2019 Ideas Challenge Finalists

The 2019 Ideas Challenge recognizes the most effective solutions on an array of issues, submitted by rising and innovative state and local policymakers from around the country. A panel of policy experts voted for the proposals that best improve Americans’ economic well-being and overall quality of life, and that make government work more effectively to meet communities’ needs, selecting these 15 finalists.

Winners will be announced at the NewDEAL's 9th Annual Leaders Conference next week, at 8:30 AM on Thursday, November 21. If you haven't purchased a ticket to join us for the conference, join us on our Facebook page on Thursday morning for a livestream of the announcement.

Category: Adapting to the Future of Work

with ideas to ensure everyone – including traditionally underserved populations – has access to good job opportunities, as well as security and stability for them and their families

Bob DuffFinalist: PTSD Coverage for First Responders

Senator Bob Duff, Norwalk, CT


The Problem

There is an epidemic of first responders committing suicide in this country. Additionally, when a peace officer is voluntarily committed for psychiatric help, their service weapon is taken away and they are not able to receive it back for six months - this prevents them from doing their job and earning a living and acts as an additional barrier to seeking help.

The Solution

This bill seeks to change the way that we deal with PTSD among them and remove the barriers to them seeking treatment. The bill provides police officers, parole officers and firefighters with certain workers' compensation benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by certain experiences they encounter during the "line of duty."

Eric LesserFinalist: Creating Portable Benefits

Senator Eric Lesser, Longmeadow, MA


The Problem

When people are employed as part-time workers or independent contractors, they are less likely to have access to traditional benefits and more likely to face financial and personal stress. American workers have traditionally relied upon their employers to provide the social guarantees that allow individuals and families to prosper, including health insurance, workers compensation, retirement plans, paid sick leave, life insurance, etc. However, as employers embrace the “gig economy” and move to hiring independent contractors and other non-traditional workers, benefits are no longer required or provided. Due to the instability that is inherent to so much of their work, non-traditional workers have a serious need for workplace benefits.

The Solution

Senator Lesser's bill establishes the Portable Benefits for Independent Workers Innovation Fund and competitive grant program, a statewide program that will encourage employers and organizations to find innovative ways to provide this growing independent workforce with access to many of the social insurance protections that are typically provided to workers through traditional full-time employment.

Troy SingletonFinalist: Accelerated Career Certification for the Unemployed/ Underemployed

Senator Troy Singleton, Moorestown, NJ


The Problem

There is an gap between labor and the skills needed to fill positions across various industries. According to McKinsey and Company, 40% of American employers say they cannot find people with the skills they need for entry-level jobs; 60% of American employers say applicants are not prepared for entry level jobs. This law also addresses getting unemployed and underemployed individuals back to work - in New Jersey, according to the US Department of Labor, approximately 9% of our workforce is underutilized, amounting to more than 418,000 workers.

The Solution

This law helps the unemployed/ underemployed to complete a career & technical education certificate in 12 months. The new law will direct the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development, in consultation with the Higher Education, county colleges, county vocational schools, and the Adult Education-High School Equivalency Office, to design and implement a pilot program through which an eligible adult may obtain a career and technical certificate on an accelerated schedule. The law will require the commissioner to ensure that the pilot program includes at least 20 “industry recognized” certificate programs, and that the maximum time to complete a program does not exceed 12 months. The law will also require that each course offered through the program integrates appropriate math, English, career and technical instruction.

Category: Expanding Access to Education

with opportunities at every level -- from early childhood to post-secondary -- to prepare students to make the most of their abilities

Elizabeth BrownFinalist: ACCESS (Affordable College & Career Education Starts with Saving)

Councilmember Elizabeth Brown, Columbus, OH


The Problem

In many cities across the country, the zip code you’re born in is the most predictive factor in the health, wealth, and life outcomes you can expect. This uneven playing field can manifests in your ability to attend college and lifetime earnings. Lack of access to post-secondary training decreases the likelihood of attaining a good-paying job and supporting a family. Even after receive advanced training, the debt incurred may keep prosperity out of reach. Young people from lower-income families have an especially difficult time saving for college, because the financial status of the family may not lend itself to supporting their education. The price of admission reinforces the barriers that young people face in exiting poverty.

The Solution

Columbus is piloting ACCESS, a program to address financial barriers that keep lower-income youth from achieving a post-secondary education. Through the Recreation and Parks Department’s Applications for Purpose, Pride, and Success (APPS) program, youth ages 14-24 receive a job along with leadership and professional development, financial education, and mentoring. Through the pilot eligible youth will also have access to an Individual Development Account (IDA) where up to $500 in savings will be matched 8:1 with a combination of City, private, and federal dollars, for a total of $4,500. Participants can use the funds for any eligible educational expense, including earning a certificate, to seek a four-year degree, or learn a trade.

Darrin CamilleriFinalist: Library in Every School Plan

House Democratic Whip Darrin Camilleri, Brownstown, MI


The Problem

Right now, Michigan is facing a literacy crisis. The MDE reported this week that around 55% of students entering the fourth grade are not reading at grade level.When Rep. Camilleri was a teacher in Detroit, he had seniors in high school that were reading at an elementary level, and he knew then we needed to make a change.

A lot of the problem comes down to students not having the tools they need to succeed. When the recession hit, many librarians were laid off and school library programs terminated, and school libraries and librarians across our state still haven’t recovered. Today, only 43% of Michigan schools have a school library, and he believes this is an issue of access and equity at the highest level.

The Solution

Michigan is facing a literacy crisis. The Library in Every School plan, a three-bill package that would require every school in Michigan to have library staffed by a certified media specialist, would expand literacy and improve outcomes statewide. While improving access to school libraries and certified librarians is just one piece of this puzzle, it’s a critical piece, because a strong foundation in literacy is the key to all types of academic success down the line.

Anthony DanielsFinalist: Alabama School of Cyber Technology & Engineering

House Minority Leader Anthony Daniels, Huntsville, AL


The Problem

With so many technological advances, the needs of the workforce are constantly changing. It is imperative that our student's education caters to those needs and students have the skills to thrive outside of the classroom. Many companies have to look outside of the state to fill high-level jobs in the field of engineering and cyber technology because that has not been the focus of the curriculum in Alabama. If we want to develop a workforce skilled at creating new technology with strong cyber networks that can’t be comprised, we must teach those skills and invest in the next generation of innovators from an early age.

The Solution

Alabama will open a new technology- driven magnet school, the Alabama School of Cyber Technology & Engineering, for gifted students grade 7-12 from all across the state to develop a young workforce skilled at creating innovative technology with strong cyber networks that can’t be compromised. The school will also assist teachers, administrators, & superintendents across the state in replicating the curriculum in schools all across the state so that all students will develop the skills that are in high demand to be competitive in the current workforce.

Category: Securing Our Communities and Our Planet

with ideas for states, cities and regions to address climate change

Laura CappsFinalist: Schools as Centers of Sustainability

School Board Member Laura Capps, Santa Barbara, CA


The Problem

As public institutions, our school facilities are generally not on the forefront of design innovation. With twenty-one schools, the district Capps represents is one of the biggest property owners in the region, yet completely reliant on fossil fuels. For example, not one of them is powered by solar energy and there is just one car charging station for the several thousand employees in the district. Given this context, made sustainability a priority in the district, by first spearheading a climate change resolution that passed and also pushing for a staff position solely devoted to making great strides in this area. Climate change disproportionately impacts future generations and our schools should lead the way in our climate crisis.

The Solution

Capps' idea is to create a sustainability position in our schools -- and promote this concept elsewhere -- so that we can catapult forward a sustainability agenda while saving several hundred thousand dollars, if not millions, for the education of kids. Districts across the country are now seeing savings of several hundred thousand dollars by shifting to renewable energy sources, conducting audits on energy and water use and employing innovative strategies. Making sustainability a priority in the form of this position, will foster a more comprehensive educational environment for students growing up in a climate crisis, directly showing them the tangible actions that can be taken.

Josh MaxwellFinalist: Sustainable Communities

County Commissioner-elect Josh Maxwell, Chester County, PA


The Problem

People in working-class communities make the biggest investments of their lives when buying homes or starting small businesses. But most people's credit is limited, so expensive sustainable building practices are not an option, and their community misses out on a clean energy infrastructure. At the same time, federal and state officials have left it it up to counties, cities, and towns to address climate change in the aggregate. This community-based initiative removes barriers to sustainable building practices in emerging communities by leveraging federal regulations for bank loan portfolios, thereby leading to increased property values for residents, increased local tax revenues for municipalities, and a sustainable future for all.

The Solution

Sustainable Communities is an investment mechanism that provides access to private capital for middle and low income households and small businesses for environmentally sustainable upgrades. Sustainable Communities brings together local government, a community bank or credit union, and a home or small-business owner to implement a sustainable infrastructure project (such as solar panels or geothermal heat). The individual benefits from government-backed credit at low interest rates, the bank meets federal regulations to maintain secure government-backed loans in its portfolio, and the community sees returns from the increased value of the sustainable project in property tax revenue. With the sustainable project in place, the property owner receives a return on their investment and decreased overhead from lower energy costs, and the entire community and region lower their use of fossil fuels.

Andria McClellanFinalist: Resilient Zoning Code for a Coastal Community

City Councilmember Andria McClellan, Norfolk, VA


The Problem

Norfolk, a community with 144 miles of coast line, home to the largest naval base in the world and one of the busiest seaports in the country, is experiencing sea level rise, sinking land and more intense precipitation events, a combination which requires us to actively address flooding. Because of climate change, we are now planning for 1.5’ of sea level rise by 2050, 3’ by 2080 and 4.5’ by 2100. Tidal flooding is now regularly inundating areas, even on sunny days, referred to now as “nuisance flooding.” Because of climate change and increased and more intense precipitation, “rain bombs” are now dumping inches of rain in a short period of time, creating chaos and flooding that damages our structures.

The Solution

"Recognizing that Norfolk needs to learn to “live with the water,” we updated our zoning code to encourage and require flood-resilient development:
• elevated building requirements (between 16” to 3’ above base flood elevation)
• a Coastal Resilience Overlay (limited parking and impervious pavement, additional landscaping and open space); Upland Resilience Overlay (reduction of resilience requirements allowed in exchange for placing conservation easements on higher-risk properties)
• a “Resilient Quotient,: a point-based system for new development to mitigate risk (e.g. impact resistant roof and windows, storm shutters), sustainable energy (e.g. wiring for solar panel or generator); and stormwater (holding water on site after precipitation)."

Category: Empowering Disadvantaged Populations

with policies that ensure people facing systemic obstacles have a fair shot to contribute and thrive

Chris CabaldonFinalist: West Sacramento On-Demand: Mobility for All

Mayor Christopher Cabaldon, West Sacramento, CA


The Problem

In recent years, transit ridership has declined while costs have risen and the bus simply hasn’t competed with the expediency of other modes. Mounting community feedback demanded more convenient transit options. Concurrently, residents in the City’s transit-oriented Riverfront remained reluctant to give up personal cars due to a lack of transit alternatives, resulting in parking demand challenges. West Sacramento was also concerned about impacts of limited mobility on a growing senior population, like social isolation.

The Solution

West Sacramento On-Demand is a first-of-its-kind microtransit service that fills the gap between uber and the traditional bus to serve all members of the community, including youth, seniors and the disabled at a low flat-rate. West Sacramento On-Demand brings convenience and a high quality user experience to the previously underserved or transit dependent, while preserving critical social functions of public transit by safeguarding accessibility across ages, incomes and abilities. Via’s state-of-the-art technology balances speed of service with optimized vehicle occupancies, using a smart algorithm to predict demand and pick up multiple passengers along the way. Using “virtual bus stops”, riders walk up to 500 feet to meet their vehicle, but curb-to-curb and wheelchair accessible service remains available for those who need it. By offering rides for just $3.50, or $1.75 for seniors and disabled riders, the service improves access to critical daily amenities.

Jose CisnerosFinalist: Fair Fees and Fines for Vulnerable Residents

City Treasurer José Cisneros, San Francisco, CA 


The Problem

Too often government programs and courts levy fines and fees on people, partly to generate revenue to balance public budgets. There is often an insidious unintended impact of this practice---to push people into poverty. These fines and fees can knock people down so hard they can’t get back up. Poor people and people of color are usually hit the hardest. These financial penalties can make government a driver of inequality, not an equalizer.

The Solution

San Francisco is the first city in the nation to launch a Financial Justice Project to assess and reform how fees and fines impact our city's most vulnerable residents. The Financial Justice Project was launched in November 2016. The Project is housed in the Office of the San Francisco Treasurer, the entity in charge of revenue collection for the City and County. Together the Project works with community organizations, advocates, city and county departments, and the courts to enact reforms that result in meaningful change for low-income San Franciscans.

Zach KleinFinalist: Helping Understand Barriers (HUB) Prosecutor Diversion Program

City Attorney Zach Klein, Columbus, OH 


The Problem

Many people commit non-violent crimes as a means of survival. Social determinants barriers, including unemployment and lack of food, may result in substance use, criminal activity, or other negative behaviors. These individuals often spend months to years cycling through the criminal justice system before they can or are able to make a change. Research supports we need to begin to view the criminal justice system through a public health lens to address recidivism. Our goal is to prevent crime through this front-end fulfillment of social services' needs.

The Solution

Our diversion program identifies the root causes of petty theft offenses then connects those accused to relevant community services. This upfront investment allows us to address an individual’s holistic needs with the goal of preventing future crime. We perform an internal review of the cases to determine eligibility for the program. In court, a trained community health worker from a third party provider administers a 36 question screening tool about social determinants barriers and provides linkage to resources to address needs. Resources can include anything from employment prospects, treatment, transportation, or food access. This confidential information is stored in a HIPAA compliant database. The community health worker keeps the defendant on the health worker’s caseload throughout the diversion process to assist with any outstanding issues. Upon successful completion of the program, our prosecutors ask the court to dismiss the criminal case and agree to having the case sealed.

Category: Rebuilding Community

by effectively and efficiently solving problems, building trust, and engaging
people in civic society

Will JawandoFinalist: The Law Enforcement Trust and Transparency Act (LETT Act)

County Councilmember Will Jawando, Montgomery County, MD


The Problem

Police-involved deaths are frequently in the national headlines. Where racial profiling and bias in policing is common, this is the worst possible outcome. In Montgomery Co., the impetus for the passage of the LETT Act was the June 11, 2018 shooting death of Robert White, an unarmed 41-year-old resident with a known history of mental health issues, at the hands of a county police officer. In a case where racial profiling and bias played a role, police attempted to stop Mr. White as he walked near his Silver Spring home, killing him in a parking lot during the confrontation. We need to create more trust and transparency in the aftermath of these incidents, not just for the rights of residents but for the safety of law enforcement officers.

The Solution

The LETT Act mandates independent investigations and a public report following any police-involved death. This will rebuild the trust lost between local law enforcement and the community -- a critical bridge to promote community policing, and reducing crime before it occurs. The LETT Act addresses rebuilds trust between police and the community by requiring new levels of transparency in a critical area: deadly force. Investigators from an independent law enforcement entity deliver their findings to the County State’s Attorney where if charges not be brought, a public report out will occur. Our residents deserve to know what happened in these cases, and we should embrace outside investigations to protect against the potential for bias.

Nirva LaFortuneFinalist: Transit Corridor Opportunity Program (TCOP)

City Councilmember Nirva LaFortune, Providence, RI


The Problem

Underutilized corridors, last-mile connections or access to reliable transportation, affordable housing production, employment opportunity, and a ready workforce is a challenge for many communities. These issues are interdependent yet approached individually. Therefore, we lack a comprehensive solution that can help mitigate the systemic issue.

The Solution

A program that incentivizes or allows inclusionary zoning for economic and housing development in transit corridors, promotes balanced and integrated walkable/bikeable communities that provides access to affordable housing, transportation, and develops, attracts and retains talent, reduce pollution and promote workforce stability and healthier lifestyle by: Promoting private and public partnerships to increase housing and economic development, Inclusionary Zoning for Small Business and housing, and maintain mix-income housing and development in focus areas supported by high level of transit service. TCOP would help reduce transportation cost for both employee and employer and improve communities economic and housing opportunities.

Libby SchaafFinalist: Mobile Mayor

Mayor Libby Schaaf, Oakland, CA


The Problem

Most residents do not know what is going on in the City, lack trust in their local government, and face systemic barriers to appropriate access to city services and resources.

The Solution

Mayor Schaaf believes all residents should have direct access to their Mayor and city services. So if you can’t get to City Hall, she will bring the City Hall to you through her “Mobile Mayor” initiative. Mobile Mayor is a pop-up, community engagement. As part of Mayor Schaaf’s Trustworthy & Responsive Government priority area, this is an opportunity for diverse Oaklanders to talk about anything directly with their Mayor and be linked to staff, resources and services in a one-on-one setting.


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