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Ideas Challenge 2023: Showcasing Innovative Initiatives to Drive Social Impact

Leaders spearhead groundbreaking programs in STEM, housing stability, economic growth, and justice system reintegration, marking a transformative era of social change and opportunity.

This category, Effective Use of Federal Funds, features five finalists in the NewDEAL Ideas Challenge 2023.

1. Oregon's Janelle Bynum Champions Innovative Grants to Bridge STEM Diversity Gap

Federal CHIPS Funding Powers Trailblazing Initiatives for Diverse Semiconductor Workforce and Educational Equity

Entry: Leveraging Federal CHIPS Funding & Creating a Diverse STEM Workforce

Leader: Janelle Bynum

To directly address the gender, social, and racial gaps in STEM education and careers, Oregon Representative Janelle Bynum advocated for two new grant programs focused on leveraging federal CHIPS funding to build a diverse workforce for the future. The first grant ($1.2 million) went to Portland nonprofit Self Enhancement Inc. to build a pipeline of diverse students who will be ready to gain employment in Oregon’s expanding semiconductor industry. The second grant ($2 million) went to Building Blocks 2 Success, which will create a semiconductor workforce pipeline by offering summer programming and college preparation for students intending to major in STEM fields at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

These grants go above and beyond what other states are doing and will work to ensure that the lucrative semiconductor careers of the future are more equitably distributed and incorporate individuals that are often left out of economic development. Especially considering the Supreme Court’s recent decision on affirmative action, investing in students who will attend HBCUs is more important than ever to address the STEM education and career gap.

Impact: In the short term, Oregon will evaluate the success of these investments by seeing how much federal CHIPS funding comes to our state. This effort will help create a state economy hospitable for future generations to succeed and will help new cohorts of STEM professionals attain the economic and social securities that will bring diverse families and communities to new levels of prosperity and opportunity.

Current Status: The grants mentioned above, and other funding the state of Oregon is making available, are now going out the door. I am working diligently with the state agencies administering these dollars and programs to ensure opportunities are available to new and diverse organizations and populations.

Providence's Early Learning Support Program Spurs Quality Upgrades, Promises Universal Pre-K Access

Enhancing Safety, Capacity, and Quality: Brett Smiley's Initiative Reshapes Providence's Child-Care Landscape

Entry: Providence’s Early Learning Infrastructure Support Program

Leader: Brett Smiley


Description: The Early Learning Infrastructure Support Program in Providence, backed by $1.9 million from both the general budget and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), offers technical support, planning grants, and construction grants to child-care providers and centers. Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) administers the program.

This initiative is an investment in the early learning economy, supporting business owners, many of whom are women of color. It addresses the needs of home- and center-based providers, crucial for essential workers during the pandemic.

The program also tackles issues like staffing shortages and insufficient reimbursement rates. LISC assists providers in identifying areas for facility improvement, safety enhancements, and quality rating upgrades. Ultimately, the Early Learning Infrastructure Support Program enhances child-care quality, safety and capacity, benefiting families and advancing Providence’s goal of universal Pre-K access in high-quality facilities.

Impact: The Early Learning Infrastructure Support Program aids providers in improving quality, addressing health and safety issues, and increasing capacity. On July 13, 2023, Providence announced over $1 million in grants to 16 home-based and eight center-based facilities. Reporting includes details on how each project tackles health and safety concerns, upgrades quality ratings, and boosts capacity. For instance, adding a backyard fence improves safety, advances quality ratings, and allows home-based providers to accommodate more children.

Improving engagement with home-based providers was a priority. After a three-month application period with dual language support (English and Spanish), LISC received 45 applications from home-based providers, a significant increase compared to previous rounds.

Current Status: The Early Learning Infrastructure Support Program opened grant applications on Feb. 16, 2023. The initial round of grants was awarded on July 13, 2023, though construction has not yet started on any of the projects. The program will close on Dec. 31, 2024.

3. St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones Launches $685,000 'Right to Counsel' Program, Aids Renters Facing Eviction"

Entry: Right to Counsel Program

Leader: Tishaura O. Jones


The city of St. Louis is grappling with a housing affordability crisis, where nearly 60 percent of renter households pay an average monthly rent of $951. Although there was a slight dip in evictions during the pandemic, eviction filings have increased year over year and are more than twice as common in majority-Black census tracts compared to majority-white ones.

As part of her broad initiative to provide families with a safe and stable roof over their heads, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones launched the Right to Counsel program (RTC) to provide access to legal services for tenants facing eviction proceedings. She utilized $685,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to establish the program, ensuring St. Louis renters have access to legal services for tenants facing eviction and the ability to access the Missouri court system, regardless of income level. This bill demonstrates Jones’ commitment to strengthening tenant protections and reducing housing instability in the communities.

Impact: Mayor Jones signed the new ordinance into law in July 2023, and the city is currently distributing funds to several legal aid service providers across the city to serve ZIP codes with the highest rates of eviction. Additionally, the city is working to hire a program coordinator housed within the St. Louis Department of Human Services that will oversee the program’s implementation. Board Bill 59 also requires landlords to provide tenants with information regarding the availability of the program.

Current Status: Mayor Tishaura O. Jones, joined by the Board of Aldermen president and members, and local tenants, signed Board Bill 59 into law earlier this month. The next steps are to hire a program coordinator to begin to establish the program and bring it to implementation.

Other Notes: This is part of a broad city initiative to provide families with a safe and stable roof over their heads. St. Louis provided rental assistance to nearly 5,000 families during the height of the pandemic. In partnership with the RETAF coalition, the city has saved dozens of homes from foreclosure and tax sale. And, our city departments have worked to ensure more than 200 single-family homes in the production pipeline, as well as 13 Low Income Housing Tax Credit projects representing more than 1,000 affordable units.

4. Scranton’s Innovative Wage Boost Program Aids Small Businesses, Bridges Livable Wage Gap

ARPA-funded Initiative Enhances Employee Retention, Economic Mobility, and City's Business Landscape

Entry: Small Business Wage Boost

Leader: Paige Cognetti


The city of Scranton’s Small Business Wage Boost program is an employee retention program designed to address the gap between the current working wage and a livable wage, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act. Small businesses throughout the city of Scranton can apply for up to $50,000, disbursed over two years, to raise their employees’ wages closer to the state average.

The Wage Boost grant raises estimated average pay per industry and position based on the North American Industry Classification System. For the first year of the program, Scranton ARPA funding fully funds the gap between the current wage and elevated wage. In year two, the city and business share the responsibility of funding the higher wage. By the third year, the goal is for businesses to fully support their employees’ new wages. The Wage Boost program is an innovative approach to address a minimum wage in Pennsylvania that lags behind the needs of 21st-century workers. By helping small businesses raise employees’ wages, it’s a win-win-win for the city: businesses can retain employees who might leave for other better-paying jobs, employees can keep up with the cost of living, and the city retains tax-paying businesses.

Impact: Success is being measured by a third-party ARPA program auditor. The city sees success in the potential economic mobility of the employees receiving higher wages, a reduction in turnover for employers, and the ongoing success of the businesses that have tapped into the program. Ultimately, success will also depend on businesses’ ability to sustain elevated wages for those impacted employees after ARPA funding has ended.

Current Status: Full implementation. The program was announced to the community in October 2022. Across two rounds of funding announcements, nine businesses have received between $25,000 and $50,000 in Wage Boost grants to be used over the course of the next two years. A third round of applications opens late summer 2023.

Other Notes: This program has garnered the attention of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright. Mayor Paige Cognetti has presented on the tenets of the program to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the digital news magazine The Philadelphia Citizen added the Wage Boost program to its list of civic innovations.

E3 Re-entry Program Empowers Successful Reintegration into Manufacturing Workforce

Chester County's Innovative E3 Initiative Uses ARPA Grants to Train and Secure Employment for Justice System Returnees

Entry: E-3 Re-entry Program

Leaders: Josh Maxwell


Description: The E3 Re-entry Program (Exit, Enter, Employ) is an “outside the box” initiative that helps to meet the workforce needs of companies, particularly manufacturing employers, looking to find skilled people, and it trains those who can develop the skills, supporting them as they re-enter the community and the workforce (annual need for 1,700 jobs). The county uses ARPA grants to run the program.

The E3 Re-entry Program is a free 12-week program spearheaded by the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU) that provides individuals exiting the justice system with a direct pathway to enter the manufacturing industry. The CCIU developed the comprehensive skills training program, found interested employers to participate in the placement of graduates of the program, and provided participants with training in social skills, positive self-change, and problem-solving.

The program consists of three introductory courses using a curriculum that includes 45 hours of manufacturing training, cognitive behavioral therapy, and 45 hours of job readiness training. Upon completion of the program, students participate in a job fair where they meet and interview with local companies supporting the E3 program. Graduates are offered one year of follow-up support.

Impact: CCIU has successfully completed two E3 Post Release program cohorts to date and has increased enrollment in each cohort. Between the two cohorts, nine participants successfully graduated, with the first cohort graduating 100 percent of those enrolled. Of the nine post-release graduates, five have successfully secured full-time employment — four in manufacturing, one in part-time employment, two graduates are currently interviewing with companies (from cohort two that graduated June 16), and two have not responded to efforts to maintain contact with our office following graduation.

A Pre-Release cohort, with the collaboration of the Chester County Prison, began in May 2023 and graduated six individuals. The second Pre-Release cohort began on July 5, 2023, with 11 individuals registered and approved to participate.

In May 2023, CCIU received $199,840 in grant funding through the Pennsylvania Manufacturing PA Training-to-Career Program (MTTC). The funding will be used for salary, consultant and professional services, consumables, stipends, and administrative support for the following four cohorts of 12 participants.

Chester County recently submitted a proposal for the Pathway Home 4 grant ($1.5 million requested), with CCIU being the primary recipient of funds which will be used to expand Pre-Release programming options further. Components of this program include CDL training and certification, a pre-apprenticeship program, IT training, customer service training, OSHA 10 certification, Serv-Safe Certification, and several 1-day workshops addressing job readiness.

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