Historical Building Restored—Serves as Food Pantry and Affordable Housing

January 10, 2013 – Boyceville, WI – West CAP, the WISCAP member agency serving Polk, Barron, St. Croix, Dunn, Chippewa, Pierce and Pepin counties, has worked to restore a 95-year-old building in Boyceville, WI.  The building contains four affordable housing units and also serves the community as a food pantry for families in need.  Click here for further information. Continue reading

2013: Ambitious Plans in Service to Community Action

As the statewide trade association for Wisconsin’s Community Action Agencies and three single-purpose agencies with statewide anti-poverty missions, WISCAP’s work is divided into three general categories:  providing training and services to members; program management in the areas of rural community development, job and business development and skills enhancement training; and public policy and program advocacy on behalf of members and their anti-poverty agendas.

Last November, WISCAP’s Board of Directors approved a work plan for the association in these three areas for 2013, the 39th year of WISCAP’s existence. I’d like to share with you some of the highlights of that work plan with the hope this will give the reader some idea of the breadth and depth of WISCAP’s work and the work of its member agencies in combating poverty and providing the opportunity for economic self-sufficiency to all.

Services to Members:
As a trade association, much of WISCAP’s work, naturally enough, is in the area of providing direct services to its member agencies. Our entire network gets together quarterly to discuss program and policy issues and to meet with state authorities and others engaged in work related to poverty. WISCAP, at these quarterly meetings, sponsors as many as eleven separate roundtables organized around specific areas of agency involvement and expertise: such things as family development, transportation, energy, housing, management and the like. These roundtables give CAA staff from around the state the opportunity to share experiences, learn new information and talk directly with leaders in their particular field of interest.

WISCAP takes a lead role in the presentation of two statewide conferences: the ‘A Home for Everyone’ statewide affordable housing conference and the ‘Poverty Matters!’ conference. ‘A Home for Everyone’, which will be held in Eau Claire in July of 2013, is the brainchild of the Wisconsin Collaborative for Affordable Housing, of which WISCAP is a member and for which WISCAP provides administrative services. While WISCAP is the sole sponsor of the annual ‘Poverty Matters!’ conference—which will be held at the Radisson Paper Valley in Appleton in early October 2013—a planning committee including outside experts and advocates helps plan the 1 and ½ day event.

WISCAP’s member agencies take very seriously their responsibility to be accountable to their local communities, to funders and to taxpayers for their publicly-funded work. One of the major activities undertaken by WISCAP every year is to facilitate the collection of data showing what Community Action Agencies have done in the past twelve months, who they have served, and what services have been provided. This process of reporting results begins in mid-January and will culminate with a final report in March 2013.

In addition to the above member activities, WISCAP will also, in 2013, be focusing on opportunities to provide training to agencies in social media applications. The changing media landscape demands that CAAs and Wisconsin’s single-purpose agencies stay ‘ahead of the curve’ so as to be able to get their message out and both inform and educate the public.

Program Management:
WISCAP serves at the pleasure of its member agencies. In a few areas, this has put us in the position of operating programs for our members or for communities providing direct services. This effort will continue in 2013, with clean, efficient and effective contract administration being a high priority of WISCAP’s work plan.

Since 1989, WISCAP has operated a Job and Business Development (JBD) program funded by state General Purpose Revenues. Through this program, low-income individuals are given the training and support enabling them to start their own business. The results of this program have been truly impressive:  since its inception in 1989, WISCAP’s JBD program has created 1,971 new small businesses and 5,669 new jobs in Wisconsin. This effort will continue in 2013 with WISCAP contracting with ten of its member agencies to provide JBD services allowing further business and job creations.

Complementary to the JBD program, WISCAP also operates a statewide Skills Enhancement Program, also funded by state General Purpose Revenues (GPR). The Skills Enhancement program improves the incomes of low-wage workers in Wisconsin by providing educational opportunities so they can obtain the skills needed to get better paying jobs with benefits. Program graduates substantially increase their incomes: since July 2010, when GPR funds first became available, they have reported obtaining new jobs that pay $2.63 more per hour, on average, earning $8,454 more in annual income. They also report a five-fold increase in access to employer-sponsored health care benefits. WISCAP will continue to administer this program on behalf of its member agencies in 2013.

Both the JBD and Skills Enhancement programs fit very directly with statewide priorities: the creation of jobs and the development of new skill sets for existing workers. Another area of priority to the state is rural community development and this, too, is an area where WISCAP is heavily involved. Our Rural Community Development efforts include the administration of various grants from the federal government which provide for the development and maintenance of water and wastewater systems in the poorest and smallest of Wisconsin communities. During 2013, we will also be expanding efforts begun last year to provide, in conjunction with the United States Department of Agriculture – Rural Development and others, a wider variety of development services to these communities in the areas of finance, public facilities and program planning.

Public Policy and Advocacy:
Community Action’s strength and uniqueness comes from its design, which provides for maximum local control and involvement of the community—including low-income individuals—on addressing issues of poverty. Yet, many times, our member agencies wish to speak with one voice. WISCAP serves that purpose; communicating with state lawmakers and policy makers on behalf of its members and serving as a resource for those same lawmakers and policy makers who wish to explore the impact of their decisions on low-income citizens and on poverty strategies.

Community Action Agencies are involved in a wide variety of anti-poverty programs and issues at any given time. Every year, a few of these stand out as requiring focused attention on the part of the entire membership—through WISCAP. This is particularly true during years when the state Legislature and the Governor deliberate on the state biennial budget, which will be happening in the first months of 2013.

The state 2013-14 budget priorities for WISCAP and its member agencies are:

  • Protect funding for the Job and Business Development program at the current minimum of $200,600 per year.
  • Protect funding for the Community Action Skills Enhancement program at the current minimum of $250,000 per year.
  • Advocate for full funding for Wisconsin’s low-income Public Benefits program (which provides for weatherization and utility bill payment assistance), as set by law.
  • Support funding for housing and homeless programs at the current minimum level of $5.7 million per year.
  • Support funding for food security programs at the current level of $288,000.

In addition, WISCAP will be focused on contributing its voice in the areas of weatherization and low-income energy policy, in the implementation of federal homeless programs, and in seeking increased opportunities for members in the areas of economic development, job creation and workforce development.

On the federal level, WISCAP will be involved, on behalf of its members, in the federal discussion on funding anti-poverty programs, most notably the Community Services Block Grant, which serves as core funding for Community Action Agencies. We anticipate a very busy 2013 in this area, with the energetic debates to come on federal spending, as well as through on-going efforts to examine federal poverty policy and the programs serving low-income, examining what they should do, how to ensure accountability while protecting local control and flexibility, and how their success should be measured. I’ll be writing more on this in a future column.

Please feel free to drop me a line with your thoughts on WISCAP, on poverty and on our work plans for 2013. I can be reached at bjones@wiscap.org.

Take care,
Bob Jones
Executive Director