Eight Boston organizations are receiving Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) for the first time or for new purposes as a result of the Office of Workforce Development’s decision last year to more explicitly focus federal dollars on the three E’s of workforce development: employment, education, and economic security.

The OWD’s re-focused grant allocation process, developed with public input last January, also resulted in larger grants awarded to fewer organizations.

“Mayor Walsh’s pledge to combat income inequality demands a serious dollar-commitment to those programs that can demonstrably catalyze economic mobility,” said Trinh Nguyen, director of the OWD. “Our obligation as a steward of federal funds is to ensure that our city’s most disadvantaged residents get the greatest economic boost for the dollar.”

Roca work crew
A Roca work crew cleans streets in East Boston. These work crews, which represent the first step in transitional employment for high-risk youth, are funded by a CDBG grant from the OWD.

The eight organizations receiving CDBG grant money for the first time or for new programs are the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC), Justice Resource Institute, New England Center for Arts and Technology (NECAT), Operation ABLE, Little Sisters of the Assumption, Roca, St. Francis House, and YMCA of Greater Boston.

These organizations account for over $410,000 of the nearly $1.9 million in CDBG public services grants the OWD dispensed for Fiscal Year 2016, which began last July and ends in June.

The city receives CDBG money every year from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, according to a need-based formula. The OWD manages that portion of the city’s funds (upwards of 15 percent) reserved for public services programming. Over four decades, these CDBG public service funds have been used to fund a wide variety of programs, including daycare, senior services, and after-school recreation. However, as funding has decreased, the OWD – formerly the Office of Jobs and Community Services – has increasingly prioritized those programs that can help move people from poverty to economic stability and success.

In its request for proposals last February, the OWD further sharpened its anti-poverty focus by seeking programs that could yield outcomes in employment, education, and economic security. The programs funded as a result of that competitive process included long-time recipients, prior recipients with newly updated workforce-focused programming, and the eight new recipient programs.

Many of the new recipient programs, which are estimated to serve 414 persons over FY 2016, tailor their services to particular populations. The Moving Ahead Program at St. Francis House, which works with people coming out of homelessness, couples its 14-week job preparedness classes with free breakfasts and lunches, housing, MBTA passes, and workplace clothing. The Family Prosperity Initiative of the JPNDC provides English classes, financial coaching, job training, and job placement services to Latino immigrant families via bicultural and bilingual instructors.

Other new CDBG recipients prepare participants for jobs in particular industries. NECAT’s culinary arts job training program prepares low-income workers for a field offering opportunities to advance from food preparers, to line supervisors, to head cooks. Project Hope, run by Little Sisters of the Assumption, is partnering with the Insurance Library Association to offer single mothers free trainings that can lead to state certification in the insurance industry.

In their applications, the organizations receiving new funds showed a demonstrable track record of success. Collectively, they recorded historical program graduation rates of 65 to 90 percent, job placement rates of 68 to 83 percent, and job retention rates of 68 to 92 percent.

As a result of the OWD’s sharpened focus, fewer organizations – 49, down from 63 last year – received CDBG grants, but in larger amounts.

Of those programs that did not receive funding, Midori Morikawa, the OWD’s deputy director of workforce and policy development, said, “These are wonderful programs run by great organizations, some of which we’ve funded for decades. It’s not easy to make these decisions. I wish we had more funding to provide.”

The OWD reserved the largest grant amounts for those programs that integrated employment, education, and economic security outcomes into long-term plans for Boston’s neediest residents.

Roca, Inc., one of the organizations that received $65,000 – the highest amount awarded – serves high-risk, court-involved young men. Over the course of a four-year program, participants progress through job and life skills training; transitional minimum wage employment; attendance-based wage increases; industry certification; job placement in culinary, property management, or custodial services; and follow-up coaching focused on job retention and wage advancement.

“The support of the [OWD] has been instrumental in ensuring that Roca can continue to…help these young men develop the skills necessary to get and keep jobs, stay out of jail, and create lasting and meaningful changes in their lives,” wrote Molly Baldwin, Roca’s founder and CEO.

The OWD’s sharpened CDBG grant process reflects a renewal of its core mission to help Bostonians fulfill their educational and employment aspirations. Since Mayor Walsh took office in 2014, the OWD has changed both its leadership and its name in order to place greater emphasis on workforce development.

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