New Day Programs
Since early 2012, the Office of Community Services has been laying the groundwork for a comprehensive set of new programs that will focus on the needs of immigrants coming to Hawaii. The goal is to help improve their lives and assist them in becoming productive members of our society. We are calling these programs our “New Day” programs.
OCS undertook needs-assessment meetings on the major islands and conducted substantial research to ascertain what the immigrant communities in Hawaii need and to determine what new programs would best fit these needs.
OCS then generated a needs assessment report and sought Governor Abercrombie’s support for these new programs. The Governor has approved these programs and has incorporated them into the administration budget for 2013, which is now subject to legislative approval.
The centerpiece of these New Day programs is our program for Community Resource Centers. The other programs in the New Day group include two financial literacy programs – one focused on asset-building and one on tax preparation assistance, to ensure that eligible people receive their federal Earned Income Tax Credits. Other programs include Employment Core Services (ECS) for reintegrating ex-offenders, which will be similar to our already existing and on-going ECS programs for immigrants (ECS-IMM) and for other low-income people (ECS-LIP). Rounding out the New Day cluster of programs will be a major program of Legal Services for Immigrants, which will mesh with our on-going Kids 200 program, which focuses on family law matters for vulnerable children. These programs are described in more detail below.
Community Resource Centers (CRCs)
Hawaii receives an average of 5,000 immigrants each year. The great majority of them have limited English proficiency, which impairs their ability to access services that promote success in the work place, economic self-sufficiency, and social adjustment. Continued growth in the number of immigrants will continue to affect the social landscape and economic conditions in Hawaii into the foreseeable future.
For Hawaii to compete nationally and globally with domestic and foreign producers of goods and services, employers require workers with appropriate communication, literacy, cultural proficiency, and occupational skills. Many newly arrived immigrants do not know where to go for information or assistance to help them make their way into Hawaii’s economy and society. Programs serving immigrants have decreased in the last couple of decades, just as Hawaii began receiving a significant increase in immigrants from Asia and the Pacific region.
The resulting demand for a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach to facilitate access for this target population to employment, health, social, and educational services has generated new challenges for the Office of Community Services. Rebuilding immigrant services has become one of the priorities of OCS under the new administration.
Governor Abercrombie has included in his administration biennium budget for FY 2014-2015 funding for Community Resource Center (CRC) services statewide. OCS has issued Requests for Proposals (RFPs), and intends to contract the services to selected non-profits, subject to funding approval by the State Legislature.
CRC services are designed to provide easy access for low-income persons and immigrants to “navigate” the wide array of Federal, State and local and private-sector services that promote economic self-sufficiency and social adjustment. OCS envisions having CRCs on each island as an entry point or a “door” for information about publicly adminsitered health and human services, including employment and training programs, citizenship training, legal, financial literacy, asset development, and acculturation services. OCS further envisions the CRC as a cross-cultural hub and a safe place for linguistically and culturally challenged individuals to seek assistance.
CRC services include, but are not limited to, outreach, intake, assessment/case management, supportive counseling, information and referral services, and acculturation programs. OCS sees the need for many new immigrants to get a good understanding of their rights and responsibilities as tenants in private and public housing, as parents of school children, as employees, as receivers of healthcare services, as drivers of motor vehicles, and basically as residents making positive contributions to their communities.
CRC services also include providing access to financial literacy programs to avoid predatory lending and other information to facilitate successful adjustment. CRC services are geared to provide services in a culturally and linguistic appropriate manner.
Legal Services for Immigrants
This program is intended to give priority for legal services to persons who are not eligible for legal services under existing federal programs such as TANF and TAONF or other legal aid programs. Services will include, but are not necessarily limited to, legal advice and representation in civil matters such as consumer, landlord-tenant, certain family and status matters (e.g., guardianships, TROs in domestic violence situations), access to public educational and welfare services, and other civil matters.
The program will not provide legal services for contested divorce actions, criminal defense, or deportation defense or similar quasi-criminal or criminal immigration matters. The legal services agency may use funds under this program to assist qualified immigrants in petitioning for change of status and/or for citizenship in cases where no obstacles are apparent.
The service agency will prepare and implement a plan for outreach to immigrant communities to ensure their awareness of the legal services provided by this program. The agency will also collaborate and coordinate with other service providers under the other OCS New Day programs to provide outreach to their program clientele. This will give such persons general information about the legal services offered by the agency.
The agency will take reasonable steps to provide culturally appropriate interpretation and translation services when needed, and should have on staff, or on call, personnel who are bilingual in such languages as Chuukese, Marshallese, Ilocano, Tagalog, and Spanish (and other languages present in Hawaii’s immigrant communities).
The legal services agency will refer clients, as appropriate, to other non-profit service providers for their relevant needs.
Financial Literacy, Asset Poverty Reduction, and Savings Incentives for Low-Income Persons
This is a broad-based financial literacy program that sets ambitious goals for participants to reduce their asset-poverty (as contrasted with income poverty) by providing savings incentives to low-income people.
Hawaii’s families need to achieve financial stability. “Asset Poverty” is defined as not having enough resources for basic necessities for three months if a household’s income source is lost. Estimates are that 27% of people nationally, and as may as 43% in Hawaii are in a state of “asset poverty.”
The program’s service agencies will educate the clients on the following:
- The Importance of Credit –The client will be informed as to what credit is, what their past history says about the household, how credit score influences the cost of borrowing and the access to financial products, and typical credit qualification thresholds for common products.
- Types and Uses of Credit – The service agencies will orient clients to the array of different types of financial products, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each.
- Budgeting and Financial Planning –The service agencies will use the client’s own budget scenario, including income and expenses, to design a household budget.
Financial Preparation and Setting and Achieving Savings Goals –The agency will assist the client in preparing a savings plan to achieve the goals outlined by the assessment. If the client does not have concrete savings goals, the plan will be designed to assist the client to become resistant to income loss or fluctuation by planning to have savings equal to the household’s gross expenses for three months.
Once the client establishes his/her savings goals, the agency will ascertain whether the savings goal is qualified for support under applicable legislation through creating an Individual Development Account (IDA). Allowable uses of the IDA shall accomplish one of two goals: (1) assist clients in obtaining a lasting asset, and/or (2) increasing the financial stability of the household.
Access to Credit – assisting the client getting access to credit – is another key goal. The service agency will research and explore with the client potential avenues to improve credit through controlled access to additional credit, improvement of credit utilization ratios, dispute and removal of incorrect items reported to credit agencies, expense planning to ensure minimum payments are met, refinancing or debt consolidation advice, and appropriate financial products based on the household’s credit score.
Tax Preparation, Volunteer Coordination, and Service Coordination for Low-Income Persons
The most recent US Census data available indicate that nearly 132, 000 Hawaii residents are living in poverty as measured by the Federal Poverty Guide Line (FPGL). While the standard FPGL for Hawaii is 13% higher than in the contiguous 48 mainland States, we know that cost of living indicators, such as food and housing, can range up to 67% higher than in the mainland U.S. Thus, the true number of persons struggling with poverty is most likely substantially higher than 132,000 in Hawaii.
To encourage the working poor to continue working, and to be recognized and rewarded for their efforts, the Federal government has put into place several incentives including, most notably, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
However, a large number of individual Hawaii residents who are eligible for the EITC have not claimed the credit. This number has been estimated at 19,000 individuals, and the amount unclaimed is estimated at over $30 million per year. This is money paid by Hawaii taxpayers into the Federal budget which is not recycled into the local economy. Retrieving those funds would put huge sums of Federal money directly where it is needed most. Moreover, most persons who newly apply for EITC refunds may be able to amend their tax returns to recover for prior years as well.
For many individuals, receiving tax refunds based on the EITC represents the largest one-time infusion of cash they may experience during the year. Establishing a program narrowly targeted to helping people get their EITC refunds creates a tremendous opportunity to more broadly incentivize savings, to inform individuals about financial services and products, and to assist persons in improving their financial self-sufficiency. An additional goal of the program is to increase statewide coordination through networking of individuals and service providers with financial assistance programs.
The service agencies will recruit volunteers to provide tax assistance and to offer general information about income tax filing and withholdings, and to help people understand potential savings strategies for any EITC refunds that they receive. The service agencies will make referrals of clients to financial literacy or savings and investment workshops, or other financial topics generally of interest.
The service agency will conduct outreach to private, non-profit and public entities who may be interested in providing volunteers, sites, volunteer site coordinators, or other supports for tax preparation purposes. These may include financial institutions, State and County departments serving low-income persons or providing social supports, human service agencies, accounting firms, educational institutions, and other agencies with related interests.
Employment Core and Recidivism Prevention for Reintegrating Individuals (ECS-RPRI)
Nearly 4,000 inmates are currently incarcerated on contract with the State of Hawaii, with nearly half of them currently being housed out-of-State. A priority of the State’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) is to “reduce recidivism by focusing probation and parole resources on those most likely to reoffend . . . .” Ex-offenders striving toward re-integration face a number of challenges that do not apply to persons who have not been in prison. Educational, employment, and financial situations have all been widely recognized as indicators of the potential for recidivism.
Our Reintegration program will concentrate on targeted education to make ex-offenders more employable. This education will include basic skills training and job readiness services, assistance in increasing self-sufficiency through employment placement and to help them maximize their limited resources by educating them as to basic living and financial literacy matters. These services are intended to complement, rather than duplicate, other services that are already being provided by the Department of Public Safety and other governmental or private entities.
Individualized services will be prioritized to produce a person who has adjusted to society, has adequate support structures, and is prepared to seek and maintain employment, as well as advance in a career. Training should be available to fill gaps in knowledge and skill base, and Treatment should be available to improve conditions that may be creating a high risk for recidivism.
The service agencies will be cultivating relationships with prospective employers by determining employer personnel needs and monitoring progress of placed individuals. The service agency will arrange job interviews for its enrollees
Agencies will keep regular contact with employers, participants, and supervisory staff such as Probation Officers. They will continue to identify each person’s current barriers to employment and advancement, such as adjustment to work, career planning, substance abuse, money management/ economic independence, continued education, family violence, child care, health insurance, housing needs, court-ordered requirements and continued life skills training.