Work To Break the Cycle

2023 Ideas Challenge Entry

Shelby County, TN Mayor Lee Harris’s “Work to Break the Cycle” is a job website featuring updated Shelby County Government positions for individuals with arrest or conviction records. It complements the 2020 Ban the Box Ordinance, which removed questions about criminal history from job applications. This initiative has facilitated numerous opportunities for previously incarcerated individuals to join the county government workforce, with over 100 employment offers extended. By offering tailored jobs, Harris aims to reduce recidivism rates, as employment cuts reoffending chances by 20%. This dedicated job site enhances application confidence, promotes local economic engagement, and reduces incarceration expenses, aligning with the goal of reintegrating justice-impacted individuals into the community.


Harris believes each hire is a marker of success. Since launching in May 2023, the program has resulted in employment offers to over 100 individuals so far, with plans to partner with the local Chamber of Commerce to provide more job opportunities. These jobs not only change their situation, but it has a ripple impact for their families and the Shelby County Community as a whole.

Home Act/Rent Stabilization

2023 Ideas Challenge Entry

Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando authored the Housing Opportunity, Mobility, and Equity (HOME) Act that would protect tenants through rent stabilization, provide predictable housing costs, and help them stay in their homes over time, just like homeowners. The County Council approved renter regulations that balance the need to protect tenants with providing landlords with economic tools to maintain and build housing. Montgomery County is the first county in Maryland to establish permanent rent stabilization at a maximum cap of 6%.

The compromise bill that passed, Rent Stabilization, prevents rent gouging, reduces displacement, and creates cost predictability for tenants and landlords by:

 – Setting an annual rental increase allowance of CPI-U plus three percent, capped at a maximum of six percent;

 – Establish guidelines for fees and fee increases for regulated rental units;

 – Establishing provisions for the landlord to increase the rent above the cap and apply a surcharge for renovations; and

 – Defining a process for landlords to bank unused rental increase allowances.


The bill is already having an impact, sending a clear message that the county cares for renters and believes they should have sustainable housing with predictable costs. 

As the bill goes into effect, the county will monitor its implementation to ensure that it balances the need to protect tenants with providing landlords with economic tools to maintain and build housing. A protection or right is also only as good as it is known by the public, particularly those most impacted, and the next steps will include raising awareness among tenants and landlords about their rights and responsibilities.

The Maryland Fair Chance in Housing Act 2024

2023 Ideas Challenge Entry

Maryland Delegate Adrian Boafo introduced a “Ban the Box” policy for rental applications to prohibit discrimination against those with a criminal history from applying. Criminal history inquiries will be limited to the past three years, enabling individuals with older criminal histories to have a fair chance at securing housing, with an exception for individuals on the sex offender registry. Additionally, this bill requires housing providers to provide a physical disclosure stating the reasons for denying an applicant, fostering a more open and accountable housing system. Further, this bill mandates that all housing providers restrict their application fees to cover only the actual cost of the screening process.


Housing continues to be one of the most significant barriers for those transitioning out of prison. This bill will help send a message by helping returning citizens access essential housing.

Free School Meals for Eligible Kids

2023 Ideas Challenge Entry

Little Rock State Senator Clarke Tucker’s bill to offer free school meals for low-income students was signed into law. The USDA provides income eligibility guidelines for public school students throughout the United States to qualify for either free or reduced-price school meals. Tucker’s Act 656 eliminates the cost of all school meals for students who come from families that qualify for reduced-priced meals. This will have a huge impact on families who rely on school meals for their kids to eat and who need their dollars to stretch a little further.

The law creates a tiered system of funding. The Arkansas Department of Education will utilize any available federal funds to pay for these meals, and then the state will cover any remaining costs (including dedicated funding from medical marijuana tax revenue).


Students who qualify for reduced-priced meals come from families with limited means and are still required to make some payment to receive their school meals. The price of those families’ school meals, even when reduced, can add up and even create debt. As part of the legislation, the state auditing entity will audit the Arkansas Department of Education Child Nutrition Unit and provide a report to the Senate and House Committees on Education every year to monitor the program, ensure that every eligible child in Arkansas is receiving these meals, and help the legislature budget appropriately.

New Requirements for Flood Resilient Infrastructure Investments

2023 Ideas Challenge Entry

Florida Representative Christine Hunschofsky’s Sea Level Rise Impact Projection legislation requires that public entities using state funding conduct sea level rise studies for any construction projects in areas threatened by sea level rise. This policy aims to give communities a better understanding of how flooding affects them and will empower them to take appropriate steps to prepare. The policy will lead to smart investments, saving communities money down the line and protecting residents and communities for future generations.


Hunschofsky hopes this program will help raise awareness of the threat of sea level rise in vulnerable communities prone to flooding and sea level rise. Ultimately, the program aims to incentivize more investments in infrastructure planning and to build more resilient communities to flooding and sea level rise.

Community Co-Design

2023 Ideas Challenge Entry

The City of Rochester’s Mayor Kim Norton has taken steps to ensure the authentic and meaningful use of community engagement to drive decision-making at the policy, program, and community design levels. Involving people directly impacted by decisions from the start and utilizing their experiences, ideas, and input alongside the expertise of professionals helps optimize the city’s development. 

Rochester used the co-design methodology on issues such as housing, workforce, sustainability, and street design. The program is bringing together community members and industry professionals to address cultural, economic, and other barriers to create an equitable, just, and sustainable city. Norton aims to ensure the city takes action with people and not to them as the city grows and changes in size and demographics.


The program has resulted in more diverse representation on committees and community boards. Including: local artists working on street design in the downtown redevelopment effort, secured a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies focused on Equity in the Built Environment, which helped to diversify the city’s construction and trades, and in their sustainability and resiliency planning. Additionally, the city hopes to see growing diversity at their community events and are pleased to see Mayor Norton invited to many cultural events.

Paid Family and Medical Leave Policy for Maine

2023 Ideas Challenge Entry

The Guaranteed Paid Family Leave plan, sponsored by Maine Representative Kristen Cloutier, will provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave per year to all eligible employees in the private and public sector. The plan permits employees to take leave to care for any individual with whom they have a significant personal bond that is or is like a family relationship regardless of biological or legal relationship. Employees can take paid leave immediately after starting employment.

Paid family and medical leave will help Maine workers, particularly working women, meet their personal and family health care needs, while also fulfilling work responsibilities. To pay for this program while keeping track of who gets helped, the state will impose a 1% contribution rate, split evenly between the employer and employee.


The state of Maine will keep track of how the program is affecting businesses and whether they are adapting well to implementation of the program over time. Additionally, Cloutier built in strong accountability provisions to monitor the sustainability of the fund and allows for the contribution rates to be adjusted as necessary.

Tax Deduction for Union Dues

2023 Ideas Challenge Entry

Maryland State Delegate Jazz Lewis pushed for a tax deduction to taxpayers on any union dues that they might pay. This was a deduction that was provided before the Trump administration’s passed tax reform bill stripped this reduction out of the code.


 Success will be measured in the amount of money that this puts back into the pockets of working families. The State of Maryland will see the results in the next tax year as they start to look at the number of people that take advantage of this deduction and the amount union members deduct.

Peake Early Childhood Center / Virginia Peninsula Community College Center of Excellence

 2023 Ideas Challenge Entry

Newport News Mayor Phillip Jones led the Council adoption of the city’s 2020-2025 Strategic Plan with the objective of ensuring that children enter school ready to learn and be successful. A strategy to support this objective is to increase the availability of and strengthen early education in pre-kindergarten programs, particularly for low-income children. To fulfill this strategy, the city is partnering with the Peake Childhood Center to develop and operate a fully accredited and licensed early childhood center. The joint facility in partnership with PEAKE and Virginia Peninsula Community College (VPCC), will provide a sliding scale tuition for up to 200 youth, from infant to 4 years old. Additionally, VPCC will train the next generation of childcare professionals through its onsite training program.

 Newport News also allocated over 20% of its ARPA funding to establish a new Early Childhood Education Center. This center will ensure that pre-kindergarten programs are universally available — particularly for low-income families — increasing options for our working families who need safe places for their children to learn and grow and empowering parents to become actively involved in their child’s learning and also remain in the workforce.



The Peake Early Childhood Center will ensure that families, who struggle financially, have access to a center that addresses the early educational needs of their children and supports the needs of the family. Data reveals how important high-quality and affordable early learning and childcare are for the economy. The availability of early education programs attracts home buyers and increases property values by $13 dollars for every dollar invested. Also, a lack of childcare costs businesses $4.4 billion annually because parents/guardians must be absent from work to take care of their children.

Georgia Senator Elena Parent Makes Dual Enrollment Programs Affordable

Georgia Senator Elena Parent is working with her colleagues across the aisle to identify cost-efficient ways to grow the state’s dual enrollment programs, which enrolled nearly 49,000 Georgia high school students last school year. She hopes to enhance the impact of her most recent legislative achievement, SB 86, which grants students greater flexibility in utilizing grant funds and gathers crucial data on the transition of students into the workforce. “That way we can make decisions that are based on the use of the dollars we can use to further the program,” Parent added.