Martha O’Bryan Center and Tennessee Alliance for Economic Mobility (TAEM) submitted today a $25 million application for a Tennessee Opportunity Pilot grant, a new program for reimagining how the state supports families on the road from poverty to economic advancement. Seven applicants will be selected this spring to implement innovative approaches for defeating poverty, using Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funds from the Department of Human Services. Martha O’Bryan Center is the lead agency for the TAEM applicant group of service providers, a consortium of 30 Middle Tennessee agencies spanning Davidson, Dickson, Maury, Montgomery, Rutherford, Wilson and Sumner counties.
The application culminates an intensive 90 day planning period, during which staff at the participating nonprofits worked alongside clients whose lived experiences with poverty informed the innovative strategy for greater economic mobility in Tennessee. Martha O’Bryan Center CEO Marsha Edwards said of the planning process: “We have appreciated the opportunity to work with 30 partners across 7 counties, all of whom have deep belief in the American dream for moving ahead economically. This proposal eliminates the benefits cliff and allows families to continue to build momentum in their careers for the benefit of their children and their communities.”
One focus of the TAEM application is the “benefits cliff” –a broken piece of the public support system whereby earning more money leaves low income families worse off financially. This paradox is due to steep drops in benefits that occur upon modest pay increases, thus de-incentivizing earning more and advancing in a career. TAEM’s innovation to fix the benefits cliff: a transitional benefit, or temporary budget relief in the form of fresh food, housing payments or child care, provided while a family’s income progresses past the benefits cliff, and beyond the need for assistance. Addressing the benefits cliff is essential for families to reach self-sufficiency and realize thriving careers.
Another key part of the application’s strategy is family centered coaching, whereby participant families build goals for every member of the family with the support of a dedicated coach. The family then drives the planning and progress-tracking towards those goals with a tailored team of experts. The model is based in part on Martha O’Bryan Center’s Family Success Network, launched in 2020 and where over 200 families have since accomplished 718 goals towards education and employment advancement.
TAEM’s strategy also includes wrap-around supports for families (counseling, education supports and nutritional support) as well as employment training and pathways that are aligned with gaps in the Middle Tennessee labor market. The application’s stated goals for participating families in Middle Tennessee are increased wages, stronger parenting skills, better health outcomes and expanded social networks among families.