Meet Your City Human Development Advocate

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“Policy in the human development sphere is all about improving quality of life.”

With a new administration and a new Congress, the National League of Cities’ (NLC) Federal Advocacy team will be busy raising the voices of cities throughout 2017. As part of our initiative, we wanted to introduce you all to our Federal Advocacy team members and share what’s on their minds for 2017. Every week leading up to the Congressional City Conference, we will feature a “Meet Your City Advocate” spotlight as part of a series. This week, I sat down with our human development lobbyist, Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman.

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Stephanie Martinez-Ruckman is the program director for human development advocacy at the National League of Cities. (NLC photo/Brian Egan)

Hey Stephanie, thanks for sitting down with me today. I wanted to make sure I interviewed you early on in the process given the discussion around healthcare, but we’ll get to that in a minute. To get started, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where you’ve been? What you’ve done? And most importantly, why you are passionate about cities?

Well, I’m originally from D.C., and then I moved up to Massachusetts for college. I came back to Washington to work on the Hill — in both the House and the Senate. That was in the early 2000s, and it was definitely a hectic time. September 11th had just happened, and then there was the anthrax scare.

I started working in the office for the newly-elected Senator Hillary Clinton, and then went on to work for Representative Payne, whose district covered the Newark and parts of North Jersey area. I mostly focused on transportation policy.

Oh your background is starting to sound very similar to Matt’s: transportation policy, working on the Hill, Jersey. 

Ha-ha, I know – but transportation just was not my thing. I then switched over to the Senate to work with Senator Landrieu of Louisiana, and I started to focus more on health and education — topics like social security, healthcare, etcetera. So that’s where I really laid the foundation for the policy area I work on today. Senator Landrieu was very passionate about adoption issues; both her children and her husband were adopted. While working through those case issues, I deepened my interest in how federal policy impacts individuals.

I left the Hill and headed to New York to go to Columbia for graduate school – and ended up staying for 12 years! I spent some time working for the Bloomberg administration, as the policy director for the city’s workforce investment board. We were responsible for the oversight and implementation of the federal Workforce Investment Act at the local level in New York City.

It was fascinating to come from a world of working on crafting federal policy, and then be afforded the chance to see how it is implemented at the local level. You can work on a lot of fancy things in Washington, but you really measure a program or an initiative based on how well its being implemented and the results you see at the local level.

Immediately before coming to NLC, I did government relations for the New York Public Library. I dabbled into all different policy areas there because of the amazing mandate and reach of libraries, and gained a broad swath of policy experience there — including a front row seat to the city budgeting process. And then I came back to D.C.! Partially to return home, but also [because] NLC was an amazing opportunity to continue my work with cities.

Very cool! You already answered a lot of my second question just now, but why human development policy? Anything else you wanted to add?

Yeah, for me, human development — and all of the services designed to help people that fit under this umbrella term — is a bit of a nexus of all different policy areas. Your citizens need quality healthcare, great, but they also need reliable transportation to access that healthcare.

And ultimately, it’s the people connection. Policy in the human development sphere is all about improving quality of life. I think you see the fruits of labor here — perhaps more so than in most policy areas — because you see the people who benefit from the policies. That’s always been very important to me.

Yeah, definitely. Well along the lines of policy, what do you see in store for human development policy and cities in 2017? 

There are really three pieces to watch. The infrastructure bill should be coming soon, and hopefully there’s a workforce component to it. Any infrastructure investment will create jobs, but I’m also looking for a focus on training that leads to more sustained job creation with career pathways. There are people out of work, and I’d love to see how this bill could reengage and support them, even after the funding runs out. On the education front, we have the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). There may be some examination into college affordability and federal financial aid. And then the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Ah yes, the white elephant in the room.

Yes. Earlier this month, Congress passed a budget proposal instructing the committees of jurisdiction to come up with language that would repeal the ACA. And President Trump has signed an executive order on his first day in office calling for its repeal.

We are in a waiting period at the moment, but NLC has made it very clear that any repeal of the ACA must include a simultaneous replacement. We need to make sure that the financial burdens of healthcare reform don’t fall onto local governments. Whether that’s resulting in an overload of local health resources from millions of additional American’s becoming uninsured, or local healthcare initiatives losing their funding.

Twelve percent of the Center for Disease Control’s budget is appropriated through the ACA. We’re mostly talking about public health programs and vaccination programs. And there’s also grant money through the CDC that flows directly to local areas. Most of the time public healthcare is not administered by a city, but the impacts of health policy often fall on local governments. We’re following this one particularly close.

That’s really interesting about the CDC budgeting. Well, I have my favorite question next. What is your spirit city? With which city do you identify the most?

Oh, don’t judge me.

I would never.

I know it sounds cliché, but I have always been a New York City kind of a person. I’ve always wanted to live there and I had the amazing opportunity to do it. It’s a very interesting place to innovate and try things and then replicate. I think about the first lady of New York’s Thrive Initiative on mental health. New York has the financial ability to experiment with these municipal projects that, if they work, can grow to other cities.

And I mean, you have all that, and then you have great food and great theater as well.

Join us at CCC and meet Stephanie and the rest of your City Advocates. Visit the CCC website to register now!

brian-headshotAbout the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME