Martha O’Bryan Center, Lead Organization for New Collaborative Tennessee Alliance for Economic Mobility (TAEM), Awarded $25M to Improve Families’ Economic Mobility and Wellbeing in Middle Tennessee Alliance Will Innovate Across Seven Counties to Defeat Poverty Using TANF Funds
The Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) has selected the Martha O’Bryan Center and the Tennessee Alliance for Economic Mobility (TAEM), a public-private partnership comprised of 32 organizations, to receive a $25 million Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Initiative Implementation Grant to reimagine how the state supports families in moving out of poverty and into opportunity. Seven applicants from across Tennessee were selected by TDHS and the Families First Community Advisory Board to demonstrate a new vision for the Tennessee Safety Net that could be scaled statewide and ultimately become a model for the nation. The grants are funded by the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Martha O’Bryan Center will serve as the backbone organization for TAEM, a partnership that includes community-based organizations, faith-based institutions, government agencies, political subdivisions, economic development organizations, and community and technical colleges in Davidson, Dickson, Maury, Montgomery, Rutherford, Wilson and Sumner counties.
One of TAEM’s approaches is designed to mitigate the effects of the “benefits cliff”–a broken piece of the public support system that leaves low-income families worse off financially when they increase their income and thus de-incentivizes caregivers from pursuing increased earnings, education, and opportunity. As families increase their income, they abruptly lose benefits, and the value of their increased income is less than the value of the lost benefit(s). Marsha Edwards, Martha O’Bryan Center’s CEO, shared, “We are thrilled to work with 32 partners across 7 counties, all of whom have a deep belief in the American dream for moving ahead economically. This initiative eliminates the benefits cliff and allows families to build forward momentum for their children and their communities.”
Elizabeth Adewale, a caregiver from Clarksville and member of the TAEM steering committee, explained the benefits cliff from her own experience: “My food stamp benefits were abruptly cut off with no warning within a month of getting a job and going back to work. My benefits were discontinued because my gross income was $4 over the limit for a 2-person household.” Adewale reported that moving to a lower paying job “enabled me to keep health care benefits (TennCare) for my son that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford.” She explained, “I lost everything over $4.” According to Adewale, “Families are making the most fiscally responsible decision for their families based on the choices available to them, but in doing so, they remain trapped.”
TAEM’s innovation to fix the benefits cliff is a transitional benefit which will be paid directly to food, childcare, housing, and health providers to increase families’ access to fresh food, childcare, housing, and health care when a family’s net resources decrease due to the benefits cliff. Addressing the benefits cliff is essential for families to their economic status and wellbeing. Another key part of TAEM’s strategy is family-centered coaching, whereby participant families define goals for every member of the family and receive consistent support from their dedicated coach to achieve those goals. Families drive the goal setting and progress tracking processes and are surrounded by a tailored team of experts.
The model is based in part on Martha O’Bryan Center’s Family Success Network, which was launched in 2020 and has since supported over 200 families in accomplishing 718 education and employment advancement goals. TAEM’s approach also includes financial counseling, wrap-around support navigation, and access to education and employment training that align with high-wage, high-demand career pathways in the Middle Tennessee labor market.
TAEM’s pilot addresses three of TDHS’ universal outcomes, seeking to increase families’ economic status and stability, increase their family engagement (expanding their networks and connections to other families), and decrease their psychological distress (improved health and wellbeing).
About Martha O’Bryan Center Martha O’Bryan Center is an anti-poverty non-profit organization with longstanding history and deep community roots, grounded in tradition and strengthened by innovation. Founded in 1894 when Miss O’Bryan organized the Gleaners Society at First Presbyterian Church to support impoverished North Nashville residents, Martha O’Bryan Center has operated from the heart of Cayce Place – Nashville’s largest public housing community – since 1948. This is where we continue in service, partnering with families to open doors of hope and possibility, create a culture of attainment, and positively shape future generations. Martha O’Bryan Center serves over 15,000 people annually with its programs in early learning, parent empowerment, youth development, adult education, employment coaching, crisis counseling and public charter schools East End Prep and Explore! Community School.
About the Tennessee Alliance for Economic Mobility The Tennessee Alliance for Economic Mobility (TAEM) is a public-private partnership compromised of 32 organizations that has developed an innovative approach to transform Tennessee’s safety net and ultimately improve low-income families’ economic mobility and wellbeing. The 32 partners include the following community-based organizations, faith-based institutions, government agencies, political subdivisions, economic development organizations, and community and technical colleges in seven Middle Tennessee counties (Davidson, Dickson, Maury, Montgomery, Rutherford, Sumner, and Wilson): A Step Ahead Foundation of Middle Tennessee, Inc., Big Brothers Big Sisters of Clarksville, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee, Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Clarksville Housing Authority, Dickson County Help Center, EDSI Educational Data Systems, Inc., Forward Sumner, The Family Center, Greenhouse Ministries, Manna Café Ministries, Martha O’Bryan Center, Metro Action Commission, Metro Development and Housing Agency, Motlow State Community College, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, Nashville State Community College, Nashville State Community College – Clarksville Campus, Nashville State Community College – Dickson Campus, Nurture the Next, Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee, Tennessee College of Applied Technology – Clarksville Campus, Tennessee College of Applied Technology – Dickson Campus, Tennessee College of Applied Technology – Hohenwald-Maury County Campus, Tennessee College of Applied Technology – Nashville Campus, Tennessee College of Applied Technology – Portland Campus, Tennessee College of Applied Technology – Hartsville-Wilson County Campus, Volunteer State Community College, United Way of Greater Nashville, The Well Outreach, Wilson Works, and Workforce Essentials, Inc.
About the Tennessee Department of Human Services The Tennessee Department of Human Services (TDHS) views its programs and services as instruments for creating positive change in the lives of Tennesseans. Each of the Department’s customer-facing divisions administers supports that empower residents to reach their potential as self-sufficient contributors to Tennessee’s economy and communities. TDHS is committed to ensuring its investments in communities statewide are supported with the resources they need to successfully move families from crisis to and through career pathways. Through the Tennessee Opportunity Pilot Initiative, Tennessee will be able to demonstrate with measurable data those strategies that are most effective at reducing dependency and growing the capacity of our most vulnerable citizens.