Community Action Agency Conference

CAA CONFERENCE
JANUARY 6, 2012
Miami, Florida

Good morning and welcome to the Sunshine State!

It’s great to be back in Florida! 

I am pleased to provide greetings this morning on behalf of Secretary Sebelius.  She asked me to convey her warm welcome and her support for the great work you do.

I want to thank Don Mathis, John Edwards, and all of the staff at the Community Action Partnership for inviting me back to talk to you about some of our accomplishments.

I also want to give a warm Floridian welcome to my ACF colleagues: Seth Hassett, Brandy RayNor, and Colleen Rathgeb.  

It has been only a few months since our last meeting in San Francisco, but much has changed in that short period of time.

Although the economy is slowly getting back on its feet, the last several years have taken a terrible toll on the families we serve.  You know that much better than anyone.

The supplemental poverty measure released in November notes that over 49 million Americans are poor—that’s 16 percent of the population. 

The percentage of children living in poverty is even more distressing—22 percent, a significant increase from 2009.  That doesn’t bode well for a strong, competitive America of the future.

The fact is, too many Americans are having to choose whether to buy food or medicine, whether to make the mortgage payment or pay the heating bill.

Fortunately, in many of our communities, these Americans have a community action agency to count on. 

Before I continue, I must introduce you to the new Director of the Office of Community Services, Jeannie Chaffin (cha-fin).  I think some of you may know her?
 
A consummate advocate for low-income people and a policy expert, Jeannie has dedicated over 20 years of her life to reducing poverty. 

She has worked at a CAA on the ground, lead CSBG and LIHEAP at the state level, worked on policy at the national level, and now, she’s leading OCS.

I am so grateful to have her at the Administration for Children and Families and have this opportunity to work with her.

And I assure you, she has hit the ground sprinting!

Since coming to ACF, I’ve been meeting with people at all levels to gain a better understanding of their needs and aspirations.   I will keep working every day to formulate a plan that builds on the strengths of this network, but we will need your continued input.

During the last year, I know that many of you have been concerned about proposed reductions in the Community Services Block Grant for FY 2012.  And frankly, so was I.

A couple of days before Christmas, President Obama signed into law a budget for fiscal year 2012, which includes about $713 million for the Community Services Block Grant, with  $35 million going towards the Community Economic Development and Rural Community Development programs. 

CSBG is essentially funded at the same level as last fiscal year!

Looking at the bigger picture, we now have some certainty about the Federal funding levels for the rest of the fiscal year. I know from experience how important that is.

Of course, knowing our funding levels does not mean this is a time to relax. 

Regarding CSBG, if there is one message I would like to convey to you today, it is that we need to work together with a sense of urgency to prepare CSBG for a strong future.

The FY 2012 budget included proposals to increase competition in the CSBG program-- I know that there has been great concern about just what that means.

For us, this new approach is about quality service and accountability.

We are so pleased that the CAA network recently laid out a proposal on accreditation.  It shows we’re all on the same page about our commitment to excellence-- whether it is CSBG, Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge, or Head Start. 

We believe your desire to pursue higher quality service delivery via standards or accreditation is movement in the right direction, and we look forward to meeting with you in the next few weeks to discuss your proposal. 

Bottom line is low-income families and communities deserve the very best services available.  And taxpayers deserve to know that we are responsible stewards of their funds.

Being an eligible entity for CSBG - and being recognized by the State as a designated Community Action Agency - is about more than the financial resources that come from the block grant.

We need to continue to show that the designation as a CSBG eligible entity is a not an off-hand thing, but a proud indicator of quality and consistent adherence to the highest standards of service delivery, from neighborhood to neighborhood across the entire country.

I’ve heard comparisons in the past to a “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.”

That means we must look at standards for financial, administrative, board oversight, and community services and make sure our goal is not just “compliance,” but greatness.

In this era when some are questioning the whole concept of the social safety net, we have no choice but to prove that we are delivering nothing but the best for our clients.  And that what we are doing makes a tangible positive difference in their lives.

We have to keep telling our success stories to the skeptics who would wipe out community action programs.

Stories about people like Jason.

Jason came up hard in Florida’s public housing projects, surrounded by crime and violence.  But he had a spark in him that his environment couldn’t extinguish—he loved school and got involved in all kinds of extracurricular activities.

Things really took off when his mother encouraged him to enroll in the Northeast Florida Community Action Agency’s Data Busters summer program.

The program helped him improve his computer literacy skills while he earned money.  Hardwick’s determination to succeed inspired his mother, and the two attended college simultaneously.  His mother graduated from Bethune Cookman College with a degree in nursing; her son followed three years later with a BS degree in economics from Florida A&M.

That’s the kind of good you do, and that’s the kind of outcomes we all want to see.

That’s why this administration has challenged departments across the Federal government to look at new ways of funding to promote quality and accountability. 

As such, we need to prepare the CSBG network to meet rising standards as other Federal programs move to do the same thing. 

As many of you are aware, Head Start is instituting some bold and historic reforms to ensure that every family and every child get the best Head Start has to offer.  President Obama recently announced new regulations that for the first time inject competition into the Head Start grant process.

This is the clearest possible sign that the President is deeply committed to excellence in early childhood education.

Under the new rules, Head Start programs that meet one of seven conditions established by the new reg must compete for funding if they want to continue to operate.

The seven conditions are transparent.  They’re based on research.  And they include standards for health, safety and fiscal integrity.

You might think this new rule is too tough, but I think we all can agree that no reg is too tough or standard too rigorous when it comes to the children and families we serve.

About a third of Head Start grantees are also CAAs, which means that these new rules are going to play an important role in the CAA network over the next few years.

The Office of Community Services and the Office of Head Start are already working together to determine what steps might be needed to help keep Head Start and CSBG strong.

CAAs will have much to learn from the Head Start experience, as we move forward with the President’s proposals for CSBG and other projects that use performance management to get the biggest bang for the buck.

We are truly operating in a time in which every dollar is scrutinized, and every expenditure needs to be justified.

Within ACF, we are working to prepare the Community Services Block Grant—and the Community Action Network—for a strong future.  We know that this will not be easy.  Important change never is, but we are committed to moving forward with a process that includes real input from all of you and from other key stakeholders.

The challenge we face together as leaders in the field of human services is to prepare the network not just for short term sustainability in a difficult budget environment, but to make our programs as effective as possible in the face of contemporary economic challenges and—just as important—demonstrate meaningful results. 

I am familiar with the challenging local realities you face as agency leaders, and I admire your dedication and tenacity. You are the last hope for so many.  As agency leaders, you motivate, you support, you raise awareness, and block by block, person by person, you change the world.

I want to thank all of you here for standing with ACF and helping us achieve our goal of helping those most in need.  

Thank you.

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