Yes to Paid Parental Leave (if it’s done right)

For the record, I support additional paid leave for parents, as well as eldercare.

But today, I voted no to amend the budget committee agenda to increase paid parental leave from four weeks to 12 weeks. As I said in the deliberations, I voted no based on the process – not on the merits of the issue.

The Council must respect the labor management process. The City continues to be in negotiations with our unions on their expired contracts. No tentative agreements have been ratified. Changes in wages, working conditions and benefits are mandatory subjects of bargaining. And leave benefits should be negotiated with our unions, where the interests and priorities of both parties are negotiated.

Today’s proposal preempts everything the City Council previously laid out. Not much more than six months ago, the Council adopted a four week paid parental leave program by Ordinance 124753. That program was on top of the City’s generous paid leave programs.

Furthermore, that ordinance adopted by the City Council created a path for reviewing this new leave program, requiring the executive to produce a report in July 2016 on the use of the program. That report would show what unpaid parental leave gaps remain, and how much any additional leave would cost.

And prior to this ordinance, the City Council adopted Resolution 31523 regarding gender-based disparities. In that resolution, the Mayor and City Council requested:

The City, through the Personnel Department, will review, modify and/or propose additional ‘family friendly’ policies and practices where applicable and appropriate … “ furthermore, “The City will work with its Labor partners to implement changes in compensation and working conditions envisioned by the proposed actions.

Let’s set this program up for success instead of failure. The proposal use money from a non-recurring source of funding and does not demonstrate that this benefit is financially sustainable.

I look forward to the day that labor and management comes forward with an extended parental and eldercare benefit that is carefully thought out and financially sustainable – but today we did not get that proposal.

You Will Be Missed

My time on Council has been filled with heated policy debates and second-floor strategizing, and I’ve come to admire my colleagues during this process. It takes all kinds of thinkers to make good policy, and I hope you enjoy the following observations and tongue-in-cheek predictions about my Council family. At the very least, these will likely deter any future Councils from appointing me.

Nick Licata
Observation: Brilliant and dangerously charming strategist with a creative streak
Prediction: Opens Uncle Nick’s Policy, Poetry, and Pot Shop

Tim Burgess
Observation: Deliberate, steady thinker with an enormous heart for protecting the vulnerable
Prediction: Imposes tax on pot/policy/poetry shops to fund early childhood education

Tom Rasmussen
Observation: Tenacious voice for neighborhood quality of life
Prediction: Founds the West Seattle Secession Society

Jean Godden
Observation: Champion for the new generation of women
Prediction: Starts a woman-majority media outlet, The Seattle Equality

Bruce Harrell
Observation: Measured decision-maker always ready to lighten the mood in chambers
Prediction: Institutes technical fouls and a 20-second shot clock on Council deliberations

Sally Bagshaw
Observation: Eternal optimist with unbridled energy and ideas
Prediction: Extends homeless shelters to open 36 hours, eight days a week

Mike O’Brien
Observation: Eco-biko-urbanist and a very smart policy wonk
Prediction: Establishes bike-pool lanes for tandem riders

Kshama Sawant
Observation: Exceptional on-message community organizer who forces Councilmembers to take a stand
Prediction: Appoints me to run the Municipal Broadband Department


Stopping Homelessness Before It Starts

Originally posted at The Seattle Times.

Does the City Council have the political will to redirect spending for programs that help prevent homelessness from happening?

PREVENTION is Seattle’s best-kept secret to answering homelessness. As the city pours resources into shelters, the city’s homeless population continues to grow. And while sheltering is an immediate necessity — especially with winter just around the corner — it’s only a short-term fix for a long-term problem. That’s where prevention kicks in.

Prevention stops homelessness in its tracks. Although people find themselves homeless for a number of reasons, many people who are on the verge of losing their home can receive financial assistance, case management, education, or some combination of these services, to help them either remain in their housing or rapidly get into alternative housing.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness identifies diversion as a best practice and places a focus on prevention as a solution. The city agrees with the approach. The Human Services Department analyzed homelessness investments and concluded that the city should focus new resources primarily on effective prevention and diversion services. King County came to the same conclusion, moving its focus from a “costly, crisis-oriented response to health and social problems to one that focuses on prevention …”

The conclusion isn’t just based in theory. In 2015, as part of a pilot project, 229 of 371 families were diverted from entering a homeless shelter. So, almost two-thirds of the families in this program could wake up without worrying where they would sleep the next day. Their kids could eat breakfast at home before going to school. These families could do the everyday things that most of us take for granted.

Though prevention models have demonstrated success, funding has stagnated. Currently, Seattle’s budget for homelessness prevention funding is a mere 11 percent of total homelessness investments. This year’s city funding for diversion would only reach 97 families. At that rate, only 60 families would likely be diverted. To put this into perspective, more than 10,000 people are homeless in King County. More children, moms and dads are competing for space with a record number of homeless and those who are the most difficult to serve.

In other words, prevention isn’t funded at a rate high enough for families to benefit.

As a city, we can consider it a great success when a family is sent to a stable home rather than falling into the stressful and uncertain shelter system. Yet, time and time again, we fail to fund prevention services. In 2012, the city called for incremental shifts of funding (2 percent to 4 percent over six years) into homeless prevention and stabilization. But as the city noted in its analysis, “Due to lack of political will and advocacy efforts, this shift in resources did not occur.”

Something has to change. If we expect to eliminate homelessness, we have to change the way we invest. That’s why I will be requesting $1.5 million in homeless diversion services to keep families and youths from entering shelters or significantly reducing their length of stay.

The mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Committee recognizes that — at a minimum — homelessness should be rare, brief and one-time. HALA recommends increasing the Seattle housing levy to support vulnerable individuals and families struggling with housing instability and homelessness.

And this year, the mayor included $300,000 in his budget to fund a new homeless engagement model that is intended to reduce the average length of stay in Seattle shelters from 140 days to 20 days

The City Council also has the opportunity to put a greater emphasis on prevention in this year’s budget. We simply need the political will to make it happen.



Better Capacity, Better Outcomes

Capacity-building has become a hot topic for governments and foundations everywhere, but what does it really mean and why do we want to invest in it?

The City relies on non-profit organizations to deliver a significant amount of critical human services. The Human Services Department (HSD) currently has 400 contracts with nearly 200 organizations. HSD’s goal is to move organizations towards performance-based contracting practice. In other words, HSD wants organizations to deliver services and track their outcomes through data so that the City and community can see measurable results.

To deliver results, organizations need competence – or capacity – in multiple areas like leadership and staffing, financial and administrative management, and data and analytics. These are the building blocks for a strong organizational infrastructure. But this infrastructure can’t be strengthened unless funders intentionally invest in it.

The $15 minimum wage implementation provides a good example of why capacity-building is needed. Many non-profits have to hustle from one fundraising effort to the next, struggling to keep their doors open as local government priorities shift. The increased minimum wage is one such shift that sent non-profits scrambling; they have to pay a higher wage to their employees while their funding remains largely unchanged.

Through capacity-building, non-profits can improve their financial forecasting, create robust funding reserves, and leverage private funds alongside City of Seattle dollars. Capacity-building can also help organizations align their missions with new practices and developments in addressing the needs of a specific population.

HSD has committed to intentionally invest in capacity-building. As a City, we can invite national organizations to advise on best practices like centralizing back office functions between non-profits to drive down administrative costs. We can bring public and private funders together to align strategies and create more leverage for non-profits. And we can work on creating better data systems that streamline reporting requirements and reduce the burden on non-profits.

In the 2016 budget season, I will steer funding to HSD’s capacity-building efforts. These efforts will lead the way in creating a proactive data-driven non-profit sector.