As Indiana stands to become one of the first states in the nation to require many of its Medicaid recipients to work or volunteer to receive benefits, we must ensure the program is a win-win for participants and the communities where they live.
It will take substantive programming around the 80 hours per month requirement for able-bodied people to either work or perform community service to do that. By tying volunteerism to getting people job skills and into the workforce, a path to self-sufficiency is forged.
As vulnerable adults begin contributing to their community, they feel a sense of pride, accomplishment and dignity. They will be viewed as part of the solution — not as part of the problem.
This isn’t just wishful thinking. The National Center for Families Learning (NCFL), a national nonprofit, has seen transformation of individuals and communities across the country when people are able to contribute, volunteer, work and see the benefits of their actions. NCFL works to eradicate poverty through education solutions for families.
Over the past 30 years, and with the partnership of Toyota, we have impacted the lives of more than 2 million families in 150 cities and 39 states (including Indiana). Many of these accomplishments can be duplicated under the new Medicaid requirements:
• Volunteerism through the creation of a Family Service Learning program. Participants decide what issues are important in their community – such as safety and security, environmental stewardship, financial literacy, effective education systems, transportation, and health. They then investigate how to address these issues and execute their projects.
• Families are strengthened through two-generation literacy programs, such as NCFL Family Learning, that include Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time, Parent Time, and family-to-family mentoring. Bonds are strengthened and whole families are lifted to attain their true potential.
• Adults learn/gain computer skills, academic skills and teamwork, problem solving, and communication (all crucial for employment). Research shows NCFL Family Learning participants learn 40 of 42 federal workforce skills and half of 2017 participants got a job, got a better job, or earned more money.
• Access to high school equivalency or GED certificate programs. Research shows more than half of participants in NCFL Family Learning programs in 2017 earned one or the other.
These positive results could be further amplified by pulling together several programs, including Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and creating a comprehensive system to improve the human condition and move people to self-sufficiency.
Take for example, NCFL’s work in Mississippi. Through a partnership with the Mississippi Department of Human Services and two social service agencies, whole families participate in Family Service Learning projects, PACT Time, and family-to-family mentoring.
In addition, participants have access to free classes for literacy, parenting, life skills, workforce development and education services. This results in whole families being lifted to meet their true potential, and that will lead to generational cycles of poverty being broken.
Despite the unemployment rate sitting at a 45-year low, there are more than 7 million U.S. citizens not able to find a job. Many of them are able and willing to work, but don’t have the skills to get a job.
Indiana has a rare chance to set the standard for raising up families so they may begin to break the intergenerational cycles of poverty through community engagement and work-skills training. Let’s create comprehensive system and set an example for the rest of the country.
Sharon Darling is the president and founder of the National Center for Families Learning in Louisville, Kentucky.