Tracy A. Henke, Acting Assistant Attorney General
Office of Justice Programs
Weed and Seed Application Kit and Training Workshop
March 22, 2005
Thank you very much, Nelson, for that kind introduction. Thank you also for bringing your expertise to the Community Capacity Development Office (CCDO) and the Weed and Seed strategy - a program that reflects the belief that with collaboration we can achieve even greater things.
I also thank President Bush and Attorney General Gonzales for the opportunity to be here and to serve as the Deputy Associate Attorney General for the Department of Justice as well as the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs.
It is a great privilege to share this session with Commissioner Henry Lamar, Jr. of the Internal Revenue Service's Wage and Investment Division. The Weed and Seed partnership with the IRS that we celebrate here today is helping cultivate the vision of economic development that must be part of every Weed and Seed strategy.
I'm pleased that U.S. Attorney Dave Nahmias, Mayor [Sharon] Franklin, Chief [Richard] Pennington, and Paul Howard [Fulton County District Attorney] were able to join us for the opening session. I know you have a great team working for you in Atlanta.
Before going further, I extend my sympathy to all of you in the Atlanta criminal justice system for the tragic loss of life last week in a Fulton County courtroom.
And, thanks to each and every one of you -- From the police officers who walk the beat and work with residents on neighborhood safety to the U.S. Attorneys and their staff who bring their talents to the program. And from the longtime activists who have dedicated their lives to community development and the site coordinators who are turning pain into gain.
You are building a movement based on partnership and collaboration. I am pleased to be part of the hope you are generating for our communities. Your work is important.
Even though the country is experiencing a 30-year crime low, we still have many challenges. Still today in America:
- We see too many young people who value gangs over classrooms and think that violence is an acceptable way to solve arguments.
- We see too many adults and young people who have heard about the drug treatment center three blocks away, but are afraid to pass the drug dealers on the corner.
- We see too many families who think that moving is their only option when the neighborhood declines.
Once again, we still we still have work to do.
The Office of Justice Programs established the Community Capacity Development Office, or CCDO. OJP's mission is "to provide federal leadership in developing the nation's capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice and assist victims."
Our charge is to build security, and one critical strategy for doing that is through developing partnerships for safer communities. But we will do that only with the partnership of "true participants." CCDO exists to support our partnerships with communities throughout this country.
You are those participants. You are the ones who are helping foster a climate of responsibility for individuals in every community throughout our great nation - urban and rural, east and west.
The Office of Justice Programs established CCDO not to be just another funding component of OJP, nor to take over any of our long-established grant programs. CCDO was established to help us expand our strategy of collaboration and to help us develop a community-driven approach in programs. CCDO was established to help us identify and work with true participants like all of you in this room.
This Weed and Seed training conference reflects the founding goals of CCDO: providing tools to leverage the federal seed money and discussing strategies to develop a climate of responsibility and a network of neighborhood partnerships in your communities.
That's a huge vision - Since almost five and one-half million persons live in 330 active Weed and Seed communities throughout the country. And in each of those communities, you are the ones who understand the local possibilities and the unique alliances.
You understand the challenges. You understand the solutions.
Take, for example, the Philadelphia Weed and Seed site, which began with undercover surveillance by law enforcement agencies to gather intelligence about drug dealers in the area. After the drug dealers were arrested, city services moved in to clean, seal, or demolish abandoned properties used for drug trafficking. And residents and community organizations joined in, helping with neighborhood cleanups, and working with police to launch crime prevention efforts.
Or, the site in Ogden, Utah, which had one of the highest concentrations of adult offenders on probation or parole in the state - nearly 12 percent of the entire population. Police and probation officers teamed up, helping law enforcement better supervise parolees and provide offenders with a better chance of reentry. A wife of one parolee called up to thank the team for keeping her husband from going to prison again.
The potential of federal/community partnerships has been obvious to communities all over the country. The number of applications we receive for the program is rising, while funding for all discretionary programs is essentially frozen. This requires us to make some tough choices.
We are doing our best to make the most out of the resources we have at the federal level. To do this, we have closely examined the program and made some important changes. Over the next few days, you will hear in detail about some of the Weed and Seed program changes.
You'll have lots of opportunities to discuss your questions in workshops throughout this conference. I encourage you to use the breakout sessions as a time to get the answers you need.
I will give you a few highlights now. We are adopting the following changes:
- First, beginning in 2006, we will not designate Continuation Groups A and B. All grants will be awarded at the end of the federal fiscal year (September 30, 2006).
- Second, we want to increase the likelihood that sites receiving Official Recognition status will also receive funding, which means that we will be adhering to the guidelines of the program and a competitive process.
- And, third, we also are revising the funding schedule so that you receive the bulk of funding during the middle of your OR status, recognizing that it takes time to fully implement your strategy - and understanding that once you have implemented the strategy, you will be able to leverage funds better and to become self sustaining.
We have outlined our policies in our Program Guidance for 2005, but I'd like to emphasize a few current policies:
- One, a site can receive only one Weed and Seed grant award per federal fiscal year.
- Two, for sites that obtained Official Recognition on or before May 31, 2001, fiscal year 2005 will be the final year of funding eligibility, regardless of the number of awards received.
- Three, CCDO will accept OR applications for new site designation only. Applications will not be accepted for expansion sites.
We also are revisiting our requirements on measuring sustainability. We're providing additional guidance and clarity on what we mean by sustainability. Consistent with the philosophy that Weed and Seed is a strategy -- not a grant program - and is designed to leverage funds, this year we will credit an additional point toward weighted criteria to Weed and Seed sites that identify other funding sources at five times the level of the CCDO core-funding contribution.
We recognize that crime is not limited to urban areas and that Weed and Seed is a national program. That is why competitive sites in rural or federally recognized American Indian/Alaskan Native tribal areas also will receive an additional point toward the weighted criteria.
As I mentioned, you will receive more details about our new policies as the conference progresses. But, in addition to giving you a preview, I wanted you to know that we, like you, also need to be innovative with our limited resources.
That brings me to innovations I'm excited to discuss with you - our partnerships on the federal level. We have the privilege today of celebrating a new partnership with the Internal Revenue Service. Together OJP and the IRS, with your collaboration, will be launching Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Centers in three pilot Weed and Seed sites.
I'd like to take a minute to recognize the site coordinators from these pilot sites that are helping make dreams a reality across the country:
- Roberto Frietz from Phoenix, Arizona,
- Karen Henry from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and
- Joanne Davis from North Carolina.
CCDO and the IRS are committed to replicating these model centers in 50 Weed and Seed sites by the 2006 tax year.
Through this partnership, VITA Centers will provide free tax services to Weed and Seed site residents with an annual income of $36,000 or less. That's an important figure, because 59 percent of families in Weed and Seed sites earn less than $36,000 annually. This income level almost exactly mirrors the requirement to be eligible to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) - Which means that as we expand this partnership, VITA Centers will help Weed and Seed families around the country receive millions of dollars in refunds through the Earned Income Tax Credit, as well as the Child Care Tax credit program.
That's millions of dollars that needy families are not receiving just because they aren't filing the forms, or aren't filing them properly.
Community volunteers will staff the VITA Centers, and the IRS will provide software, training and technical assistance. The IRS also will monitor the Centers to ensure quality services.
Some of you already may be working with VITA Centers in your sites. Your work is making a difference.
It made a difference last year in a Weed and Seed site in Biloxi, Mississippi. In a small-scale VITA effort, this site brought in volunteers to help about 20 families. Together, these families received tax refunds of approximately $110,000 - money they wouldn't have received without the VITA Center guidance.
And, it made a difference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Weed and Seed sites participate in the city-wide "Milwaukee Asset Building Coalition." In the last two years, this program has increased the federal Earned Income Tax Credit claimed by 46 percent and the amount of federal tax refunds received by 58 percent. This effort resulted in more than $11 million being returned to Milwaukee residents in 2004.
Here is the beauty of the program: This money was not the result of additional federal awards, and it did not come from a pot of funding provided at the expense of another program. It was money these residents had coming to them.
They just needed the information about their eligibility for the Earned Income Tax and Child Care Tax Credits, as well as free assistance in filling out the forms.
I'd like to tell you a story that a woman working with the Weed and Seed program shared with me. It's a story about her own family. It shows the amazing difference we can make when we come together on the federal level to establish VITA Centers in Weed and Seed sites. The woman's son and daughter-in-law had just graduated from school and together earned less than $36,000 last year. They were living near the poverty level and also had a new baby to support.
With assistance from a VITA Center in Baltimore County, they received a $7,000 tax refund - from the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Care Tax credit, along with a school-related deduction. The young couple now have their first fulltime jobs, and used their refund for a down payment on a house.
It's a remarkable story, and it wouldn't have happened without the VITA Center assistance. But, it's also a story that can take place for hundreds of families living below or near the poverty level. And Weed and Seed is a great program to help make it happen.
In fact, we are learning that Weed and Seed is a great program to carry out other important partnerships between federal agencies and to make lots of stories happen - from the OJP partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to improve safety for residents in public housing in cities, such as right here in Atlanta, to our new project with the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission to promote financial literacy and help individuals develop strategies for saving money.
Today we are signing a Memorandum of Understanding between two federal agencies. But our work together is both inspired by and depends upon your work together. You are the ones who will be breaking down barriers and redefining communities by the safety and services they provide.
And, that brings me to an important tenet of the Weed and Seed program - Sustainability.
The challenge of sustaining your programs may seem daunting, but you are the ones with the experience and skills to help them thrive.
First, each of you is a leader in promoting public safety. Through your work you are gaining respect and acceptance in the communities you serve - law enforcement, local boards of directors, community volunteers and, most of all, residents who look to you in times of need.
Second, you understand your communities. You know the traditions of those you serve. And you know how to develop everything from crime prevention campaigns to reentry services in culturally appropriate ways.
And, third, you have the opportunity to witness unique relationships among various local organizations - and you are the ones who can identify your best allies in helping institutionalize uncommon partnerships in the community.
In this opening session we are recognizing the collaboration between two federal agencies. But, today's announcement is about more than a prominent partnership between OJP and the IRS. It is about the commitment we all share to leveraging assets of your communities, making neighborhoods safer and strengthening families.
Your contribution to this partnership is vital. You are the ones who know and who are gaining the personal commitment of the people in your communities. And you must be the ones who join forces to turn collaborations on the federal level into realities that heal and strengthen our communities.As we sign the Memorandum of Understanding, I thank you for being true participants in this venture.