Affordable Housing Leads to Smarter Kids

In the world of human services, everything is linked, and one of the main axles around which things connect and spin is stable, affordable housing. If ever there was any doubt about housing's importance, particularly where it relates to the healthy development of kids, a new study erases it.

Looking at how much families spend on housing and then comparing that to a child's intellectual achievement, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that though how much a family spent "had no affect on a child's physical or social health, when it came to cognitive ability, it was a game changer." READ MORE

The Golden State's Low-Carbon Future

Decades ago, "California or Bust" was the motto for hundreds of thousands of people as they migrated to the Golden State in search of jobs and a better life in a more desirable environment. In the more recent past, with year after year of state budget deficits in the tens of billions of dollars, the more prevailing expression was "Busted California."

Those budget deficits have eased, but as bad as they were, California's government has long had a bigger, longer-term problem, one that has its own impact on the state's economy: its polluted air and accompanying health effects. The state's efforts to transition to an economy based on low-carbon energy could provide valuable lessons for other regions dealing with these interlocking issues. READ MORE

Ohio's Bad Idea for Boosting Welfare-to-Work

When welfare reform passed in 1996, Ohio -- like virtually every other state in the union -- saw rolls plummet. The huge washout was attributed to the new work requirements in the law, suggesting that there definitely was something to the conservative argument that plenty of welfare recipients were ready and able to work. Today, it's taken on faith that the system was, indeed, carrying thousands of free riders.

Then last year Ohio -- for the first time in 18 years -- started to see rolls climb, a function most likely of the effects of the Great Recession. The reversal got the attention of Republican Senate President Keith Faber, who late in the 2014 session added a provision to the state budget that would give welfare caseworkers bonuses for moving clients from welfare to work. Under the Faber plan, five counties will be chosen to participate (currently it's not clear how they will be selected). READ MORE

The Value in Our Garbage

Most of the nation's garbage still ends up in landfills, and as much as half of what Americans toss into their trash bins is food waste and other organic material. But increasingly there's recognition of the value in all of that smelly stuff.

Organic waste produces enough biogas that the collection of landfill gas to produce electricity or fuel has become a big business in the United States. And thanks to technological advances, another major use of organic waste, the production of high-quality compost, is increasingly being seen as a key ingredient in long-term community sustainability. READ MORE

The Toughest Job in Government

I've said it before: Running a department of children and families (DCF) is far and away the toughest job in government. It's a high-profile, high-stakes, high-risk job. The folks who step up and actually sign on to run departments are, in my opinion, the gutsiest appointees in state and local government. And recent events have only reinforced my point.

One of my unabashedly favorite DCF directors is Connecticut's Joette Katz, a grizzled veteran at this point having survived all of three and a half years on the job. Katz, who left her job as a state supreme court justice, has led a departmental turnaround that's been nothing short of miraculous. She has effectively reduced the number of children in institutions, increased kinship placements and launched team decision-making as well as differentiated response protocols. All of this has not only improved the department's performance but also helped bring families and communities back to working with DCF as a partner rather than battling it as an adversary. READ MORE