Innovations in American Government Awards Announces 2020 Winner and Finalists

The Innovations in American Government Awards is the nation's preeminent program devoted to recognizing and promoting excellence and creativity in the public sector

The Ash Center’s Innovations in American Government Awards, established in 1985, announced the winner and finalists for its 2020 award cycle, which specifically sought exemplary programs working to create economic opportunity for all in their communities.  

Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), City University of New York (Winner) 

Recognizing that due to a variety of stressors and responsibilities, many of its students were not able to complete their associate degrees in a timely manner, the City University of New York established the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs in 2007 to provide additional academic, social, and financial support to ensure that at least 50 percent of its students graduate within three years. Services include comprehensive and personalized advising, career counseling, tutoring, waivers for tuition and mandatory fees, public transportation passes, and additional financial assistance to defray the cost of textbooks. ASAP also offers special class-scheduling options to ensure that students get the classes they need, are in classes with other ASAP students, and attend classes in blocks of time that accommodate their work schedules. As students approach graduation, they receive special supports to help them transfer to four-year colleges or transition into the workforce, depending on their goals. An independent study in 2010 showed that ASAP students graduate at more than double the rate of their peers. 

BenePhilly (Finalist) 

Many Philadelphians may be eligible for critical benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families but do not receive assistance because of hurdles they face in the application processes. In response, the Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment in Philadelphia launched BenePhilly in 2014, which works to enroll eligible Philadelphians in over 20 public benefit programs. Through the anti-poverty program, trained counselors assist with completing forms, organizing key documents, and tracking the status of applications. The program operates out of municipal offices, a mobile unit, and multiple community-based agencies across the city. By providing in-person and over-the-phone screenings, counselors process between 5,000 and 6,000 benefit applications a year.  

Massachusetts Pathways to Economic Advancement Project (Finalist) 

To support limited English speakers in finding gainful employment, as well as making the successful transition to continuing and higher education, a partnership of service provides including the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; Jewish Vocational Service (JVS Boston); and Social Finance, a Boston-based nonprofit; came together to create the Massachusetts Pathways to Economic Advancement Project to help provide additional workforce development services. Specifically, the project will help match employers with potential employees, and employees with the skills employers need. The project is the first Pay for Success (PFS) initiative in the United States to focus exclusively on workforce development. A PFS is a type of public-private partnership in which private funders are repaid by the government only if the social service provider achieves certain outcomes. 

Vocational English language classes, integrated with job search assistance and coaching, assist participants in making successful transitions to employment, higher-wage jobs, and higher education. Since launching in 2016 with JVS Boston helping to implement the project, Pathways has moved over 1,000 participants into new or better jobs, increasing annual earnings and filling key employer vacancies. 

Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities Business Relations Program (Finalist) 

In 2019, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the proportion of people with disabilities in the workforce was about one-third that of people without disabilities. A longstanding disparity, in 2013, Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD)—the state of Ohio’s vocational rehabilitation agency—established a business relations program to work throughout the state to raise awareness of the agency and its mission to work with employer partners to promote and support the hiring of individuals with disabilities. By investing in services to business to increase access to in-demand jobs and support to promote a more inclusive workplace, OOD is removing barriers to employment for Ohioans with disabilities. 

Through OOD's network of employer partners, business relations specialists identify job opportunities that match job-seekers' skill sets and experience, and also provide services and resources that promote an inclusive and diverse work environment.