This summer I spent ten weeks getting to know the city of Cleveland and the impact that federal and state policies have on the state of Ohio. Though I faced downtown traffic every morning, my summer internship was one of the richest experiences I have had. Work at Policy Matters Ohio was an eye-opener to the social conditions that lower and middle-class Ohioans face and also allowed me to look at legislation that had a direct effect on the state. I was honored to work at a non-profit organization that won the 2009 Community Shares Award and that The Nation named the Best State or Regional Organization of 2008. Policy Matters researches economic issues facing Ohioans and compiles reports based on research done online, from state and county offices, and through field work. It then issues reports explaining the impact of legislation and provides recommendations for policymakers and voters.
On the first day, I hit the ground running. I had met my boss, Amy Hanauer, a couple weeks beforehand, and was invited to the Crown Plaza Hotel downtown on May 18 to attend a conference on Ohio’s labor force. There I met several of the dedicated young men and women that would be working with me, performing research, drafting reports, and doing fieldwork. I attended workshops that raised pertinent questions, such as whether new green jobs will be well-paying professions, and how northeast Ohioans can revitalize the local economy. State Representative Mike Foley gave a crash course on the cap-and-trade bill, and I was introduced to Senator Sherrod Brown.
Each day at the office was anything but mundane. I am lucky to say that I did not have a “typical” summer internship largely overrun by copying and stapling papers. The vibrant work environment led to the lasting bonds I formed with the other interns and the staff members, and lengthy discussions on such subjects as sustainability, poverty, and the job market for college graduates. During the first part of the internship, I proofread a report about the governor’s proposal to raise the graduation rate, documented information about low-income voters, and began researching apprenticeship training centers in the state. After compiling a dataset of apprenticeship training opportunities for high school graduates, I was given a more significant assignment: researching the effectiveness of Enterprise Zones and Community Reinvestment Areas. For this project, I worked closely with Zach Schiller, a well-known speaker, researcher, and contributing writer for the Plain Dealer. I called and asked for information from the ten most populous counties in Ohio concerning their tax incentives for businesses in blighted areas. I was able to assess whether these businesses were using their money wisely and whether their operations were in line with state legislation. This was a timely assignment as Ohio has had problems with its budget and is looking at scaling back on tax incentives. Thus it was important to research what aspects of EZs and CRAs are the most cost effective and have the greatest positive economic impact on Ohio’s businesses. Almost every week there was an event to attend: a proposal-writing seminar at the Foundation Center, a “funeral” protest for Ohio’s libraries, and lectures given by staff members and advocates from the greater Cleveland area, including a live webcast of my boss’s meeting with Vice President Joe Biden. The most exciting part of the internship came towards the end of my time at Policy Matters. The intern task was to visit payday lending stores and uncover how legal their business practices were. This assignment was in response to recent legislation that had mandated that payday lenders post their rates and had outlawed unemployment checks as collateral for obtaining a loan. After visiting over a dozen lenders in the greater Cleveland area in a “secret shopper” format, we were able to ascertain that lenders were for the most part taking advantage of their customers, low-income individuals to begin with, and causing them to cycle into greater debt. Our research contributed to a report called “New Law, Same Old Loans: Payday Lenders Sidestep Ohio Law” and to a testimony before the Ohio House of Representatives by David Rothstein, a researcher at Policy Matters.
Working at Policy Matters Ohio has given me the tools to be an inquisitive student and has solidified my desire to become an attorney. I am more in tune with the social conditions that lower and middle-income groups face and understand the tangible impact of legislation on ordinary people. I learned that statutes are not just ambiguous rules written by remote elites; rather, their applications can have huge repercussions in the real world. Working at Policy Matters has opened my eyes to a myriad of economic issues that I would have otherwise been a stranger to. Thanks to the Wellman Hill Internship Grant I was able to take part in this formative experience.