By: AIF Staff
The economic impact of COVID-19 is still reverberating across the country, but thus far, the pandemic has already caused tens of millions of hard-working Americans to be unemployed and a host of families to need basic services like food and shelter for the first time. As more and more Americans find themselves in economic distress, local organizations and civil society — which occupies the space between people and their government, have become more important than ever.
The American Idea Foundation believes that even as legislators in Washington, DC get bogged down in partisan fights and gridlock, there are people and organizations doing amazing work in communities around the country. At this time of hardship, policymakers should find inspiration and a sense of optimism from those individuals and groups that are helping their communities rebound and rebuild.
This stark contrast between lawmakers mired in ideological battles and organizations persevering for people in need has reaffirmed the American Idea Foundation’s mission and approach. The Foundation is motivated to identify these organizations that are assisting people in meaningful ways, to validate their efforts through the support of data and evidence, and to encourage leaders to view these problem-solvers as examples that could be replicated elsewhere.
One group that is making a huge impact in Texas is Catholic Charities Fort Worth. For decades, Catholic Charities Fort Worth has lifted families and individuals out of poverty using a comprehensive approach that treats people with the dignity and respect they deserve. Their case management model is relationship-based and Catholic Charities assists its clients through an array of support services ranging from navigating the green card process to vocational skills development; from reducing homelessness to securing employment. Most recently, Catholic Charities partnered with other local organizations in Fort Worth to provide food to families who were dealing with hunger and economic insecurity amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
American Idea Foundation President and former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan has long been a proponent of the approach that Catholic Charities Fort Worth takes to helping those in their community. In April 2018, he visited the organization to hear and see firsthand how they are making a difference. You can view Speaker Ryan’s thoughts here.
Singling out the daily difference that Catholic Charities Fort Worth is making, Speaker Ryan described their impact at the 2018 National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC, saying in part:
“We believe every person has a role and a voice in the community of concern and protection. No one is written off.
“The good news—the great news—is that there are new evangelizers living out this doctrine all around us. One of them is a woman named Heather Reynolds. Heather runs Catholic Charities Fort Worth.
“For years, I had been hearing about all the great work they were doing down there. Last month, I finally had the chance to see it firsthand. We sat down with some of their clients and case workers. That’s how they do everything: case management, a customized approach.
“One gentleman, his name was Chris. Chris grew up in a big family, and he watched his older siblings get into all kinds of trouble. His fate was the farm or the oil field. That was it. No way out.
“One day Chris told his wife, he wanted to go to nursing school. He reached out to Catholic Charities They helped him navigate the system, figure out how to make it work. Even after he graduated, they are still there for him and his family.
“What stands out for Chris is not any one thing Catholic Charities did to help him. It is, he said, ‘the feeling that you have an out, that you don’t have to settle.’”
Speaker Ryan went on to say: “Organizations like Catholic Charities are doing heroic work in our communities to fight poverty. This is among the keys to breaking the cycle and getting more people into good-paying jobs…. The case management system is the best possible system. It’s individual, it’s focused, it’s customized. The cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work.”
Interviewing a client of Catholic Charities who attended Ryan’s visit, the North Texas Catholic provided some valuable perspective on the case-management approach:
“Tonita Burbage, a Catholic Charities client who attended the town hall, was laid off in 2014 and struggled with unemployment and underemployment for two years. She credited Catholic Charities’ assistance in helping her find a full-time job with benefits so she could support her two daughters without government assistance. The organization helped her with job training, developing a resume, and providing interview outfits. However, Burbage said what helped the most was ‘to have someone support everything that I want to do and having that open door where I could call anytime or email — to have someone listening.’”
The model used by Catholic Charities Fort Worth puts an emphasis on results, rather than on dollars spent. It’s a view that Speaker Ryan has long embraced, saying in a 2018 interview with Margaret Hoover on PBS’ Firing Line, that:
“[People] have defined success in the war on poverty based on how much money are you throwing at a problem. How many programs are you creating? How many people are on the federal programs? Not defining success based on results. Are there fewer people in poverty?
“I mean what ought to happen if we are successful, is fewer and fewer and fewer people are using the program because they aren’t poor anymore, and that is how we think success ought to be defined, so I think the metrics had been distorted for a long time, and now we finally can get to a conversation where what works is what we ought to do.”
One pilot program, undertaken by Catholic Charities Forth Worth and Notre Dame’s Lab for Economic Opportunities (where Ryan serves on the Board), called the Padua Project has taken this evidence-based approach and utilized a network of specialists to support individuals as they get back on their feet. As Notre Dame’s Lab for Economic Opportunities detailed in a Case Study evaluating the project:
“The Padua Pilot is a “supercharged” case management program developed by Catholic Charities Fort Worth to help families experiencing poverty achieve long-term self-sufficiency. The program combines wrap-around case management with low caseloads, detailed needs assessments, customized action plans, and financial assistance. Stakeholders commissioned the study to learn more about the program’s impact on outcomes such as income, employment, and health.”
As WAMU detailed in a 2016 article on the Padua Project, Catholic Charities Fort Worth “started small: 100 clients the first year. The goal? In three years, each person will be financially self-sufficient. Each person will have three months of savings. And each person will be off government assistance.”
Because of this individualized, hands-on, comprehensive approach, people like Keith Collins are benefitting. As Cynthia Allen summarized in a Fort Worth Star Telegram op-ed:
“According to CCFW, participants in the Padua Pilot on average increased their liquid assets by over $5,000, reduced their debt by over $2,000, and experienced a 23 percent increase in full-time employment. In two years’ time, 73 percent of those who entered the program not housed were stably housed and working toward self-sufficiency, and those who came into case management stably housed had a 36 percent increase in full-time work and a 34 percent increase in monthly earnings.”
As Speaker Ryan said when working on reforms to federal poverty-fighting programs: “This is about saving souls, not dollars. The federal government should monitor supply lines, provide resources, but they shouldn’t micro-manage the front lines in fighting poverty. The people and the groups on the ground, eye-to-eye, soul-to-soul, person-to-person, they are the ones best equipped to solve these problems and help people.”
Catholic Charities Fort Worth is one of these groups, helping people eye-to-eye and soul-to-soul and having a profound impact as they do. Their Padua Project provides a prime example of how the case management model can work and policymakers would be smart to take note of the lives that they are changing on a daily basis.