Early lessons on economic resilience from nine Texas communities
July 29, 2020
Not long after we launched Advance Together, our world was plunged into a pandemic that has impacted every aspect of our lives. This unanticipated disruption expanded with the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed. Promoting community resilience took on new urgency, and the need for collaborative leadership became even more critical. Advance Together brings community partners together to strengthen collaboration. Through our work with local partnerships in nine Texas communities, we were positioned to support our grantees’ response.
At its core, Advance Together is about addressing financial and racial inequities that present obstacles to economic mobility, resilience and recovery from disruption. The challenge of our current situation presented a real-time test of what resilience looks like. Our grantees were already deeply engaged in local issues impacting education and workforce readiness. They quickly adapted their focus to address immediate needs in their communities to get through the disruption.
During recent meetings, our grantees have discussed their experiences with the crisis. While we still have much to learn about what resilience means and how communities can promote it, we are sharing three early lessons to help others learn from us as we go.
Communities of color are disproportionately hurt in times of crisis.
People of color, who are disproportionately low- and moderate-income and are overrepresented as essential workers, were hit especially hard by the COVID crisis. Our grantees were already addressing racial equity issues through their programming and community engagement. In response to current events, they reassessed their work and agreed that this priority is more important than ever to ensure an equitable recovery.
In addition to immediate relief work to help their communities (described in more detail below), some grantees are investing in their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) capacities. In West Central Texas, the Big Country Manufacturing Alliance recognized they lacked representation from communities of color, so they began adding new team members to ensure their perspectives are included as they move forward. The United Way for Greater Austin, lead partner of the Family Pathways 2-Gen Coalition, created an internal DEI committee over a year ago. The committee works to design strategies to meet DEI goals and intentionally build habits among staff for greater equity and inclusion, as described in a recent reflection piece on the committee’s work.
Advance Together recognizes that people of color face structural barriers that limit their opportunities to get ahead and to build economic resilience. The killing of George Floyd has only illuminated more clearly issues that have long existed in our country. Our program goals reflect the Dallas Fed's commitment to breaking down barriers and building an inclusive economy where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
The digital divide is a barrier to economic resilience.
With shutdowns of schools and workplaces, the internet became a vital tool for people to continue their education and jobs. But digital access has long been a challenge across Texas. No Limits, No Excuses, based in the Texas Panhandle, noted that many of their families lack reliable internet access or the necessary devices to use it, making it very difficult for children to complete schoolwork and for adults to work from home. In Midland, a community partner with Educate Midland & Education Partnership of the Permian Basin reported that, while area school districts provided laptops to all students, 40–50 percent of students and families have trouble with remote learning due to issues with connectivity and limited ability to work in a digital environment.
Our grantees are creating solutions. Dual Generation San Antonio put together resources to share with the community, including ways to access free devices, hotspots and Wi-Fi. Internet access is available outside buses and in parks where social distancing can be maintained. Deep East Texas College and Career Alliance is purchasing Wi-Fi devices for students. RGV FOCUS in the Rio Grande Valley is collaborating on a regional strategy and is in talks with the Texas Workforce Commission to prioritize digital access and develop grant opportunities.
The digital divide emerged as a primary barrier for Texas communities. Each grantee mentioned it as a challenge, and Advance Together has been working on support for this specific problem, drawing on the Dallas Fed's work on digital inclusion. Solving this issue can help communities strengthen their resilience.
Economic resilience requires flexibility and responsiveness.
Through the current disruption, our grantees are overcoming challenges by using flexibility and responsiveness to meet their goals. This innovation is emerging as a core component of economic resilience.
United Way of Denton County, part of the Denton County Workforce Success Leadership Team, set up a unified funding application for area nonprofits to access Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds and other assistance. Local funders can access their submissions and determine which organizations to support. This reduces the burden on nonprofits and allows for more flexible and responsive funding during the crisis.
In Bell County, Reaching Income Stability with Education identified community needs and brought partners together to quickly raise relief funds to support interventions such as utility forgiveness and housing assistance. Deep East Texas College and Career Alliance began texting students through school-approved software and apps, rather than relying on email, and found more success staying in touch.
Advance Together is working toward our ultimate goal that all Texas residents can achieve economic mobility and resilience. We will continue to support our grantees as they lead recovery efforts in their communities. We are heartened by the responses they have implemented so far toward a more inclusive economy. As we move forward, we will update our network on future lessons learned.
Molly Hubbert Doyle
Hubbert Doyle is a community development advisor at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
The views expressed here are those of the author and should not be attributed to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas or the Federal Reserve System. The information provided does not constitute an endorsement of any organization or program.