Why did the Cleveland Fed form a Community Advisory Council, and how will we use the information its members provide?
As appeared in the Cleveland Fed Digest's Ask the Expert on 11.27.2018
I have to tell a story. Immediately after our new Community Advisory Council (CAC) had met for the first time, I was getting into the elevator with several members, and one said, “It’s really cool: We all have different perspectives.” And I said, “That’s by design. We want those different perspectives.”
We formed the council to have an ongoing, systematic way to engage with and learn from key stakeholders who represent low- and moderate-income populations and communities in our District. The Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors has a CAC, and several Federal Reserve Banks have had success with different versions of community councils, too.
Our council’s members come to the table with different perspectives and expertise, which makes for very rich discussions. Just in the initial meeting, topics ranged from housing in Kentucky to collateral sanctions for people who’ve been incarcerated, or those punishments that come after one’s release from an institution including not being able to find employment. I think community development practitioners, including those of us in the Cleveland Fed’s Community Development Department, are in the business of opening up access, and access can mean lots of things—opportunities in the workforce and for education, for example. What the council’s discussion brought home is that we need to think more deeply about barriers. Many of them, because they are structural and longstanding, may be in our blind spot.
We plan for the CAC to meet twice a year, focusing on macroeconomic trends that impact low- and moderate-income communities such as changes in wages and employment opportunities. At these meetings, we also will take a deeper dive into specific topics. At the first meeting, the topic was debt and consumers’ ability to pay their bills. Our department also will share its plans for its direction to get council members’ input. Do our strategies make sense? Can they think of a better way of our achieving what we intend to do?
Low- and moderate-income people make up a significant portion of our population, and what happens to them has significant repercussions for our economy. People should know what’s going on with the underserved. If we can figure out how the economy is impacting lower-income and underserved people and what roadblocks they are encountering, then we may find ways to suggest to mitigate them. The goal is to incorporate more people into the regional economy more equitably. The community development function throughout the Federal Reserve System is responsible for getting insight and intelligence about the issues that are impacting disadvantaged populations and communities. This council is another very big and important tool to do this.
Mary Helen Petrus is an assistant vice president in the Cleveland Fed’s Community Development Department. She oversees the department’s outreach and public engagement activities such as meetings with stakeholders and public programming across the region the Bank serves.
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