Since HOPE’s inception in the mid-nineties, the organization has actively engaged public and private leaders to increase investment in underserved places. For example, in the early 2000s, HOPE successfully led efforts to make the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program more accessible to Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) by securing several key rulings from the Internal Revenue Service. As a result, CDFIs like HOPE accessed billions of dollars through the NMTC program nationwide that were in turn invested in businesses and community facilities in high-poverty areas. HOPE also led efforts to expand the Small Business Administration Community Advantage Program to non-depository CDFIs. The policy change broadened participation in the program to small business lenders that were most likely to lend to underserved entrepreneurs and in underserved locations. In each instance, HOPE relied on rigorous analysis and on its on-the-ground experience to inform the policy debate.
In 2006, HOPE formalized its policy analysis capacity through the creation of the Mississippi Economic Policy Center (MEPC). Specifically, MEPC was created to provide analytical support to the overall advocacy effort of ensuring that the state’s response to Hurricane Katrina was inclusive and equitable. Given HOPE’s track record, nonprofit policy leaders in Mississippi selected HOPE as the home for MEPC. HOPE and the Mississippi Center for Justice worked together to secure initial funding for the project and an invitation to join the State Fiscal Analysis Initiative (SFAI), now called the State Priorities Partnership (SPP), managed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
MEPC’s invitation into the SFAI network proved to be critical to its growth. Through the network, MEPC gained valuable technical assistance to support its analytical product development, communications and fundraising activities. The network also provided a peer group of colleagues that shared lessons learned in state-level policy debates from around the country.
One of MEPC’s early hurricane recovery victories included working side-by-side with HOPE’s community development team to conduct an analysis that illustrated how the proposed homeowner assistance grant program would limit the participation of low-income families that lost their homes to Katrina. The analysis supported advocacy efforts that were successful in making the program a more accessible solution for a much wider group of homeowners than originally intended. MEPC analysts also drafted the affordable housing section of the report submitted by the Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding, and Renewal.
The report contributions paved the way for HOPE-led policy efforts to create a financial counseling program, funded with federal recovery dollars that would target low- and moderate-income Mississippians who needed to reconstruct homes that had been lost during Katrina. Once implemented, case workers within the program worked to identify every public and private resource available and developed a prudent plan to stretch the dollars as far as possible. Under HOPE’s leadership, the program assisted over 10,000 families with financial counseling, resulting in over $600 million directed toward the rebuilding of homes on the MS Gulf Coast.
Since then, the policy work of HOPE has evolved at both the state and federal levels. MEPC team members have been called upon to testify before the tax writing, banking and financial services, insurance, and public health committees in both chambers of the Mississippi Legislature. MEPC’s analysis has also been front and center in debates around unemployment insurance modernization, Medicaid expansion and high-cost lending. In 2015, its analysis and communications were instrumental in the warding off of $1.6 billion in proposed tax cuts that would have devastated the state’s ability to invest in education, health care and other important public structures.
At the federal level, HOPE successfully led efforts to boost the position of CDFIs within the federal response to the economic crisis during the Great Recession. As a result, CDFIs were able to access low-cost funds through the Temporary Asset Relief Program (TARP) to direct resources to the most impoverished communities in America. In recent years, HOPE has also been invited to testify before the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, federal banking regulators and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Throughout all of HOPE’s policy work – whether through MEPC or through its broader lending and community development competencies – a common thread emerges. High-quality analysis buttressed by sound data that is grounded in the practical experience of working with individuals and communities makes the most compelling case for change. The creation of the Hope Policy Institute recognizes the importance of public policy in supporting the attainment of HOPE’s mission by institutionalizing the organization’s policy advocacy approach that has been so successful over the last 20 years in creating opportunity for all.