Advancing Federal Policy That Rebuilds the Middle Class

December 20, 2008 -- Kathleen Mulligan-Hansel

With almost a decade of local victories and policy innovations under our belt, the Partnership’s broad network boasts a lot of lessons that should inform federal policy. A New Urban Agenda for America, the Partnership’s newest publication, outlines these lessons, pointing the way for our new administration to take on the challenging task of rebuilding America’s middle class.

Midway through the first 100 days, we’ve started to develop the relationships and policy networks needed to put these recommendations into action. In December and January, Partnership staff worked as part of a coalition effort that was convened by the Center for Community Change and included a wide array of D.C.-based national networks and advocacy allies.  As part of this working group, our crack attorneys, Julian Gross and Ben Beach, drafted language for the proposed Recovery Act that would have required states to prioritize for funding infrastructure projects that had a plan to do targeted hiring and complied with a range of job quality standards. We also worked with the national Building and Construction Trades Department to sync up our proposed amendment with theirs and engaged in joint lobbying.

Despite this concerted effort, we could find no Senator willing to champion this amendment. Ultimately Senator Kerry read a statement into the Congressional Record that lauded our approach and called for greater attention to job quality standards in the stimulus implementation. While we didn’t succeed in getting language into the Recovery Act, we did learn a few very valuable lessons:

  1. The language of the original amendment serves as a tremendous model for what we should be trying to win. The language we developed in conjunction with the coalition and the Building and Construction Trades Department effectively encompassed the range of lessons we’ve learned from trying to do this work on the ground.
  2. The coalition effort, including the buildings trades and organizations that represent low-income people, established a key framework for further national legislative efforts. Over the course of developing the consensus proposal, we built some new relationships and brought our allies together in a new way. There is a lot of legislation coming up that is going to set the stage for spending that creates jobs – transportation reauthorization, an energy bill, etc. We will need to deepen these relationships and continue to work together as one team to get to a different outcome.
  3. There is still a huge organizing challenge and opportunity at the local level. Our organizations on the ground are working to incorporate job quality and job access language into Recovery Act spending as it goes through state and local channels. From weatherization to transportation, we are tracking the funding and building the relationships needed to maximize the impact this money can have on poor and middle class communities.
  4. We have to keep workers’ needs in the headlines in coming months! Many of the Senators who were approached by leaders in our coalition expressed support for the idea of doing job quality and targeted hiring standards, but no one wanted to come forward to champion our model. We have a lot of work to do to raise this issue in the public eye. It is clear that we are very in touch with the stories of hard-working families who don’t earn enough to make ends meet – and with the economic rationale for investing in strategies that build the middle class. Our elected officials are not as clear on this as we are.

Of course, this is only the beginning of an ongoing effort to ensure federal policies do more to rebuild our cities, our communities and our middle class. We are continuing to work with CCC’s national coalition on other avenues for ensuring that stimulus funds – and other federal dollars – create quality jobs with broad access. It’s a time of great opportunity and great challenge and we’re making sure urban communities remain in focus.