It’s important that we provide you, our supporters and neighbors, updates on our work, and more importantly, updates on our outcomes. Today, I’d like to share programmatic updates related to our Major Accountabilities. In 2016, our Board of Directors adopted Major Accountabilities that we, as an organization, would be accountable for to our community. Since poverty is always an economic condition, our Major Accountabilities center around us pushing back against economic poverty. For the period of July 1, 2017, to June 30, 2018, I’m pleased to share the following with you:
Major Accountability #1 – Increase Net Household Income
This is a true measure of the status of a family’s poverty. Studies show over and over that when net household income increases, families can avoid crisis, and began to make long-term plans. Those plans are generally positive, and long-term planning helps families make better life and financial choices, and allows them to truly break free of the poverty mindset.
Outcome: For families participating in our Integrated Services, which total 417 families in our area, the average family that increased their household income did so by an annual average of $1,334.54 ($111.30/month).
Strategies – how do we do this?
There are really only two ways to earn more income – earning more money through employment and access to benefits (public and private). Our Employment Services Programs helps families improve their job and career prospects. Our Bridges to Career Opportunities initiative takes workers from low-skill jobs to long-term career opportunities.
Many families are not able to improve income through work, due to retirement or disability, so we value connecting those families to public or private benefits. We help families navigate federal and state programs like Medicare, Medicaid, TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
To improve net household income, we can also decrease household expenses. We develop spending plans to identify ways to reduce expenses and create healthy spending habits. Families reduce expenses by refinancing a loan, opening a low cost bank account, shopping for cheaper insurance, accessing a food pantry, etc.
Major Accountability #2 – Improve Long-Term Stability Through Increased Net Worth and Improved Credit Scores
Net worth and good credit for a family is freedom. Financial freedom allows families to dream of a bright future and accomplish their dreams. Net worth and good credit lets families absorb a financial hiccup, and not let it turn into a crisis that moves them back to poverty.
Outcome: For families participating in our Integrated Services, which total 417 families in our area, the average family that increased their credit score did so by an average of 48 points, and the average family that increased their net worth did so by an average amount of $10,648.19.
Strategies – how do we do this?
In our Financial Coaching Program, all clients complete a Combined Financial Assessment, which provides baseline information on a person’s financial health. This provides a starting point for setting goals and targets. By engaging families in Financial Coaching, we support them in reaching their goals. It takes significant time and effort to raise credit scores and improve net worth. In our relationship with Holy Rosary Credit Union, we can open up secured credit cards that help families build credit, and we help them address any negative items on their credit report.
For net worth, families must either improve assets, and/or decrease liabilities. Again, this takes significant time and effort. Our CSL Financial Coaches help families set and attain goals.
All of the data reflected above is tracked and reported through a SalesForce database that we access through our partnership with LISC. While this is not the only data that our work yields, it presents a snapshot of our work. In many ways, CSL is an economic empowerment organization. We provide lots of supports, but we never lose sight of the fact that we want families to do better economically, so we focus our efforts on improving their economic standings.
Of course, all of the above information paints a fairly pretty picture. So, what are the challenges? CSL serves about 6,000 unique families/households every year. Right now about 7% of our families are fully absorbed into Integrated Services, meaning they are getting multiple layers of assistance from Income Supports, Employment Services, Financial Coaching, and/or Housing Counseling. We are reaching targets to scale our work, but we will need to add more coaches, especially for Employment Services and Financial Coaching, to pull more families in Integrated Services. Our baseline support services, like food pantry help, are great for getting people in our doors, but they don’t often want to commit to additional assistance yet. Sometimes it may take months or years to build a strong relationship with a neighbor to the point where he or she is willing to commit to a deeper relationship with CSL.
Update on Hawthorne Place Apartments Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program
As we reported several months ago, we have a unique partnership at Hawthorne to help families invest in themselves and create, most for the first time in their life, wealth and assets. By enrolling in the FSS Program, families who earn additional money (through employment) have that money (that normally would have gone to increased rent payments) captured into a savings account that can be used for home ownership, credit repair, or higher education.
Outcomes: In our first year of enrolling families at Hawthorne in FSS, we have successfully enrolled 92 of our neighbor families. To date, 35 of those 92 have escrowed money into an account (the other families are working toward improving their incomes). At the end of September, the total amount saved will be $40,795, and I’m excited to report that we are escrowing about $8,967 per month, so the total will be rising quickly. Families ideally stay in the program for five years, and the average FSS participant* is likely to graduate with about $9,000 escrowed, and will have decreased their need for welfare benefits by $496 annually.
*CSL at Hawthorne is part of the national FSS network through Compass Working Capital. Data is based on national averages.