2016 News

Conference to focus on ‘12 Grand Challenges’ for America

National experts, advocates and leading academics will gather at Washington University in St. Louis on Sept. 14-16 as part of a policy conference designed to hammer out constructive solutions to pressing social issues facing the country and the next administration. 

The conference, “Social Innovation for America’s Renewal,” will tackle issues facing the presidential and other campaigns this fall.

The gathering at the Brown School of Social Work will focus on evidence-based policy ideas for 12 Grand Challenges — from mass incarceration to economic inequality to family violence — identified by the American Academy of Social Work & Social Welfare.

Together, these challenges represent a bold and strategic agenda for social change. They focus on improving individual and family well-being, strengthening the social fabric, and helping to create a more just society.

The conference, organized by the Center for Social Development, will be held in the Clark-Fox Forum in Hillman Hall. Speakers include the following:

  • Jared Bernstein, former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden and senior fellow the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities;
  • Mark H. Greenberg, acting assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Administration for Children and Families; and
  • Angelo McClain, CEO of the National Association of Social Workers.

Members of the media are welcome to attend the conference. Media contact: Neil Schoenherr, nschoenherr@wustl.edu, 314.935.5235.

Here are just a few of the nearly 50 tested policy recommendations from the Grand Challenges initiative that will be discussed at the conference.

Grand Challenge: Promote smart decarceration
Proposed: Remove Civic and Legal Exclusions
Should felons be allowed to vote in this fall’s election? That issue is being weighed in the courts in Virginia, an important battleground state, while nationwide, more than 40,000 laws revoke or restrict legal rights and privileges because of a criminal conviction, including voting and parental rights, housing assistance, student loans, employment, and professional licensure. We can align public policies and rehabilitative practices to ensure that people with criminal convictions have the greatest possible chance of success. When these exclusions do not directly advance public safety and well-being, they should be revoked or curtailed.

Grand Challenge: Reduce extreme economic inequality
Proposed: Expand the Earned Income Tax Credit
Economic inequality has been called a threat to national security. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has become the largest income-support policy for low-income households but does not cover all individuals and families in need. Reforms should include extending the program to individuals who do not claim dependent children, including noncustodial parents and low-income workers without children.

Grand Challenge: Achieve equal opportunity and justice
Proposed: Eliminate zero-tolerance policies in schools to address racial disciplinary disproportionality
African-American children and youth account for 18 percent of the U.S. public school population and there is no evidence that they engage in higher rates of misbehavior, yet they represent 48 percent of school suspensions, outpacing all other ethnic groups. “Zero-tolerance policies” and the resulting suspensions and expulsions lead to negative academic and social outcomes, increasing the probability of falling behind academically. We must develop policies and practice approaches that provide creative alternatives to zero-tolerance policies.

Grand Challenge: End homelessness
Expand access to housing subsidies, including Housing Choice Vouchers
Nearly 1.5 million Americans are homeless each year. The United States spends $50 billion annually on housing assistance for low-income households, but only one-quarter of eligible households receive this support. Government-funded rental vouchers such as Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) have proven to be a vital safety net for low-income Americans, but funding for low-income housing programs has declined by more than two-thirds since the 1970s. Providing HCVs to everyone who qualifies financially would cost $41 billion per year; this cost could be offset by reductions in tax breaks for affluent homeowners.

About Grand Challenges
The Grand Challenges for Social Work is a groundbreaking initiative to champion social progress powered by science. Led by the American Academy of Social Work & Social Welfare, it’s a call to action for all of us to work together to tackle our nation’s toughest social problems.

The initiative actively engages leaders from a wide range of disciplines and sectors, including technology, medicine, government, and business to achieve its ultimate goals of promoting individual and family well-being, a stronger social fabric, and a just society. To learn more, visit grandchallengesforsocialwork.org.