Strategies for Human Services Organizations & Advocates
Workers (the “Customer”) who receive Public Assistance often face diverse challenges in their journey to experience Economic Mobility and Security for themselves and their families, and Human Service staff and Advocates can greatly assist them by understanding these challenges.
Experience indicates a multitude of barriers that prevent many Workers from even applying for many of the supportive benefits to which they are entitled, such as lack of awareness, access to childcare, transportation, or the experience of trauma. The realities of balancing a tight budget with no room for unexpected reductions in income or increases in expenses are stressful. The Cliff experience can leave Workers feeling defeated or hopeless. Unfortunately, some feel they will be judged harshly by others when seeking assistance. In addition, misinformation about the legal and financial consequences of applying can be widespread. This section includes strategies for adjusting program delivery, policies and processes that can assist with reducing, if not eliminating these barriers.
Below, you as caring individuals, will find potential solutions, or “plays”, that can be offered as answers to challenges identified by young parents during their participation in the Leading on Opportunity report, “2019-2020 Strengthening Opportunities for Young Families of Color”. It is our hope that your organization can use these “suggested plays”, as well as others, to build the necessary advocacy and support within your organization to promote a narrative and philosophy of empowerment by offering a “hand-up”, instead of the traditional “hand-out” to individuals and families. Together, we can make a difference in our community.
Need for positive, supportive relationships
Workers who feel judged are less likely to make full use of services to which they are entitled. Focus groups cite a lack of empathy on the part of agency staff or a feeling of hopelessness and resignation.
- Recognize the unique and important role each individual plays in promoting Economic Mobility and Security for Workers. Human Service staff and advocates are often the only link to services available which can help to “lift and empower” individuals and families on their progression to greater independence. Staff understanding and ability to navigate these areas can make a tremendous difference for your community. Understand that while receipt of public benefits offers some assistance for individuals and families, these benefits alone are not sufficient to reach outcomes of economic independence. Demonstrating empathy, care and compassion for others can go a long way in helping others to discover additional steps needed to reach goals of self-sufficiency. In addition to the above, below are some additional strategies or “plays” for Human Service Agencies and Advocates to consider:
- Understand that while receipt of public benefits offers some assistance for individuals and families, these benefits alone are not sufficient to reach outcomes of economic independence. Demonstrating empathy, care and compassion for others can go a long way in helping others to discover additional steps needed to reach goals of self-sufficiency.
- In addition to the above, below are some additional strategies or “plays” for Human Service Agencies and Advocates to consider:
- Hire staff that reflect the diversity of the population you serve. Workers who formerly received public benefits can often serve as empathetic motivators in assisting others on their journey.
- Create peer support groups among the clients you serve to foster opportunities for mutual learning. motivation and support.
- Train and offer peer “coaches” or “navigators.” Make these paid positions and develop robust training and screening to foster learning and empowerment. Often, transition from intergenerational poverty requires building additional social capital and supportive networks to offer suggestions and alternatives to individuals and families facing difficult decisions.
- Make empathy a cornerstone of your culture. Screen and hire for it. Offer training for staff in the challenges of the Benefits Cliff and the realities lower-wage workers face.
- Take a consultative, rather than a deficit-focused, approach. Train staff in motivational interviewing. Train staff in trauma-informed care, racial equity, cultural acceptance, etc. Address communication barriers by offering multilingual staff, translators, and other strategies to ensure effective communication.
- Mecklenburg County offers multiple programs to assist with childcare subsidy of which Workers may not be aware. Familiarize yourself with the various types of subsidized childcare available to support Workers in their journey of Economic Mobility, and make referrals as needed.
- Some employers offer on-site childcare for participants in programs and services. This not only increases participation but also increases the worker’s ability to fully engage and get full-value from the services. Offer this option for consideration when addressing issues of childcare while seeking employment.
- When possible, utilize virtual services to enable Workers to participate remotely when conducting business.
- Explore options for provision of services in neighborhoods, on bus lines, in community centers and other convenient locations to reduce barriers to access services.
- When available, offer bus passes or subsidized fares or ride-sharing services.
Making Tough Economic Decisions
Workers struggling to balance tight budgets often make poor short-term decisions to make “the pain stop.” They can fall victim to predatory lenders and accumulate debt via payday loans, title loans, etc.
- Offer alternative options for Workers facing a financial crunch. Commonwealth Charlotte offers low-interest loans which can help with reducing debt while improving credit scores, as well as can assist with the establishment of household budgets to build emergency savings.
- Consider offering Your Money, Your Goals curriculum, including assessment of financial wellness, as well as other opportunities to increase financial literacy to Workers.
- Explore wealth-building programs and make Workers aware of available options. For non-profits, explore opportunities for Trust-Based Philanthropy to assist in this area.
- Partner with credit unions and offer referrals to help Workers open checking accounts. Commonwealth Charlotte also offers assistance in these areas.
Utilize the CLIFF Dashboard to discuss and offer employment opportunities which promote Economic Mobility and Career Progression to assist Workers with preventing the effects of the Benefits Cliff.
Restrictive Eligibility Requirements
Workers may not even apply if they perceive the application process to be difficult or think they won’t be eligible. This impression is sometimes based on incomplete or erroneous information or arises from the fact that eligibility requirements are complex.
- Streamline referral processes. Consider use of platforms like NCCare360 or Aunt Bertha that permit agencies to share their program missions, services and requirements with each other. Consider utilizing a universal application to reach across programs and systems. This can also promote collaboration among agencies.
- Examine eligibility requirements and attempt to/advocate for streamlining and simplification.
- Offer virtual information sessions through which Workers can learn about services and eligibility programs in a way that is focused on empowerment and upward mobility, and is not perceived as threatening or difficult.
- Familiarize agency leadership with additional Policy Recommendations which are being considered nationally to address challenges associated with the Benefits Cliff to create opportunities for advocacy and alignment when considering recommendations for state and federal policy change.