Solution Series: A Conversation with Patrick Kennedy: Changing the National Discourse About Mental Health Issues and Addiction

Solution Series: A Conversation with Patrick Kennedy: Changing the National Discourse About Mental Health Issues and Addiction

On Wednesday October 28, Congressman Patrick Kennedy spoke at Fedcap’s 10th Solutions Series. Mr. Kennedy served 16 years in Congress and is one of our country’s leading and most compelling advocate for changing the stigmatization of mental health and addiction, and improving access to care.

The invitation-only event, hosted by the law firm of McDermott Will & Emery, was attended by over 75 business, government and health care leaders. It was live streamed to audiences in London, Boston, Syracuse, Washington DC and Concord, New Hampshire, where over 175 people participated.

Craig Stenning, Fedcap’s Senior Vice President for Occupational health, welcomed guests and thanked Fedcap President and CEO Christine McMahon for her energy and commitment in making these events possible. He thanked Congressman Kennedy whose recent book, A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through The Past and Future of Mental Health and Addiction, highlights his own struggles, and those of his famous family, with mental health and addiction.

“We honor Congressman Kennedy’s courage to share his story, which mirrors those of millions of Americans who are suffering from an untreated mental illness of addiction,” he said.

Fedcap Board Chair Mark O’Donoghue acknowledged several VIPs in attendance including HRA Commissioner Steven Banks, former NYC Mayor David Dinkins, and NYC First Lady Chirlane McCray – who he described as the driving force behind important initiatives in NYC to deliver mental health services to low-income and at-risk populations.

Ms. McCray introduced Representative Kennedy, thanking him for breaking “the conspiracy of silence around his own troubles” with the publication of his book, and for his signature legislation, The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Act, which provides equal access to care and treatment for people with mental illness. She thanked Fedcap for its efforts on behalf of individuals with mental illness and intellectual disabilities; “New York City is so lucky to have an organization like Fedcap fighting on behalf of our neighbors who face barriers to employment. I saw first-hand how Fedcap is changing lives when I visited Fedcap’s WeCare site in Brooklyn.”

In his remarks, Representative Kennedy called the fight for the rights of people with mental illness – including access to treatment that is equal to those with physical illness – “the new frontier of social justice.” He called for funding to be directed to support outcomes, not just deliver services, and to prioritize placing people who suffer from mental illness in supported environments where they can work and enjoy independent lives.

Representative Kennedy spoke of mental illness in moving and personal terms. He said that unacknowledged and untreated mental illness is corrosive to every single person in a family, and that none of us in society escapes its impact. He said that policy makers pay lip service to mental illness, but if this were a physical disease like diabetes or cancer, it would be considered a public health epidemic.

“We all know the secret sauce of health care reform is managing the depression and mental illness off people in the community, the workplace and in health insurance plans where people are neglected because of the shame and stigma of having that diagnosis,” he said.

Representative Kennedy discussed the great work being done in New York State to improve access to care for veterans, and innovative programs to help individuals with untreated mental illness and addiction who are involved with the criminal justice system.

In closing remarks Representative Kennedy graciously thanked Fedcap for its work in providing opportunities for people with barriers to find jobs. “Thank you Fedcap for your work in what is so essential and often missing in discussions about mental health and addiction, and that is employment, which in our culture is tied to self-esteem. What President Kennedy tried to do with the Community Mental Health Act of 1963, to help people lead productive lives while living with their families in their communities, is what Fedcap does every day.”

Solution Series: Immigration and Its Impact on Business

Solution Series: Immigration and Its Impact on Business

On Thursday March 26th over 150 people representing businesses, foundations, nonprofits and government, participated in person and via streaming in Fedcap’s 9th Solution Series. The topic was “Immigration and Its Impact on Business.”

A panel of distinguished thought leaders convened at the Mutual of America building in Manhattan to explore a range of questions related to immigration including visas, the untapped immigrant workforce, marketing a business to immigrant populations and cultural diversity in the workplace.

“The Solutions Series was established five years ago to have open, honest discussions about topics of importance to the business community,” said Fedcap CEO Christine McMahon, who opened the event. “Historically, our national perspective on immigration could best be summarized by the iconic poem that is mounted on the Statue of Liberty that begins “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” The conversation today would be about “bring me your entrepreneurs, skilled workers and innovators.”

The panel was introduced by Fedcap Chief Strategy Officer Lorrie Lutz, who moderated a highly engaging and informative discussion. First to speak was David Dyssegaard Kallick, Director of Immigration Research Initiative at the Fiscal Policy Institute. Kallick described a population of 41 million immigrants in the United States that is incredibly diverse both culturally and in the workplace.

“Wherever there is economic growth immigrants are part of the story,” he said. “Companies that do not understand immigrant populations will lose their competitive edge.”

Bo Young Lee, Global Diversity and Inclusion Leader, Marsh LLC, the world’s largest insurance company, discussed how a shortage of skilled workers forces companies that would rather hire U.S. citizens – it’s much easier and less expensive – to turn to foreign workers through the H1-B visa program. She also discussed how Marsh has strived to create a culture of inclusion. Companies that are successful in bringing immigrant workers into a recruitment pipeline often fail at creating an inclusive hiring process. To do so requires a greater awareness of cultural mores around body language, expressions of emotion and other factors.

Luis Tejada, Vice President of Sales, Goya Foods, Inc., talked about how Goya grew from a small Main Street business founded by Puerto Rican immigrants in 1936 into America’s largest Hispanic-owned food company, with over $1 billion in annual global sales. A centerpiece of the company’s strategy is learning how to interface with different groups of immigrants, including a growing number of Korean and Middle Eastern customers. “History has proven that cultural inclusiveness is good for business,” he said. “No matter what, immigrants will continue to create opportunities and contribute socially, economically and politically to society.”

Fedcap COO Joe Giannetto closed the event with a personal story about his own parents who came to the U.S. as immigrants. He also talked about our history of hiring immigrants.

“Fedcap plays a huge role in the lives of immigrants and other populations, helping them achieve personal success and realize their dreams,” he said.

Solution Series: Minimum Wage Increase: Costs, Benefits and Complexities

Solution Series: Minimum Wage Increase: Costs, Benefits and Complexities

On Thursday October 23rd, over 150 people representing businesses, foundations, nonprofits and government, participated in person and via streaming in Fedcap’s 8th Solution Series. The topic was “The Minimum Wage Increase: Costs, Benefits and Complexities.”

A distinguished panel of experts convened at the Mutual of America building in New York City to explore a topic that has inspired vigorous debate since the first federal minimum wage was instituted in the 1930’s. Proponents and opponents of raising the minimum wage disagree about fundamental questions such as how it will affect employment and job creation; the impact on poverty; the impact on disadvantaged workers, and whether it will hurt or help small businesses.

“The social and economic implications of raising the minimum wage make it a very complex issue,” said Fedcap CEO Christine McMahon, who opened the event. “We have convened this Solutions Series to ask the right questions and to explore this important issue from multiple perspectives.”

The panel offered thought-provoking insights and ideas about the minimum wage. Michael Weinstein, an M.I.T-trained economist and Chief Program Officer for the Robin Hood Foundation, said that economists have studied the minimum wage in detail and produced a vast body of research. While there is disagreement about whether a higher minimum wage is good policy, there is broad consensus that its macroeconomic impact is modest.

“Economists talk about the minimum wage as small change, small impact,” he said. ‘Some jobs will be lost and some families will be raised out of poverty, but across the economy it has a pretty small impact.”

Mr. Weinstein said that the Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides tax rebates to workers who file tax returns, is considered by many to be a more effective tool for lifting families out of poverty than raising the minimum wage.

Beth Moss, Director of Human Resources for the North American operations of ISS, a global provider of facility maintenance services, said that all publicly traded companies are focused on employee compensation. Companies always have to consider market factors when establishing wage levels, and in low-margin businesses like facilities maintenance there is pressure on the level of compensation that ISS can pay for employees who provide those services. A challenge for the industry is to educate customers about the value of facility maintenance in creating a healthy work environment and preserving physical assets. When customers perceive the impact of the service on the bottom line, compensation will rise.

“As the perceived value of our services improves we are highly optimistic that we will have fewer federal minimum wage workers,” Ms. Moss told the audience.

Joanne Pokaski, Director of Workforce Development at Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center in Boston, said that Beth Israel consistently pays its entry level workers above the minimum wage. The hospital has also implemented measures to help its employees climb the wage ladder. It provides career and academic counseling, free on-site pre-college courses and college-level science courses, as well as a proactive approach to train and promote employees from within the organization. “Our business drivers for these decisions are clear—we have hard to fill mid-tier jobs and by paying well we have a stronger pool of entry level staff who we can develop to fill the mid teir jobs.”

Shamus Jones, Founder and President of Brooklyn Brine, an artisanal pickling business with 10 employees, offered a small business perspective on the minimum wage. As a manufacturer of specialty products competing in an industry dominated by commodity products and pricing, paying subpar wages was never an option. Jones starts his workers at $16 per hour – significantly higher than the minimum wage – but expects a lot in return.

Mr. Jones believes that the increased productivity resulting from reduced employee turnover, high morale, and loyal employees who believe in the company and are willing to work hard to share in its success, more than cover higher wages, and ultimately pay off in an increased bottom line.

“I believe in conscientious capitalism,” he said. “Higher wages means we get much more competitive applicants, who give us the competitive edge we need.”

The audience engaged the panelists in a lively question and answer period right up until the end of the event.

“This Solutions Series has been tremendously informative,” said Fedcap COO Joe Giannetto. “We are grateful to our panel for having provided us with a better understanding of this complex issue.”

Solution Series: The Intersection of Workforce and Economic Development: Why it Matters to Employers

Solution Series: The Intersection of Workforce and Economic Development: Why it Matters to Employers

Economic development and workforce development, the primary drivers of jobs and growth, have historically not been linked. When the two are aligned – when economic development incorporates workforce training and job creation in multi-stakeholder efforts – everybody wins.

Fedcap President and CEO Christine McMahon welcomed over 150 people, including representatives from business, government, academia, think tanks and not for profit providers to the Mutual of America Building on March 27th for Fedcap’s 7th Solutions Series on the topic of the Intersection of Workforce and Economic Development.

“There are existing frameworks in place in our communities for traditional workforce and economic development,” McMahon said in opening remarks. “We want to integrate them and apply them directly to people with barriers.”

Four distinguished panelists discussed the latest trends in workforce and economic development, in New York City and across the nation. The panel touched on topics including sector-based training, government policy, employer engagement, economic and labor trends and the role of community colleges.

Workforce development entities can build successful long-term relationships with employers when they understand economic and labor market trends, and develop skill-based training curriculums with substantial employer input, said Mark Elliott, President, Economic Mobility Corporation. “Further, Economic Development strategies must start to require partnership with workforce entities” he said.

Chris Neale, Assistant Commissioner, External Relations and Special Programs in the Workforce Development Division of the NYC Department of Small Business Services, said that the Administration of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is targeting quality jobs that offer career paths. He described several such programs including P-Tech – an initiative of IBM, City University of New York (CUNY) and the NYC Department of Education – and a pilot training program for $65,000/year website development jobs. “The best way to develop career paths is through employer-drive training in high growth sectors like health care and technology,” Neale said.

The role of community colleges is changing as they build institutional capacity, and become focal points for job training and career development, said David Jason Fischer, Senior Fellow, Workforce Development, Center for an Urban Future. “While it is not easy to work with an organization like CUNY because there is no single voice, if they would expand their partnership with business and develop credentialed training programs that meet high sector demands, it would dramatically increase the numbers of workers available to meet business staffing needs,” he said.

Melanie Kirk, Senior Vice President, Human Resources for FreshDirect, a fast-growing online grocer that serves the New York City metropolitan area, said that one of the top priorities of business is to develop a workforce with as many skills sets as possible. Workforce developers are key partners in supplementing internal efforts, not just in skills development but in work readiness training.

“It is about helping employees prepare for work, understand the culture, understand the role of professionals in the workplace, and connecting them to the company,” she said.

Many businesses were intrigued by the rich discussion and have followed up by asking Fedcap to consider partnering with them to develop tailored training and follow up conversations are occurring with several colleges including the Metropolitan University of New York.

Solution Series: Leveraging the Older Workforce as a Competitive Advantage

Solution Series: Leveraging the Older Workforce as a Competitive Advantage

As people live longer and postpone retirement, the previously understood stages of life – childhood, adolescence, adulthood and old age – are themselves getting old.

Adults between 50-70 are healthy and productive, no longer young but not ready for old age. They are adults 2.0, according to Sandra Timmerman, Ed.D. Corporate Gerontologist/Aging & Business Strategies. “As long as people are productive they’re not really old, not in the way that people used to think of old age,” said Timmerman.

Leaders from the business and non-profit worlds attending Fedcap’s 6th Solutions Series forum, this one titled, “Business in the 21st Century: Leveraging the Older Workforce as a Competitive Advantage,” heard corporate executives and experts in aging and the workplace discuss the profound demographic shift underway in the United States as the aging Baby Boomer Generation – healthy, robust and under economic pressure – remains in the workforce. The percentage of the labor force age 55+ grew from 13.1% in 2000 to 19.5% in 2010, and is expected to increase to 25.2% in 2020.

As the workforce ages, employers face workplace challenges related to compensation, retirement, tenure, communications, work preferences, knowledge transfer, and workplace design. Yet companies have barely begun to analyze the impact of the aging workforce on their bottom line, or even the changing demographics of their own employees.

Eighty-five percent of companies that responded to an Ernst & Young survey said that their organizations had no formal programs in place to respond to the aging workforce.

Dick Cattani, Chief Executive Officer, Premier Hospitality Division, Compass Group, a leading provider of food service management and support services acknowledged the challenges inherent in tackling the problem of the aging workforce.

“We have over 220,000 employees in North America, many moving parts and we are trying to figure out how to support employees of all ages. While we have embraced a more flexible work schedule, seasonal work and job sharing, we have a long way to go to fully respond to the aging of our staff,” said Cattani.

“The productivity of older workers is best harvested through mixed-age workforces. Small ergonomic changes can also enhance productivity”, said Kathleen E. Christensen, Ph.D., Program Director, Working Longer Program, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Flexible workplaces are an important part of the answer. “When properly implemented, they are strategic business tools that benefit both parties by reducing absenteeism and attrition, and increasing worker engagement and performance. Further, this issue has tremendous economic implications. There is no way that a 40-year career can support a 30-year retirement,” said Christiansen.

Attendees at the Fedcap Solutions Series forum heard case studies about what BMW, CVS, Goldman Sachs and other companies are doing to maximize older worker productivity.

Solution Series: Changing the Story: A Symposium

Solution Series: Changing the Story: A Symposium

Hundreds Join Fedcap to Brainstorm Solutions to Crisis of Disconnected Youth

Hundreds of people joined Fedcap, Rutgers University’s School of Social Work ( and The Moore Center ( on Friday to brainstorm solutions to the national crisis of disconnected youth. Click here to watch the video.

Millions of 16-24-year-olds aren’t in school or viable employment. Many have spent time in child welfare and/or juvenile justice, many lack family or other stable adults to support them, and they face unemployment at least double the rate facing the general population. This disconnection costs the country millions of dollars in social services, and an incalculable amount in lost human potential.

“When we look beyond the statistics to the rates of homelessness and joblessness and the pervasive sense of hopelessness that can be the daily reality for far too many, we begin to understand the depth of the problem,” said Christine McMahon, President & CEO of Fedcap. “This problem won’t be solved by any one agency or department or system acting alone. It requires innovative and effective partnerships. Today we ask each of you to embrace the challenge, understanding that we are searching for accessible solutions to specific problems that, once identified and understood, can be solved!”

More than 400 social workers and other child-welfare experts attended Friday’s symposium, Changing the Story for Disconnected Youth, in person at Rutgers in New Jersey, and many others logged on to join remotely from across the country and as far away as the United Kingdom and New Zealand. A panel of four people who had been in foster care shared their experiences and insights, and the event contained many lessons for those who work with or on behalf of disconnected youth.

“This is the most important discussion in New Jersey right now,” said Allison Blake, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Children and Families. She challenged the social workers and other child-welfare experts in attendance to invite youth to the table and listen to what they say. “It’s rare that we invite them to participate in policy review, be part of the development of a training curriculum. We have to practice authentic engagement and not just pay lip service.”

“Social work schools can play a crucial role in improving the life chances of these disconnected youth by partnering with clinicians, administrators, policymakers and the youth themselves,” said Kathleen J. Pottick, Acting Dean of the Rutgers School of Social Work. “We need to accelerate research efforts to find strategies that work – and that work quickly, to avoid another generation of disconnected youth.”

“The enormous response to our invitation to this event clearly shows the scope of this problem and the widespread desire to tackle it,” said Andy Germak, Executive Director of the Rutgers School of Social Work’s Institute for Families. “Now we must identify the most effective ways to put that willingness to work.”

The panel of former foster youth included three college students and a Washington, DC, Family Court judge who grew up in New Jersey.

“Child welfare took us when I was six,” said the Hon. S. Pamela Gray, Magistrate Judge in the Family Court of the District of Columbia. “My younger sister and I clung together through move after move. They moved us in trash bags. I really began to feel like I was trash. Self-hatred turned into acting out. Nobody cared about me and I didn’t care about anyone.

“Foster children are an asset, as peer mentors, adult mentors,” Judge Gray said. “I know what can happen if someone takes an interest. My tenth-grade home economics teacher saw that there was something there, some potential in me.”

“The system definitely made you realize that you were not a regular youth,” said Tony Conover, a senior at Rutgers. “I’ve had a lot of case workers. I can name two who made me feel like I was more than just a case file.”

“Ask me how I’m doing, ask me about me, not just about my case file,” agreed Jaleesa Suell, a senior at The George Washington University, describing how she wished she had been treated. She added that foster youth needed greater access to mental health resources after they emancipate.

“I’ve been in more homes than my age,” said Antoine Wood, a student at the University of the District of Columbia who is still in foster care. “As I go to age out, I’m terrified about the financial piece.”

Moderator William Waldman, Executive in Residence at the Rutgers School of Social Work and previously Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services and a member of three gubernatorial cabinets, commended the panelists for “paying it forward.” To his fellow social workers he added: “We should never engage in the soft bigotry of lowered expectations when serving disconnected youth.”

Paul Boynton, President & CEO of The Moore Center, closed the symposium with a challenge: “Now it rests on each of us to turn these bold solutions into actions.”

Solution Series: Connecting Vets to Jobs

Solution Series: Connecting Vets to Jobs

Fedcap (, which has matched work-ready people with jobs for eight decades, opened a dialogue among employers, the military and veterans’ groups on November 11 aimed at making it easier for veterans to get employed.

More than 140 people gathered at Mutual of America headquarters in Manhattan for the Veterans Day launch of the Fedcap Solution Series: Connecting Veterans to Jobs, including representatives from private- and public-sector employers, nonprofits, service agencies, active military and veterans. The conversation focused on how to collectively address the barriers that remain between veterans and jobs – despite employers’ clear enthusiasm to hire from this highly skilled talent pool.

“We are extremely grateful that over 62 businesses have come here today to help us think through these issues and find real solutions,” said Christine McMahon, President and CEO of Fedcap. “This is going to be solved – not by each of us working separately, but by everyone working together.”

On the panel, Command Sergeant Major Frank Wicks, Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Adjutant General and Commander of the New York Army National Guard, stressed that the training and soft skills veterans bring to the workplace are worth the possible sacrifice of temporarily losing them to deployment. Noting that he had been invited to ring the opening bell on Wall Street today but came to the Fedcap conference instead, CSM Wicks said, “That would have been an honor, but this is more of an honor.”

Lynne DiStasio, Vice President, Human Resources at MetLife, welcomed new tools that help employers and veterans speak the same language about skills and jobs, but stressed that much more needs to be done. “The activities that military people have been engaged in often do not translate to private sector jobs,” she said. “We are building a bridge across the river from two sides. We must connect in the middle.”

The panel also included Command Sergeant Major (Retired) Robert Van Pelt, Program Coordinator, New York National Guard, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, and Hannah Rudstam, Ph.D., Senior Extension Faculty, Employment & Disability Institute, Cornell University, author of parallel surveys of veterans and Human Resource professionals. The moderator was Philip Revzin, Editor at Large, Bloomberg News.