The 107th Congress brings bright prospects for the Younger Americans Act (YAA), a cash-rich proposal for youth work endorsed last September by everyone from now-Secretary of State Colin Powell to an ideological rainbow of congressional members, ranging from the New Democrat Max Cleland (D-Ga.) to such liberal hot dogs as Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.). Reintroduced in the House in January as H.R. 17 (a Senate version is expected to be introduced this month), the YAA would authorize youth service expenditures of up to $2 billion per year through 2006. The act would fund a broad spectrum of youth development activities through local community boards, with one-third of its voting members under age 26. In addition, the YAA would create an Office of White House Youth Policy along with a Council on National Youth Policy, one-third of whose members would also be under 26.
Among national groups support has been nearly universal, although the “just give us the money” teachers’ unions and assorted education trade groups remain as stubborn as a donkey just waiting to be hit by a legislative two-by-four. Even Marian Wright Edelman’s Children’s Defense Fund, which toyed with a go-it-alone Child Care Now bill that left out the YAA, faced political reality and incorporated the YAA into its congressional agenda.
YAA supporters worry about opposition from the National Governors’ Association, as the proposal favors community decision-making at the expense of state government. But Nolan Jones, director of NGA’s human resources group, says the organization has “no policy on it whatsoever,” adding, “Hopefully, we’ll be on board.” Crows Charles Barone, deputy staff director for House co-sponsor Miller, “It’s got legs” on Capitol Hill.
So how did this apparently serendipitous aligning of the political stars come about? First, thank the federal surplus, now pegged at $5 trillion over the next decade. But as the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) has noted in its “Investing in Children” campaign calling for $3.8 billion in new kids’ spending, children and youth have benefited from the federal surplus less than virtually any other sector of American society. Nowhere is that more evident than in the ceaseless struggles to keep community-based services afloat and to expand efforts to reach under-served kids.
For more evidence of a national reticence to invest in youth development, look no further than the four-year history of America’s Promise: The Alliance for Youth (AP), chaired until January by retired Gen. Powell. Soon after its launch in Philadelphia in April 1997, the Alexandria, Va.-based organization made two horrifying discoveries: One, there were already numerous (if underfinanced) national, state and metropolitan coordinating and advocacy entities dealing with every conceivable children’s issue, including the very service delivery territory covered by AP’s touted “Five Promises.” Two, much of the talk, planning and report-writing by these groups masks, but cannot hide, the profound lack of quality youth development services and affiliations for many teens, especially in poor communities.
Powell found himself in command of a niche-less Banana Republic army, with plenty of generals and staff officers but few troops to command and control. Many local umbrella groups soon realized there was little benefit in being branded “Podunk’s Promise”: Local AP efforts in New York City, Richmond, Massachusetts, Minnesota and other jurisdictions quietly folded into existing, more sturdy, structures while continuing to fly the AP flag of convenience. And as its fortunes sagged, fund-raising for the national AP’s $7.6 million annual budget lagged, too.
Who came to the rescue? The federal taxpayer. Said Bob Rodgers, an AP board member and retired president of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation a year ago, “It was a case of a transformation of thinking as we went along.” Last year AP received $2.6 million in grant awards from various federal agencies. This year a $7.5 million earmark in the appropriation of the Corporation for National Service will provide the bulk of AP’s post-Powell income (its projected 2001 budget is in excess of $12 million). Can AP survive without Powell? The Washington Speakers Bureau doesn’t think so: Last year one staffer told Youth Today, “There is no America’s Promise without General Powell.” More seasoned observers are more optimistic, noting that now that AP is ensconced in the federal budget, like so many other national groups, the organization has discovered a fountain of perpetual youth. Says Kathleen Seltz of the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps, “It’s disappointing that an initiative aimed at the private sector has turned to the public trough.”
Still, the last four years have proven to be an expensive education in the obvious for Powell, AP President Peter Gallagher, former Bush senior White House official and AP Senior Vice President Greg Petersmeyer, and the rest of the Red Wagon crowd. They once subscribed to the rosy booster club school of youth work but can no longer deny that money for direct services really does count. So having completed four years of very well-paid on-the-job training, last September Powell joined President Betty Bean of the United Way of America; Stewart Smith, National Executive Director of Camp Fire Boys and Girls and chair of the National Collaboration for Youth, and former Sen. Harris Wofford, CEO of the federal Corporation for National Service, in a press conference presided over by Sen. Jim Jeffords (R-Vt.) to endorse spending up to $2 billion per year on youth development programs selected by local grant-making panels.
In September 1999, Powell was telling The New York Times, “The last thing I want to do is become another cheeping pigeon on the Hill.” But a year later Powell was on that very hill saying, “Children – the future of this nation – transcend political and organizational boundaries. Today we joined together, not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans who want all of our young people to make the journey from a nourishing and positive childhood to successful adulthood.”
Standing ever-so-inconspicuously off to the side while Powell and others strutted their stuff was the self-effacing Gordon Raley, the CEO of the National Assembly of Health and Human Service Organizations and its National Collaboration for Youth, and the mastermind behind the YAA.
While the kickoff event was a crowning day of public triumph for Powell’s acclaimed leadership of AP (if only beyond the youth service field itself) and its national efforts to assist young people, others had a different take. Had Powell the warrior captured command of the youth service field, or had the quiet and persistent generalship of Raley captured the youth agenda of Powell?
Later, Raley confirmed what no one doubted. “I’m not much on bragging about myself,” he said in speaking of his accomplishments over the past 25 years, the last 10 as president of the 56-member National Assembly and the National Collaboration for Youth. Founded in 1923, the Assembly was based in New York until 1983. Its most impressive feature: letterhead listing a list of well-known national groups such as the YMCA, Girl Scouts and 4-H, and an incredibly boorish annual luncheon at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria, a tradition which has featured such luminaries as one-time Boys Clubs of America President Herbert Hoover (a resident of that posh hotel until his death in 1964).
Hired when the calcified group moved to D.C. was Len Stern, who struggled through the Reagan-Bush era to keep its ideologically diverse membership in the loop, if not in sync, with official Washington. When Stern retired, and Raley succeeded him in June 1990, the National Assembly had 36 members; just 15 of which were members of the Collaboration for Youth. Despite its presumptive stature as the peak organization for most of the nation’s best known and most prosperous national youth-serving agencies, Raley’s 1991 budget was just $331,666. Over the past decade, Raley slowly built the National Assembly from a staff of three to seven, increased the budget to $1.3 million, and added the National Youth Development Information Center (www.nydic.org). Fueling this modest growth in its ability to support the national youth development infrastructure were the Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, along with the W.K. Kellogg, C.S. Mott, MacArthur, and E.M. Clark foundations.
But Raley’s staffing successes in the prosperous years of Bill Clinton’s administration are hardly out of the ordinary. Rather, it has been Raley’s political skills, honed during eight years spent as a staff director (1977-85) for the House Committee on Education and Labor’s Subcommittee on Human Resources, which had jurisdiction over domestic social welfare programs ranging from Head Start to juvenile justice.
Hanging over the latest effort to build deep bipartisan support for youth work is the fate of an earlier bill. In 1996, the Collaboration for Youth helped shape and promote the Youth Development and Community Block Grant championed by then-Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker (R-Kans.). It was introduced in each chamber by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Don Payne (D-N.J.) and J.C. Watts (R-Okla.). But opposition from the education and drug-abuse prevention lobby and liberal Democrats in the Senate killed the bill while the Clinton White House looked on with indifference.
Enter the Presidents’ Summit in Philadelphia in April 1997 and the creation of its follow-up vehicle, America’s Promise: The Alliance for Youth. Led by Powell, the new group mollified existing national groups, especially the United Way of America, the Points of Light Foundation (the original genesis of the summit and America’s Promise) led by Bob Goodwin, and the National Assembly by announcing that while it might be another big national mouth to feed, there was no need to fear, as it would put itself out of business on Dec. 31, 2000.
That pledge went the way of “Read my lips, no new taxes.” But as AP laboriously learned the intricate ropes of youth work, the staff came to realize that deliverance certainly wouldn’t be coming from America’s business community, with its penchant for spending a dime to support a photogenic youth do-gooder program and a dollar to publicize the effort.
In Powell’s final message as AP’s chair, he wrote, “Our progress is unmistakable. Congress and governors are making kids a priority.” Adds Gallagher, a former AT&T executive who has run the AP headquarters in Alexandria, Va., since 1997, “In 2001, we’ll be one of the lead advocates supporting a national youth policy” (i.e., The Younger Americans Act).
At the National Assembly, Raley and the members of the Collaboration’s Washington Group (read: “lobbyists”), such as LaVerne Alexander, director of government relations for the Girl Scouts, USA, Tim Briceland-Betts, senior policy analyst of the CWLA, Miriam Rollins, public policy director for the National Network for Youth, along with Camp Fire’s Smith, Save the Children’s executive director of U.S. programs Catherine Milton and others, worked the halls of Congress for the past year to rally broad-based support for the legislation.
In January the Younger Americans Act was introduced in the House by Reps. Miller, Bob Clement (D-Tenn.), Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.), Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.) and Marge Roukema (R-N.J.). A vigorous effort to win the support of President George W. Bush is well underway. Supporters of positive youth development legislation haven’t been so bullish about pro-youth legislation since the passage of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act in 1974.
During the Senate confirmation process for his appointment as secretary of state, Powell was required to disclose his income and assets, as all political appointees must. In the seven years since he retired as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Powell has amassed a net worth of at least $27.3 million. Most of his income came from making speeches, where there was always room to plug AP. In 2000, speaking fees totaled $6.7 million. Powell’s usual fee: $59,500, plus all the trimmings. Within 90 days of his Senate confirmation, Powell must resign from his position as AP’s chairman, but he is reportedly seeking ways to continue his involvement with the nonprofit. Another 50 nonprofits which counted Powell as a board or advisory board member will have to manage without his guidance.
Among those losing Powell as a board member are the National Mentoring Partnership, Boy & Girls Clubs of America, Power Up and The College Fund/United Negro College Fund. Powell also served on the advisory board of the Children’s Health Fund, the Character Education Partnership, Give a Kid a Hand and the Children’s Scholarship Fund.
In a Jan. 12 letter to a State Department ethics official, Powell wrote, “With respect to America’s Promise, while I plan to resign as Chairman of the Board, I intend to remain associated with the organization in an honorary and personal capacity. I will avoid, however, any actions in my personal capacity overseas that suggest official sanction of America’s Promise. In addition, I will not make person-to-person contacts to request funds for the organization or to ask business and other organizations to work with America’s Promise.”
Regardless, Powell, who proudly wore the AP’s red wagon lapel pin throughout his confirmation hearing and told the New York Times a year ago, “I will kick open doors” in efforts to urge corporations to give, will be sitting next to the president of the United States as the acknowledged, if unofficial, cabinet expert on youth issues. That can only be good for AP and the Younger Americans Act.
But while Powell joins the cabinet, Raley’s guiding hand will also be elsewhere. At the end of January he left the National Assembly to become the vice president for Federal Partnerships at the National Mental Health Association, serving under President Mike Faenza. The news of Raley’s departure was greeted with disappointment given the high legislative stakes on Capitol Hill (potentially $5 billion in new spending over four years). Not to worry, says Raley, arguing that support for the Younger Americans Act has moved “from a collaboration of organizations to a collaboration of members of the House and Senate” along with people “like Colin Powell.”
Others aren’t so certain. While groups like the National Board of the YMCA and Boy Scouts of America boast endowments of tens, even hundreds of millions, none seem prepared to open the spigots to so much as a trickle to enact legislation for the funds desperately needed by their direct service constituencies. For better or worse, would any other special interest in American society hesitate to build a campaign chest for such a potential cornucopia? In arguing in favor of using some of the projected federal surplus on behalf of children, CWLA Executive Director Shay Bilchik says, “We should jump at this chance to better serve and protect the nation’s most vulnerable children.” But neither Bilchik nor his colleagues in the Collaboration for Youth or the somnolent foundation world were astute enough to provide the National Assembly’s Raley with the kind of unrestricted financial support that would have enabled him to focus on the Younger Americans Act brass ring. The burdens of “lots of luck” fund-raising, staffing a demanding 26-member board made up of nonprofit CEOs plus 16 specialized committees composed of several hundred staffers from member agencies left scant time for Raley to do what he does best: public policy work. Contact: National Assembly (202) 347-2080, www.nassembly.org; NMHA (703) 684-7722, www.nmha.org; America’s Promise (703) 684-4500, www.americaspromise.org.