Loosening Red Tape to Help Young People

Forum for Youth Investment
The Forum for Youth Investment
March 9, 2012
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State and local leaders around the country say they can do more to help youth if Washington changes certain administrative restrictions that come with federal money – but how can they convince the federal government to take that step? Here’s one way: Local, state and federal officials in Nevada gathered for an unusual day-long meeting last week to discuss what they would do with such flexibility and to make their case to the White House.

Nevada asked for “administrative flexibility” to better coordinate federally funded efforts like job training, food assistance, afterschool services and substance abuse prevention. Below is a summary of the problems that unaligned funding streams cause in Nevada and other states, and a solution that the Forum for Youth Investment is helping states pursue.

The Regulations Knot

Local and state governments benefit from a plethora of funding streams from Washington to improve services and supports for children, youth and families. These fragmented funding sources “all come with their own rules for who is eligible, what expenses are allowed, what data has to be collected and what reports have to be submitted,” said Forum Policy Director Elizabeth Gaines. “State leaders can be more efficient and effective if they coordinate these efforts into a comprehensive strategy.”

For example: Pedro Martinez, deputy superintendent of Clark County School District, points out that students who are eligible for free and reduced price school meals through one federal agency might not meet the more severe poverty threshold needed to access programs supported by another federal agency administering the Workforce Investment Act.

“It is often difficult to find families who are eligible for programs with such low income levels,” Martinez said. “As a result, a portion of the funds that could be used to improve child and youth outcomes goes unspent.”

Another example: Last year, the Washoe County Children’s Cabinet underwent 23 independent audits because of funder requirements. “Having all audit teams from different federal, state and local agencies in at the same time would reduce administrative time devoted to the audit process,” said cabinet member Mike Pomi.

That’s the kind of idea that Washington seems willing to try.

The Flexible Option

Last year President Obama ordered federal agencies to look for ways to provide flexibility in administrative and regulatory requirements so that state and local governments can focus more resources on efforts that will improve outcomes. The Forum hosted discussions about that process with the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and submitted plans for possible solutions, as explained in this brief.

Nevada is vying to be one of the states that OMB selects as a pilot to get such flexibility to improve programs and services for disconnected youth. The Forum is helping Nevada and three other states pursue those efforts.

“That flexibility will allow us get more young people on track for success – especially those who are out of school, out of work, or who use public systems like foster care, juvenile courts or social services,” said Chanda Cook of Workforce Connections, one of the partners in the Nevada effort.

The Forum advises that states bring together stakeholders to decide what flexibility they want and to show a unified front. The Nevada effort is coordinated by the Ready for Life Nevada Statewide Council, a collaboration of leaders from government, education and business that works to improve policies for young people.

Making the Case

Last week about 40 of those leaders gathered in Las Vegas for the council’s “State Leadership Convening.” They came from state agencies representing labor, education, human services, health and justice; from local coalitions and school districts; and from the local field offices of federal agencies.

The event, facilitated by the Forum, included discussions about the changes being requested and a videoconference with OMB officials in Washington. The collaboration is seeking flexibility in cross-agency data sharing, common case management for people who are heavy users of services, administrative reporting and blending funding for skill development opportunities.

“They got their message across well,” said Gaines of the Forum. “Nevada officials have considered these changes carefully and made commitments to increase efficiency and effectiveness on behalf of young people.”

Ready for Life is a joint initiative of Workforce Connections  and the Nevada Public Education Foundation. For more information about administrative flexibility, contact Elizabeth Gaines at elizabeth@forumfyi.org.

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