Remarks by Jonathan Fanton at the Center for Working Families Conference
December 6, 2006 | Speech | Community & Economic Development

The MacArthur is pleased to join with JP Morgan Chase and the Annie E. Casey Foundation in sponsoring this Conference on the Center for Working Families.

We are committed to improving access to opportunity for all Americans and we believe the Centers represent a promising and pioneering strategy for putting low-wage workers on the path to economic security. 

Centers across the country offer employment assistance, financial coaching, help getting the earned income tax credit, food stamps, health insurance.  The Centers deliver the right mix of services at the right time, through trusted community organizations and institutions close to home. 

The Casey Foundation has taken the lead in designing and testing The Center concept.  And MacArthur has made the Center for Working Families a core element of its partnership with LISC to strengthen 16 communities, about half of Chicago’s high-poverty neighborhoods. 

I have seen – firsthand – two of these new Centers in formation: at the Abraham Lincoln Centre in Bronzeville and at the Instituto de Progreso Latino in Little Village.  The early accomplishments of the Centers across Chicago are very promising, consider these facts:

• So far, over 3,000 people have gotten jobs, with an average hourly wage of $9.34

• The Centers have helped more than 7,500 households file for tax refunds, including the Earned Income Tax Credit.  These households received a return of  $1,534, on average, bringing $11 million in refunds back to the city’s neighborhoods

• The Centers are using sophisticated software to screen families for eligibility for public benefits, like energy assistance, food stamps, health insurance for adults and children.  Families have gotten an average benefit of about $2,250.  

In addition, the Centers help families cut expenses by counseling them to avoid payday lenders, currency exchanges, auto title lenders, and other financial institutions on the margins – connecting them instead to mainstream services and products.  The Centers also help families build household budgets and fix bad credit. 

The Centers are sources of hope for families, energy for neighborhoods, and progress for cities.

Many of us came of age during the 1960’s, when the war on poverty raised our hopes for an America of tolerance, fairness and opportunity free of entrenched poverty.  The struggle has been harder than we imagined, promising social programs have come and gone without making the expected systemic impact.  But, I think, we have learned.

We now have an idea – put into action by the Centers for Working Families model – about how to blend needed interventions to reach the goal so eloquently put to us by Lyndon Johnson:

“Our fight against poverty will be an investment in the most valuable of our resources—the skills and strength of our people.  And in the future, as in the past, this investment will return its cost many fold to our entire economy. …I do not intend that the war against poverty become a series of uncoordinated and unrelated efforts—that it perish for lack of leadership and direction.”
Like all foundations, MacArthur is willing to experiment and take risks.  But it also stands ready to take good ideas and programs that deliver results to scale.

So I am pleased to announce that MacArthur has awarded $3 million to LISC/Chicago to bring Centers for Working Families to more than half of the City’s low-income neighborhoods.

I hope that others will join us in a national movement to bring a Center to every low income neighborhood in America.  This conference is a chance to learn about the concept from people who know intimately about the Centers, to ask tough questions, and to explore how to bring the model to other cities.

And when the due diligence is done, I am confident you will be persuaded that the Centers for Working Families can advance our quest for a threshold of security and opportunity worthy of the richest society in the history of humankind.

Thank you.

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