Rochester asked residents to decide how to reduce poverty. Here are the results.

Rosa was bubbling over with excitement. She’d just accepted $50,000 to launch a new childcare program unlike any other in Rochester, NY. After months of working with community members, local partners, and lots of data, Rosa’s community cast participatory budgeting (PB) votes on how to spend $200,000 of New York State government anti-poverty dollars in Rochester-Monroe county—and their votes spoke for themselves: Rosa’s community funded a child care cooperative for parents working night shifts, along with programs for food recovery, tiny houses, an emergency housing fund, and community service.

Rochester PB Winning Project

Rosa explained this first-of-its-kind program will “allow parents to go back to work, or continue working their shifts, with dependable childcare, not only during C shift, but also B shift. We’re going to have care for parents who just need a little assistance filling childcare gaps.” Providing childcare late into the evening and overnight will change lives in Rochester, especially for folks experiencing poverty.

And Rosa anticipates the impacts of this program will spread throughout the community: “not only are we doing this for the parents, we’re doing it for our workers, too.” This childcare program was one of five projects awarded funding during this year’s PB process in Rochester.

All five winning projects are rooted in relieving poverty and focused on equity.

Rochester PB is part of the Rochester-Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative (RMAPI) - an initiative housed under the United Way. Funds come from the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative, a statewide program supported by federal Community Services Block Grant dollars. RMAPI coordinates services and programs aimed at reducing poverty in the region to have a stronger collective impact.

This PB process was similar to others in many ways: community leadership guided the process with a steering committee and outreach focused on engaging underrepresented communities. The main difference in Rochester PB is that to get on the ballot, projects had to explicitly benefit people experiencing poverty or address poverty in some way.

Rocheter PB Results

The Next System Project spoke with Loriane Ngarambe, RMAPI’s Community Engagement Specialist, along with PBP’s Co-Executive Director Shari Davis and our Advisory Board member, Alex Kolokotronis.

Next System Podcast

Loriane first explains that whenever she talks about communities, or community engagement efforts: “It’s always that the people closest to the problem are closest to the solution.” She highlights the core of why PB can be such an effective tool to address community needs:

You’ve always had content experts, people who understand poverty and the issues that people are going through, because it’s the work that they do or, maybe, it’s what they studied. But context experts are those people who understand poverty because it’s literally their lives. They understand it through, and through, because it’s not just a nine-to-five thing for them, right?

Building on Rosa’s story above, Loriane emphasizes how PB allows for ideas like 24-hour daycare to emerge:

It’s just like, ‘Wait, why isn’t that something that happens more often?’ You have A, B, and C-shift jobs, but when you think of daycare, it’s usually for people who are working A-shift. But then there’s all these jobs that are available, and people, especially single mothers, aren’t able to take advantage of them, because they don’t have something like 24-hour daycare, where they can be secure on where they’re leaving their child.

It’s things like that, that make the PB process make sense because they’re able to bring ideas and propose solutions that a content expert may not think about, because their understanding to the problem is limited to their experience.

Scoping Toolkit

Take the first step to bring PB to your community

Does your community have an anti-poverty initiative, or access to funds like the New York Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative or federal Community Service Block Grants?

Could PB make how those funds are spent more innovative, responsive, and equitable?

Download our Scoping Toolkit, and talk to us about how to make this happen!

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