in to Work on Violence Prevention Efforts?

Interviews with leaders of national and state-based foundations suggest a multitude of factors that are motivating the philanthropic sector to engage in violence prevention work:

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Why Did President Obama Choose Phoenix to Talk About Housing? It Might Not Be Why You Think.

Recently, President Obama gave a speech in Phoenix, AZ about housing and homeownership. In much of his speech, the President discussed his Administration’s principals for reform of the housing finance system, as well as the on-going rebound in home prices. While the city is cited as an example of the housing boom, bust, and recovery cycle – the choice of Phoenix to deliver the speech was significant for another reason. Thanks to local leadership, collaboration, and resource coordination, Phoenix is on track to end chronic homelessness among veterans in 2014.

We’ll wade into the debate around potential reforms of the mortgage finance system at another time. But the on-going rebound in prices should not be mindlessly celebrated. While rising home values are no doubt good, the pace of the price increases is causing concern by some market observers. The heavy involvement of large investors paying cash for many homes is likely driving some of the increases. The question is, how much of the increases are being driven by all cash home purchases?

How much can local leaders influence these aspects of the housing market? Similarly, are there actions that local leaders can take to significantly impact the debate around mortgage finance reform?

This past February, NLC convened stakeholders in Phoenix to identify public leadership roles necessary to build more sustainable and resilient communities, particularly in the face of cyclical volatility in the real estate and housing markets. While local leaders can take steps to create an environment that attracts and retains individuals and families, there are limited actions local leaders can take to prevent the rise of home values based on market speculation. Furthermore, there are few things officials can do locally around reforming the mortgage finance system.

However, when dealing with veteran homelessness, local leaders can play a large role. In Phoenix, Mayor Greg Stanton has taken numerous steps that merit his recognition by the President. As documented in a recent NLC case study, the City of Phoenix has supported the efforts to end veteran homelessness with resources to fund “navigator” positions to walk homeless individuals through the confusing process of getting help and housing. These navigator positions work to ensure that homeless veterans get the help they need to obtain housing.

With a navigator assisting a homeless veteran, stakeholders can be sure that the limited numbers of housing vouchers are used for those with the most intensive needs. If a veteran needs help getting into housing, the navigator can help make sure the veteran receives rapid re-housing assistance. This targeting of resources has allowed the City of Phoenix to reduce the number of chronically homeless veterans from 222 in March 2012 to 156 in March 2013. An additional 50 housing vouchers specifically targeting homeless veterans have since been used, leaving an estimated 105 chronically homeless veterans in Phoenix.

As the City turns a corner in its efforts to reduce chronic veteran homeless, Mayor Stanton is also focusing on veteran employment with the assistance of the Military Veterans Commission, a board of local leaders in the veteran community that advises the Phoenix City Council.

The Hire, Educate, Recruit and Organize (HERO) Initiative has successfully connected local small businesses and corporate employers with veterans at strategically planned hiring events. The HERO initiative takes a targeted approach in reaching out to employers in industries in which military experience provides highly transferrable skills, such as logistics and advanced business services. The employers are pre-screened to ensure they are actively hiring, able to pay a minimum of $12/hour, and willing to interview on-site. The employers also receive educational training that highlights veterans’ assets, and demystifies common misconceptions associated with hiring veterans. Veteran participants receive pre-session interview and resume assistance to translate their military experience to a civilian audience. At the first HERO event in December 2012, 30 employers and 170 veterans attended, and 20 job offers were extended as a result of the event. This initiative began as a pilot program by the mayor’s office, and has now become a permanent fixture in the city’s economic development landscape.

President Obama rightfully drew the nation’s attention to Phoenix. As possibly the first city in the nation to end any form of homelessness, their work must be celebrated. The fact that the population which would no longer experience homelessness are veterans should be a call to action to leaders across the country.

Supreme Court Preview: Cities at the Supreme Court

Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

The Supreme Court’s October Term 2013 is shaping up to be a big one for cities, even though the Court has 30 or so more cases to accept. Here is a brief overview of a few of the cases the Court has agreed to hear so far that could affect cities.

Town of Greece v. Galloway involves the question of whether a town board’s practice of beginning board meetings with a prayer violates the U.S. Constitution’s Establishment Clause
because Christians almost always led the prayers.

In Mount Holly Gardens Citizens in Action v. Township of Mount Holly, the Court will decide whether disparate impact claims can be brought under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Cities across the country have been sued under the FHA where redevelopment plans and other housing-related decisions have disproportionately affected minorities.

A Massachusetts statute created a 35-foot “buffer zone” around reproductive healthcare facilities that demonstrators are not allowed to enter. In McCullen v. Coalkey, the constitutionality of this statute is challenged. Many cities have adopted similar ordinances around funerals, political events, schools, and other venues that may be affected by the Court’s ruling in this case.

In Madigan v. Levin, the Supreme Court will decide whether employees with age discrimination claims can go directly to court by suing under the Fourteenth Amendment instead of suing under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which requires employees to first try to informally resolve their claim, saving cities and other government employers time and money.

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) will file an amicus curiae brief in McCullen v. Coalkey, which NLC is likely to sign onto. For more information about these cases read the SLLC’s article, Supreme Court Term Preview: Local Government at the High Court.

Start Making Sense: Support Common Sense Immigration Reform

Comprehensive immigration reform is on hold in Washington while lawmakers are home for the August recess. Take advantage of this opportunity to encourage Congress to act on immigration reform.

Immigration reform remains an economic imperative for cities, with several recent studies demonstrating the benefits to both the national economy and to local economies. Common sense immigration reform will create new jobs, increase wages, and generate new tax revenues.

NLC supports comprehensive and common sense immigration reform that includes:

  • Supporting earned citizenship;
  • Eliminating illegal border entry;
  • Increasing enforcement of visa overstays;
  • Strengthening the worksite enforcement capacity;
  • Providing local governments with financial and technical assistance to alleviate the local impact of new immigrants without adding new local mandates.

In June, the Senate adopted a bipartisan immigration bill by a vote of 68 – 32. The bill includes requirements for an earned path to citizenship, border security measures, workplace enforcement and temporary worker categories for low-skilled and agricultural workers, and for unauthorized individuals to go through a series of steps lasting at least 13 years before applying for citizenship.

The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that if passed, this bill would reduce the federal deficit by $175 billion between 2014 and 2024, and would contribute 3.3 percent to economic growth by 2023 and 5.4 percent by 2034.

Progress on immigration reform has been much slower in the House. So far, two different House panels have worked on a total of six different bills. A bipartisan group has been working for several years on a comprehensive bill but has been unable to reach an agreement and even lost a member earlier in the year.

The House bills include the Agricultural Guestworker Act, the SKILLS Visa Act, the Legal Workforce Act, and the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act or SAFE Act. NLC has strong concerns about the SAFE Act and Legal Workforce Act, which mandates state and local government use the government sponsored E-Verify system on existing employees. The SAFE Act would make unlawful presence in the U.S. a criminal rather than civil violation, compelling all state and local governments to enforce immigration law. House Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte (R – VA) provided a guide to the House immigration strategy in an online resource guide for his colleagues.

For cities, enacting immigration reform will allow undocumented immigrants to participate fully in local economies, allow local law enforcement to concentrate on local public safety needs, and provide cities the opportunity to better integrate immigrants into the community.

Urge your elected representatives to help local economies by enacting common sense immigration reform. Contact Leslie Wollack at Wollack@nlc.org for more information.

What the ACA’s “Cadillac” Tax Will Mean for Cities and Towns

Over the past several weeks, there has been increasing concern expressed about the Affordable Care Act’s excise tax, more commonly referred to as the “Cadillac” tax.  So I thought I would provide city and town officials with some very simple, straightforward facts about what it is and what it means for your city and town.

1.  What does the Affordable Care Act’s excise (Cadillac) tax mean for every city and town?

Quite simply, it means that if the value of your city or town’s health care benefits exceeds $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for families, your city or town will be subject to a 40 percent excise tax on the value of the insurance that exceeds the threshold.

2.  What should every city and town know about the excise tax? 

Here are the basics:

  • Beginning in 2018, a 40 percent excise tax will be imposed on the value of health insurance benefits exceeding certain thresholds.
  • For individuals, the threshold will be $10, 200.  For families, the threshold will be $27,500.
  • Once the threshold is crossed, the cost in excess of the threshold will be subject to the tax.
  • All thresholds may be adjusted upwards if the IRS determines that medical inflation rates warrant such a change.
  • The thresholds will be higher for persons in high-risk professions and for employers that have a disproportionate share of older workers or women. However, these will be set by the IRS through regulation.
  • The tax will apply to fully insured and self-funded insurance plans.  In the case of fully insured plans, the issuer (insurance company) will be responsible for paying the excise tax; in the case of self-funded plans, the administrator (usually the employer) will be responsible for paying the tax.
  • The tax is permanent unless Congress and the President agree to end it; in other words it will not expire and will continue to impact any health insurance plan that exceeds the established threshold for a tax year.

3.  What should my city or town do to prepare for the excise tax?

If  you believe that in 2018 the value of your health care benefits will exceed the thresholds, you should begin to think about whether you would rather pay the excise tax or seek to reduce health care benefits in order to avoid the tax.

In truth, there is no right or wrong decision here.  The law does not prohibit any employer from providing health care benefits that exceed the thresholds.  Rather the health care law imposes the tax as a way to try to level or lower the costs of health care.

No matter what you ultimately decide — and you will have to decide one way or another if your city is approaching or likely to go over the threshold — now is the time to begin to think about how the choice you make will impact your city or town.

Here are some situations and questions you may wish to answer as you decide:

  • If your city is self-insured you will be responsible for paying the tax.  What will that additional cost mean to your city’s budget?
  • If you are fully insured (that is, you purchase your employees’ health insurance from an insurance company) your provider will pay the tax, but no doubt your provider will raise your rates to make up for the additional expense.  What will that mean to your city’s budget?
  • If you decide to flatten or reduce health care benefits, your employees may not be happy.  What will that mean for employer-employee relations?
  • What will be the political ramifications of any decision you make?

These are not the easiest questions to address, but they are questions that will have to be addressed in the next three years, because any choice you make is likely to have an impact on your community.

On a related topic, NLC and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will be hosting a webinar on the Health Insurance Marketplace and Small Business Health insurance Options Program (SHOP) on Wednesday, August 28 from 2 – 3 pm ET.  Click here for more information and to register.

Veteran Homelessness: “It doesn’t have to last forever.”

After serving in the Coast Guard, Shelley Gilbert was looking forward to spending more time with her two daughters and two grandchildren. Then she lost her job, her apartment, and moved into a hotel, trying to keep her family together. She was able to find work at a restaurant, but between the long hours on her feet and a long commute involving multiple buses and walking, she bruised her sciatic nerve. The pain left her unable to work and she went to the hospital for help.

While at the hospital, Ms. Gilbert was given a packet of information for veterans and learned about the services of Friendship Place in Washington, D.C. Her ordeal had taken place over 17 months and she wondered how she would ever be able to once again have a stable place to call home. Fortunately, Friendship Place is one of a growing number of organizations administering a relatively new program through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs called Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF).

Ms. Gilbert’s story is not uncommon. She is one of an estimated 1.4 million households led by a veteran and living in poverty. With the federal government’s goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015, keeping impoverished households out of homelessness is just as challenging and important as getting homeless veterans into housing.

Recently, at the conference of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, VA officials talked about this challenge. They noted that approximately 10 percent of veteran households living in poverty become homeless. What is it that leads a person to become homeless rather than remaining poor but housed? This is a question that has been repeatedly researched by social scientists.

Increasingly, it is recognized that it is very challenging to develop specific and accurate criteria for determining the factors that lead to homelessness. As a result, SSVF program administrators are being encouraged to use their resources to rapidly re-house households that are experiencing homelessness. The program is designed to be a flexible source of money to help families keep their housing or get into new housing. It can be used for car repairs and other purposes that are demonstrably connected to allowing a veteran to maintain their housing. But the persistent challenge of matching the right resources to the right people at the right time when resources are limited has led program administrators to lean more toward rapid re-housing efforts then prevention.

Despite these new resources, VA officials stressed that they cannot meet the needs of veterans alone. They need the support of partnerships in communities to meet the needs of veterans who are not eligible for VA services and/or have needs that the VA simply cannot address. In Washington, D.C., the city’s Office of Veterans Affairs has helped forge relationships to better support veterans. In Philadelphia, one of the SSVF administrator’s, Project HOME, works with a variety of stakeholders, including the Philadelphia Veterans Multi-Service and Education Center, the Exelon Foundation, legal service providers, and the City’s Office of Supportive Housing to ensure there is a coordinated and collaborative intake process that can help meet various veteran needs.

Despite a 17.2 percent reduction in homelessness among veterans since 2009, more remains to be done if we are to keep veterans housed and move the more than 62,000 currently homeless veterans into housing. City leaders have a vital role in bringing stakeholders together to meet this goal.

When Ms. Gilbert began working with her case manager at Friendship Place, she was told that if she could find an apartment, she would be moved in within days. She found an apartment on Tuesday, and on Friday her family was moving into to a new home. “We moved into our new home on Veterans Day,” Ms. Gilbert recalled. “Our situation – it didn’t need to last forever, we just needed a little help and now I’m back.” Today, Shelley is not only at work as a medical technician, but she has saved enough money to buy a car. To give back, she shares her story, and is now a member of the Board of Directors for Friendship Place.

The bipartisan support for SSVF as a resource for veterans is a rare opportunity in the current fiscal climate. As cities see more SSVF resources in their communities, it is vital that the program be well integrated with existing efforts to serve veterans. To learn more about what you can do in your city to help the SSVF program succeed, contact the program’s regional coordinator for your area by calling (877) 737-0111, or contact me at harig-blaine@nlc.org.