On this issue:
- The importance of integrating program and policy work (Jim Horan)
- Providing data and advocacy support to program partners (Sheryl Horowitz)
- Integration of CAHS´ programs with CAHS’s policy agenda (Marilyn Ondrasik)
- How data informs our program work (Erica Dean & Esther Jean-Marie)
- Case study: payday lending – advocating for federal regulation (Roger Senserrich)
The importance of integrating program and policy work
One of CAHS´ distinguishing features is how we strive to integrate program and policy work under the same roof. Our staff partners with dozens of other groups every year to advocate for change at the Capitol, and also joins up with more than 50 community based organizations to deliver services across the state. We take great pride in combining these two areas, as we consider these combined efforts to be a crucial part on what makes us effective.
The most immediate way that this integration matters is on how it enables us to learn. Many of the policies that we advocate for at the Capitol are informed by what we have learned from our program work. Our direct contact with partners, volunteers, service providers and clients often brings us new insight on how we approach many issues.
For instance, CAHS´ experience with the Youth Money School has played a crucial role on how we are approaching our work on adult education, workforce development and access to post-secondary education. Our staff learned from youth and volunteers about the barriers that low-income students face to enroll and be successful in these programs. A look at the data confirmed that minorities faced the biggest challenge. As a result, our upcoming report on adult education will be focused on how these programs can better engage disconnected youth, linking them with other services more effectively.
Building these connections between programs and ensuring that policies are effectively aligned is not just a matter of common sense, it also produces results. Jonathan Mintz calls it the supervitamin effect – programs become more effective at empowering families when delivered together. We see this in our program work and how we integrate our offerings with our partners to maximize their impact. We bring this experience to our advocacy, where effective program integration and implementation is front and center on our agenda.
In this newsletter, we will talk about other examples of how our combined policy and program efforts help CAHS be more effective – and how CAHS is working to make this integration even more powerful.
Providing data and advocacy support to program partners
Sheryl Horowitz, Chief Research and Evaluation Officer
CAHS’ goal is to eliminate poverty in Connecticut. Our strategies revolve around finding partners who work directly with the people impacted by poverty and providing resources that will increase their effectiveness. As we engage new partners and cultivate deeper relationships with our established partners, we continue to look for ways to better assist both them and their clients. Sometimes this means letting our partners know about the other services we provide – ones that they might not be using – like a site that is doing Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA), and might start offering CMS (Connecticut Money School) classes. It also can mean helping a partner to use our services better, such as when we train the staff of an partner agency to become Financial Coaches to their own clients.
Another powerful tool for change is when we bridge between providing and advocating for services. CAHS understands that many of the direct services provided by agencies state-wide rely not only on local foundations, but also on state and federal support. Having strong programs that produce measurably positive results is important for that continued support. CAHS has encouraged and provided assistance with collecting and reporting on those outcomes, while also developing educational workshops that help our partners understand the advocacy process and providing individualized assistance for helping them present legislative testimony to support their issues.
Going forward, we continue to work with our partners to better understand the value of collecting and maintaining records of their clients’ progress, and how to use that information to determine the effectiveness of these programs. This will allow them both a way to improve them and to make them more financially sustainable.
Integration of CAHS’ programs with CAHS’ policy agenda
As CAHS continues to integrate its policy and program sides, there are key opportunities for its program staff to support the development, adoption or passage of legislation, and implementation of CAHS policy proposals. The more than 50 program partners are a largely untapped resource that can be a powerful support to the CAHS policy agenda. Let’s elaborate.
CAHS programs – VITA, CT Money School, Youth Money School, financial coaching, and EarnBenefits Online – all work with low- and moderate-income families to help them develop the financial knowledge and skills to become economically self-sufficient. Program staff work extensively with these families and understand their strengths and challenges. This “from-the-ground” information can inform the policy agenda and ensure that it is as responsive as possible to the communities we hope to impact through our policy proposals. In some cases, program staff can bring together specific populations to serve as a focus group and provide feedback on policy proposals or their implementation.
The more than 50 community partners with which program staff work can become a formidable advocacy force for policy proposals that will benefit their own clients. In an even more targeted way, CAHS program staff can make connections to specific partners in identified districts in which legislators would be more responsive and willing to hear from local constituents about policy proposals and how they will help people in their own district.
This marriage of policy and program has mutual benefits to each side of CAHS. This inter-connectedness makes CAHS unique. It is what makes CAHS strong – and powerful.
How data informs our program work
Erica Dean, Policy Analyst & Esther Jean-Marie, Youth Money School Coordinator
Collecting and analyzing data to determine public policy issues as well as to verify and measure the effectiveness of services provided by CAHS allows us to make informed policy and program decisions. Increasing financial literacy through the hands-on education of youth and adults is one way in which CAHS has been informed by data to develop program.
The Connecticut Money School (CMS) currently works with dozens of community partners and volunteers to provide low-to-moderate income individuals and families with services. To date, CMS has provided financial education, coaching and professional development to more than 5,000 residents of the state.
A number of peer-reviewed studies have found that people with a lower degree of financial literacy or capability tend to borrow more, accumulate less wealth and pay more and higher fees related to loans and credit cards. They are also more likely to experience difficulty with debt. Lacking this financial knowledge, particularly for low-to-moderate income individuals can truly damage their ability to be financially stable and secure.
CAHS has used the results of these reports to aid them in the creation of a financial education program which provides individuals with the tools needed to make informed decisions when it comes to money. We have also fought at the state level to implement policies that will protect vulnerable populations from being trapped in bad financial situations, by making sure damaging options are not available to them. For example, Connecticut does not have payday loans, which saves consumers $133 million every year. We are currently taking action (and asking others to take action) by supporting a proposed rule introduced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that will limit payday lending at the federal level. Click here to read more.
Because we know how important financial literacy is, we at CAHS recruit volunteers and provide training to them so that the CMS classes are free to the public. If you would like learn more about Connecticut Money School/Youth Money School, please contact Barbara Steadman, our Volunteer Services Coordinator, at email@example.com.
Case study: payday lending – advocating for federal regulation
Roger Senserrich, Policy Director
Connecticut does not have payday loans. This is actually a good thing, as the experience in other states shows. Payday loans, more often than not, put borrowers in debt spirals that are really hard to break free from. Just some examples: the typical APR for a two week loan in Texas is 662%; in Ohio, 677%; California, 460%. As we mentioned, Connecticut consumers save $133 million, every year, on fees thanks to this.
If Connecticut does not have payday and car title loans, it is not because predatory lenders have not tried. The state has faced out-of-state lenders trying to litigate their way in. CAHS has advocated against payday lending and car title loans for years, working alongside many coalition partners.
One of the main reasons we have been doing this has certainly been the data, but also what we have learned from our work on financial education and budget coaching over the years. Again, preparing workshops for the Connecticut Money School has taught us how excessive debt can become a huge burden for many families.
This means that when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is considering a new rule that will greatly limit payday lending at the Federal level, we pay attention – as we know it will make a difference. For starters, it will ensure that Connecticut will no longer face out-of-state lenders. But above all, this might help prevent working families to pay outrageous interest rates in short term loans in other states, not just here.
As a result, CAHS has been working with the Center for Responsible Lending to push the CFPB to pass a strong rule on payday lending – and we are asking you to send your comments on the rule, as well. You can find more information about our campaign here – and you can click here to send a comment. We do this because we know it makes a difference. We heard it directly from the people we serve.