Category Archives: Policy and Advocacy

General thought pieces, book announcements

Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) Challenge

Circles USA invites your participation in our non-partisan Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) Challenge!

COMMIT – Complete one (or more!) of these GOTV activities.

  • Help your friends register to vote. 
  • Educate your friends about early voting with polling locations and/or mail-in voting with mail-in locations.
  • Dedicate your Circles weekly virtual meeting to reviewing a sample ballot.
  • Coordinate transportation for in-person voting.
  • Create voting accountability partners in your Chapter and text each other reminders to vote.
  • Accompany a friend to the polls to protect against voter intimidation.
  • Advertise where to get help on Election Day: the phone number for your local board of elections, as well as national nonpartisan hotlines: 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) for English and 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682) for Spanish.
  • Take a selfie wearing your Circles shirt while voting.
  • Post to social media your pledge to vote and/or your Chapter’s commitments to these GOTV activities.
  • Use hashtag #VoteforCircles and post your activities to social media. 

Pictured above: Circles Winter Garden, FL

SHARE – Please send
  • one picture
  • and a few sentences describing your GOTV activities, including how many people participated.
  • CUSA will publicize your Chapter’s GOTV efforts on our social media and in our newsletters. 
WIN –  Every Chapter that participates will be eligible for prizes:

  • an e-copy of CUSA’s book, Bootstraps and Benefits: What the Right and Left Understand about Poverty and How We Can Work Together for Lasting Solutions;
  • a discount to our online Hands-on Training;
  • a discount to our 2021 virtual Leadership Conference;
  • and a virtual Chapter visit from Circles USA’s executive director. 

Circles Sharing Webinar: 2020 Big View Strategy + Civic Engagement 101

Is your Chapter seeking to engage policymakers? promote voter education and voter turnout? advance lasting change on issues like affordable housing, the Cliff Effect, reliable transportation, and more? This webinar is for you!

Through Circles USA, Chapters and Poverty Reduction Labs are advancing systemic change on key issues. This is the Big View – and it creates a foundation to develop and promote a shared anti-poverty agenda. In an election year like 2020, we have a unique opportunity to scale-up Big View efforts across the country and raise visibility for our mission of ending poverty.

The webinar will feature guest facilitator Amy Basken, a seasoned legislative advocate who serves as Director of Programs at the Pediatric Congenital Heart Association. Amy also volunteers with Circles Sauk Prairie, WI.

Amy’s webinar presentation will cover the basics of civic engagement, including:

  • how a bill becomes a law;
  • which policymakers to contact;
  • tips for in-person and virtual communication with officials;
  • opportunities during an election year;
  • and the importance of sharing your stories with those in a position to make a change.

Watch the webinar here.

Launching Circles USA’s Civic Participation Campaign for 2020

We’re making progress on our New Year’s resolutions here at Circles USA (CUSA). At the top of our to-do list: launching a non-partisan Civic Participation Campaign for 2020.

When CUSA Chapters advance systemic change on key issues, we call this work the Big View. In an election year like 2020, we have a unique opportunity to scale-up Big View efforts across the country and raise visibility for the mission of ending poverty.

Campaign Activities for Civic Participation

Activities this year include:

  • Webinars to support CUSA members to promote voter education and voter turnout
  • Newsletters that share how CUSA members are tackling key issues like affordable housing, the Cliff Effect, transportation, and more
  • Resources that articulate CUSA’s anti-poverty agenda and that enable CUSA members to take action

To begin, CUSA is hosting a February webinar with guest facilitator Amy Basken, a seasoned legislative advocate and volunteer with Circles Sauk Prairie, WI. Amy’s presentation will refresh participants on: how a bill becomes a law; which policy makers to contact; tips for in-person and virtual communication with officials; opportunities during an election year; and the importance of sharing your stories with those in a position to make change.

In subsequent months, we’ll highlight Big View success stories and feature resources on specific issues of critical importance to the network. For example, CUSA Chief Learning Officer Kamatara Johnson recently surveyed all Chapters about their Big View experiences and aspirations. The 24 survey responses revealed these top issues:

  • Housing (19%)
  • The Cliff Effect (12%)
  • Low Wages and Quality Jobs (11%)
  • Transportation (11%)
  • Health and Wellbeing including Trauma (8%)
  • Childcare (8%)

Because those experiencing poverty are considered the experts, input from Circle Leaders will drive our efforts to design community-wide solutions.

By the conclusion of this campaign, we’ll create a compendium with everything we collectively learned this year.

Our Values

CUSA’s Civic Participation Campaign will engage a diversity of political viewpoints. We believe that sustainable social change comes from the bottom up, when individual members of the community compel elected officials and institutions to take action. By encouraging voter education and voter turnout in 2020, we seek to ensure that all candidates elected will embrace an agenda concerned with ending poverty. 

This campaign is non-partisan, and we will provide CUSA members with information about how to be civically engaged while honoring our status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

Get Involved

The Big View Advisory Committee is meeting every 4-6 weeks to lead the campaign’s strategy and activities. Thanks to members, Joan Kuriansky (CUSA Board); Lisa Doyle-Parsons (CUSA Coach in WV); Amy Basken (CUSA Volunteer in WI); and Lynette Fields (Circles Central Florida Director in FL). To join this Committee or contribute to campaign plans, please email me at To stay informed, sign-up for our Big View monthly newsletter on poverty research and policy change.

~ Jamie Haft, Executive Director, Circles USA

What It Means to be a Community of Practice with Kamatara Johnson

As the Chief Learning Officer for Circles USA (CUSA) and one of the key planners for our 2019 Leadership Conference, I’ve been asked quite a few times about my key takeaways and the best part of our time together. There was a lot on which to reflect:110 participants representing 24 states plus D.C., 28 breakout sessions, three featured speakers, and everything that happened in between. It really comes down to one realization for me: This conference embodied the difference between a network and a community of practice.

We insist that Circles USA is not a program–it is an initiative. Similarly, I now know from my experience at the conference: we are not a network–we truly are a community of practice.

A community of practice can be defined as the place where domain, practice, and community meet. Our domain is ending poverty. Our practice is all of the learning and innovation that continue to keep this initiative relevant and potent. Our community consists of concentric circles: local, county, neighboring communities, state, nation, and globe.

While CUSA exists in 70+ Chapters and now four Poverty Reduction Labs, locations are not a franchise. It’s not about wearing the same blue and white polo shirt; it’s not about checking a box. Each Chapter and Lab is empowered to use the model and its best practices and then customize in ways that make sense for that community. We have a dynamic (not static) domain within which to do powerful work to end poverty.

Then the practice expands and deepens as Chapters and Labs share their innovations with each other. The conference’s 28 breakout sessions were almost entirely presented by people in Circles: we have passionate and skilled experts in-house. As we say in Circles, “everyone has something to learn, and everyone has something to give.” The conference held space to honor innovation, to elevate the voices of our leaders and visionaries, and to inspire each other to take risks. Ending poverty is pioneering work!

What is special about our sharing is the sense of care and attention to people in Circles give to each other. There’s support professionally and personally. I knew regardless of what we planned for the conference, the most important sessions would happen in the in-between — the unscripted time of breaks, meals, and nighttime activities. These moments build the intentional friendships that fuel Circles on every level. This bonding gives us the motivation and courage to persevere upon returning home and facing whatever obstacles may be in the way of standing in our truth and ending poverty. Our work is more potent because of each other.

And so we live the Circles model of moving communities from surviving to thriving, developing courage and skills to change the system, and supporting each other to persevere. The values of Circles is reflected in the larger structure for how Chapters and Labs function and relate to each other. Everyone in Circles USA is positively impacted.

My goal at the CUSA Headquarters is to continue to encourage this connection with each other. I aim to support innovation and to push the boundaries of what people think is possible.

It’s easy to feel busy — nose-to-the-grindstone — forgetting to look up and around. But we have a dynamic and meaningful community of practice here that is as good as you engage with it. Make time for the webinars, the monthly network calls, and the wellness calls with CUSA staff. Read the newsletters, save money in your budget to attend the next Leadership Conference, and above all, reach out to each other and know you’re not alone.

A Tipping Point to End Poverty

During more than 20 years of speaking to communities throughout the United States and Canada, I have been making the statement that we can and should end poverty. I have never encountered any resistance to the idea that we should end poverty. It’s the “we can end poverty” that causes people to bring up their objections with statements such as, “We have been fighting the War on Poverty over 50 years, and it’s only gotten worse.” But have we really been fighting all these years? I would say no; we haven’t had a national goal to eliminate poverty.

First, the war in Vietnam increasingly distracted the Johnson administration’s focus from the War on Poverty. Some safety nets were implemented, such as the Food Stamp Act of 1964, the Social Security Act of 1965 that created Medicare and Medicaid. However, these safety nets created an array of allopathic remedies. Some would argue these remedies make people too busy with paperwork, getting their basic needs met and lessening the urgency of finding a job. This is a poverty management system.

Furthermore, there are no financial incentives from federal agencies for long-term results of supporting people out of poverty and increasing economic stability. The baby boomers provided such a substantial labor pool that local economies did not need to worry about qualifying those in poverty for the workforce. Without pressure from business, poverty management continues in government and with community-based organizations addressing various needs of small target populations.

My strong belief is that human beings can eradicate the condition of poverty. The challenge is not if we have enough resources to do it – because we have enough. It is not if we know how to make the necessary systemic changes – because we know enough. First and foremost, the challenge is aligning the conviction that we can and should end it.

Because society could be easily overwhelmed by the massive task of ending poverty in the face of realities described above, I have found value in an article by scientists on tipping points. They discovered that when just 10% of a network’s population holds an unshakable belief, the majority of that network of people will adopt that belief. As Boleslaw Szymanski at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has elaborated:

“When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10%, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority. Once that number grows above 10%, the idea spreads like flame.”

We have all seen in our time social movements that reached a tipping point and fundamentally changed society. How can we intentionally lead in a manner that causes a tipping point in our society? Achieving a tipping point is the goal that focuses Circles USA’s work to inspire and equip leaders to build Poverty Reduction Labs and Circles Chapters to support 10% of households in their communities to climb out of poverty. The theoretical potential of a tipping point is that once 10% is reached, momentum will take over, and the process of reducing poverty will become easier as more people embrace the effort.

Meeting resistance from within our own minds, as well as from those in our communities, we will need to align our intention to be transformational leaders. We need to follow our conviction about ending poverty, no matter what we confront along the way. Otherwise, we will be vulnerable to conforming to the status quo and colluding with a poverty management system that maintains poverty.

The guiding principle for the Transformational Leadership Program is to “become the change you want to see happen.” (“Be the change that you wish to see in the world” has been attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, although Wikiquote attributes the principle to Arleen Lorrance, at the Teleos Institute.) We are each hard-wired to want to make a difference in the world. If you assert the belief that we can support 10% of children out of poverty, you will eventually find others to join you. Together, you can build your own momentum toward a tipping point of people who will mobilize a new poverty reduction system around that goal in your community.

Warm regards,

Scott. C. Miller, Founder and CEO, Circles USA

The content for this Blog Series is drawn from the Poverty Reduction Lab program, a collaboration with CQIU. The program’s focus includes:

  • Dismantling the poverty management system,
  • Leading your community through the four stages of change, and
  • Creating a pathway to end poverty.

To stay tuned, sign-up for The Big View Newsletter, our monthly bulletin about poverty research and policy change.

Amazon’s Raise of Minimum Wage is ALMOST Good News

Amazon’s raise of full and part-time minimum wage to $15/hour is ALMOST good news. But businesses and policymakers on both sides of the aisle don’t fully understand how work subsidy programs like Medicaid, childcare assistance, food stamps, and cash assistance are prematurely cut before people earn enough to replace them.

I founded Circles USA in the mid 90’s to support families out of poverty. In 2014, I asked the Circles growing network of over 70 communities across 20 states, “What’s the biggest barrier to getting out of poverty?” The answer, unequivocally, was the Cliff Effect. When working families lose public support benefits faster than they can earn income to replace the lost resources, it feels like falling off a cliff.

For example, Circles supported a single Dad with three children in childcare. He got promoted at work with a $3/hour wage increase. The raise was just enough to reach the next category of eligibility for childcare assistance and to lose all of it. The net difference was a loss of $500/month! He did exactly what we hope everyone does—get a good job and increase earned income—but he suffered immediate consequences. This particular story had a happy ending: his employer was outraged by the system and so gave the additional $500/month needed to permanently let go of governmental childcare assistance. But don’t count on that being a universal response.

Subsidy programs are necessary to support people unable to earn a livable wage. The federal and state agencies must pro-rate the exit ramps so people can safely leave these programs. If one earns an extra dollar per hour, then give them a dollar less in subsidies, not four of five dollars less. The Cliff Effect creates a massive phantom workforce in which millions of people who want to work, could work, and should work, cannot afford to take the new job, accept the raise, or increase their hours.

There are no online calculators to help people understand the full impact of the Cliff Effect, so Circles USA and a team at Mass Mutual are collaborating to build a new tool. We are also working with foundations in Michigan and New Mexico to provide state policy makers with research on efforts to mitigate the Cliff Effect. Our goal is to provide states across the country and federal policy makers with resources that will estimate all the cost savings for eliminating the Cliff Effect. You can view our latest reports at

Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is a positive step to help hard-working Americans earn enough money for the basic needs of life. The other half of the solution is to eliminate the Cliff Effect that will unleash an enormous untapped workforce and save billions of dollars in taxes used for subsidies. Otherwise, positive increases in wages might be just enough income to put people in harm’s way.




Work requirement and the “Safety Net.”

President Donald Trump signed an executive order that aims to add work requirements for Medicaid and other welfare programs.  Will this help to reduce poverty or make it worse? 

The US has a “poverty management” system, rather than a poverty reduction system.  If you follow the money from the federal government to state to local entities, you will see it comes down in silos, for specific programs, creating a kaleidoscope of complicated, fragmented services.

Progressives want more subsidies in the absence of robust livable-wage job creation. Conservatives want fewer subsidies and increased personal accountability. Work requirements are intended to increase personal accountability. But, if economic development programs, workforce programs, and safety net programs are not held accountable to providing enough good jobs and coordinated services that move people out of poverty, individual responsibility policy fixes have little to offer. They might sound good politically, but they often make life more difficult for those who are having the most problems in our economy.

To reduce poverty, we must:

create poverty reduction systems that are financed to support people out of poverty, as in 200% or more of the federal poverty level; eliminate the cliff effect built into safety net programs that financially penalize people for taking more hours, higher pay, and new jobs; create more jobs with better and more up-to-date economic development strategies.

There are solutions to poverty. Many conservatives believe the solution lies in people accepting more personal responsibility, and many liberals believe we need to provide more benefits and better jobs. What is the answer? All of the above.

For more information on our Circles USA solutions, please read my latest book, co-authored with my conservative friend, Denise Rhoades, “Bootstraps and Benefits: What the Right and Left Understand about Poverty and How We Can Work Together for Lasting Solutions.”

Together, we can begin the end of poverty in our lifetime. Join the conversation at

Evaluating Paul Ryan’s Plan “A Better Way”

Paul Ryan's "A Better Way Plan"

Dear All,

It is obvious that the poverty and economic pain felt, especially in rural communities, influenced the results of the election, much to everyone’s surprise (especially in the pollster business).

Now that we have the results, it is imperative for each of us to understand Paul Ryan’s poverty plan, a Better Way. As one of our board members, Jim Masters, commented this morning, this is probably the plan that Trump will defer to, given there are no other plans on the table yet. Please download and read,A Better Way“.

If we want to the government to support an approach like Circles it will need to be framed first in terms of “bootstraps.” Benefit programs will be seen as a necessary evil if they remain temporary while people chase work.

Cliff EffectEliminating the Cliff Effect is a nonpartisan, no-brainer. And I believe, the timing is good to bring that problem forward to Ryan’s team to solve without dismantling the subsidies in the process.

I believe that strategies like Circles will continue to be popular with this administration because it is “community driven”, taps volunteers to improve the results of formal community and government programs, and is focused on moving people permanently out of poverty. We should continue to talk about the bootstraps and benefits package(s) necessary for more households to increase their earned income. Of course, unless there is MORE AND BETTER economic development throughout the country, the human development side of the equation can only go so far in reducing poverty rates. Automation, artificial intelligence and globalization are going to continue, regardless of what policies are in place. We must advocate for stronger economic development programs. Again the lack of good jobs drove these election results. People need better jobs.

Poverty LegislationHere is Trump’s position on infrastructure which may lend insight to where new investments will be made that offer jobs for those we serve.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts

Scott Miller - End Poverty




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Standing Room Only to Hear “What Employers Wish You Knew”

Career Success Begins and Ends With Meeting Employer Expectations

Denver, CO, July 1, 2015 – JobLingo founder and CEO, Jan McCormick, Ed.D., recently delivered a “memorable, manageable and actionable” coaching strategy to 150+ attendees of the National Career Development Association (NCDA) at the Hyatt Regency Downtown, Denver. Highlighted as a Feature Presentation, Dr McCormick showcased JobLingo’s “7 Proven Techniques” for helping job seekers become job winners to a standing-room only crowd of global career development professionals. Known for her direct approach, audience feedback summarized McCormick’s impassioned presentation as “spot-on” training that everyone needs if they want to be successful.


Contact Information: Website:, Email:, LinkedIn:

Using a performance-based coaching model, Dr. McCormick targets the most critical job-ready skills for winning jobs. Leveraged on a workbook and short video series, the web-based, checklist-driven program provides a scalable process suitable for any size organization, school or non-profit.

Understanding the “Cliff Effects”

Dr. Kevin M. Fitzpatrick, Ph.D., a University of Arkansas professor prepared a summary on the “Cliff Effects.” The full report can be found in Basecamp for all Circles USA Chapters/Sites. To view the report please click here.