Connecticut commits $2M to continue Boston Fed’s Working Cities Challenge
State will fund local community development orgs working on issues like child care, housing
Connecticut will commit $2 million over the next two years to continue the Working Cities Challenge, a community development initiative in five cities that tackles issues ranging from inadequate child care to unemployment.
The challenge is a grant initiative created by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston to promote economic development in smaller, post-industrial cities.
Prabal Chakrabarti, a Boston Fed executive vice president and community affairs officer, said the state’s commitment represents “a big step forward.”
“Job pathways, career training, housing: These are the key issues to building a more inclusive economy,” he said during a virtual Working Cities event Tuesday.
In 2018, the Boston Fed awarded Hartford, East Hartford, Danbury, Middletown, and Waterbury $450,000 each to form organizations to take on chronic local issues, including high unemployment and underemployment, lack of access to educational resources, and economic inequality.
Initial funding for the challenge covers three years and expired this year. The Connecticut state budget allocation of $1 million per year for the next two years will support the local organizations through 2023.
Governor: Program a chance to “lift everybody up”
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said because of the pandemic and a statewide skills gap, the state is going through an “incredibly unique time, where we have tens of thousands of jobs … that we’re having a hard time filling.”
He said that the Working Cities programs are an opportunity to “lift everybody up.”
“I want to make sure that every young person – and middle-aged person changing careers – gets that very best opportunity,” Lamont said.
State Rep. Jason Rojas of East Hartford discussed the “changing nature of poverty” in some of Connecticut’s smaller cities and inner suburbs, where families are relocating despite limited social service capacities and town budgets.
“We don’t have a whole lot of nonprofit capacity in many of these communities, … and I think that’s why it’s so important to have programs like (Working Cities) that are helping to fill that gap,” he said.
In East Hartford, the Working Cities team launched the Professional Skills Academy with local employers and career navigators to help support residents seeking jobs. The team also introduced summer employment for high school students, as well as career-awareness programs for younger students.
Students were also a focus in the Middletown Working Cities program, Middletown Works, which launched a $500 mini-grant initiative for residents with ideas on expanding educational opportunities for students. The grants could also be used to develop ways to help single parents, another priority of Middletown Works, which sponsored a series of workshops for them.
Shanay Fulton, a single mother and a member of Middletown Works, highlighted the importance of recruiting residents to fill leadership roles in the initiative.
“We’re here to serve the people, and if you’re trying to help single parents, how better to help them than to make them feel like they have some sort of voice?” she said.
Challenge taking on unemployment in Hartford and Waterbury, poverty in Danbury
To be eligible for a Working Cities Challenge Connecticut grant, which are privately and publicly funded, a community must have a population greater than 25,000, median income below the state’s median, and a poverty rate above the state poverty rate.
The Working Cities program includes 15 cities across Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The program was adapted for northern New England’s rural areas, where it operates as the Working Communities Challenge in Vermont and Maine. Both programs are under the Working Places umbrella.
In Hartford, the Working Cities team focused on reducing unemployment among residents ages 16-29 by establishing youth leadership programs and working with companies in the manufacturing and healthcare sectors to connect young adults with employment opportunities, said Anna Steiger, a vice president in the Boston Fed’s regional and community outreach department.
In Danbury, the Working Cities program reduced the poverty rate among the immigrant community and people of color by 5%, according to Betty Sugerman Weintraub, grant program manager for the Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority and a Working Cities advisory committee member. The program also helped open 150 new childcare slots by licensing about 60 new area childcare providers, she said.
Waterbury’s Working Cities program launched the RIBA ASPIRA initiative, which focused on reducing unemployment in the River Baldwin area and ensuring more residents earn a living wage, said Kathy Luria, a community affairs executive at Webster Bank and a Working Cities advisory committee member. The program also worked to expand child care access and create a career academy offering free GED and English courses.
Learn more about Working Places initiatives.