Recognizing ESEs as Economic Engines: Our Policy Priorities for 2022

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As a mom to an almost four-year-old, I’m constantly challenged to talk in the simplest way. So, when I explain to him what I do for work, I tell him that I am changing the world. As grandiose and boastful as this statement might be, I strongly believe that policy is one vehicle to create lasting social change that can result in a culture shift. There are so many laws that need to be refreshed to keep up with the current socio-political environment and government programs that need to be improved to effectively address a myriad of social problems. And sometimes there is a need to create new government programs to effectively serve people, as we have seen during the COVID pandemic.

Just as REDF believes that pairing grants and loans with technical assistance helps catalyze the growth and effectiveness of the employment social enterprise (ESE) field, I believe that creating good policy must be paired with organizing the direct beneficiaries of the policy. If policy is not informed by the individuals it is created to impact, it will fail. Our national coalition — Resourcing Social Enterprises Together (RESET) — provides valuable insight to ensure that the legislation REDF is working on is impactful and effective. Our members share their first-hand perspectives on what parts of a government program are working and what needs to be improved to best serve not only their business but also their employees, people breaking through barriers to employment.

RESET is a coalition for social change — influencing all levels of government to invest in ESEs as engines of economic inclusion and mobility. And that social change takes time — years, or even decades, not months. But there is also progress to be made and celebrated each year.

So what progress am I most excited about in 2022? Having ESEs recognized not only as an economic engine in our communities but also as a workforce solution, particularly for individuals facing barriers to employment. Here are just some of the ways we are operationalizing this excitement in both the Federal and California policy landscape:

  • Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act Reauthorization: The Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act (WIOA) is a program that is very aligned with ESEs. However, ESE employees are those who the traditional public workforce system often does not serve or serve effectively, including individuals who have experienced incarceration, homelessness,
    mental illness, or addiction. Though it is unlikely that Congress will reauthorize WIOA this year, we are excited to see ESEs named in the House’s reauthorization bill language for the first time.
  • Farm Bill: The Farm Bill is a multi-year law that governs an array of agricultural and food programs and is renewed every five years. The 2018 bill expires in 2023, and without reauthorization, some farm bill programs would expire, like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Under the SNAP program, recipients also have access to SNAP Employment & Training (SNAP E&T), which offers employment, training, education, and wraparound support. SNAP E&T has historically been under-utilized, but a renewed focus on the program amid greater urgency for job training for SNAP participants has created new momentum for states seeking to build bigger, better, and stronger E&T programs. In passing the Farm Bill this year, Congress should define and identify ESEs as effective E&T providers and improve SNAP to better serve working individuals and returning citizens.
  • Reconciliation Bill: Before the midterms, Democrats will have an opportunity to pass a reconciliation package that could include more funding for workforce programs focused on individuals with barriers to employment and affordable housing. This bill would determine which programs get funded, for what amount, and for what duration; new programs are not a part of reconciliation. This is the Democrats’ last chance to pass a package that could impact all Americans, including ESE employees.
  • CA RISE: To build an inclusive economy and to improve access to business and technical resources for an underserved business group, ESEs, REDF calls for the creation of CA:RISE (California Regional Initiative for Social Enterprise). ESEs are not served by a dedicated government agency – like small businesses are by the Small Business Administration, for example – so REDF wants to create one. CA RISE will provide financial and technical assistance for up to the 200 ESEs across the state. Creating new programs takes a ton of political will, and we will garner as much support as we can to ensure innovative business models like ESEs can access the capital and technical resources they need to create impact in their communities and across the state.

We are seeing policy movement toward building an inclusive workforce, and in partnership with government, we have a special opportunity to drive resources to ESEs and their employees in 2022 and beyond. Here’s to changing the world by building an economy that works. For everyone.