For the past two years, I've been in a split job working 4 days/week working with consumers who need public benefits; either help with the application process or, more and more these days, help with advocacy when their applications are not processed properly or promptly or are outright mishandled. The other day I devoted to financial literacy education and taxes (VITA). During tax season, the job split to 3:2 so I had a second day for taxes. But it is difficult to split your time like this, especially when those 8 or 16 hours don't all occur on the same day and you try to balance how much time you are devoting to projects that require more time than you have available. Complicating this is the evening hours that 2nd piece of my job entails.
As of October 1st, I'll have only the one job, managing financial literacy, VITA, working more closely with the IDA program (Individual Development Accounts), and employment-related programming/services in our technology center.
I'm glad my patience has been rewarded with this shift. If you want to help people get out of poverty, they need to develop assets. This comes under the umbrella of Asset Development or Asset Formation; in my case, we help people to:
- develop their financial competence (financial literacy education) and put money into savings;
- save towards owning as asset such as a home, business, or to go back to school (IDAs);
- get the most out of their tax return through credits, better advance planning (how to use their refund, setting up withholding properly, file past year returns), and on-time current tax filing (VITA); and
- become bankable: save towards paying back-owed money to a bank if they've had past banking problems so they can once again open and bank account (2nd Change Banking Account).
In addition, people need an income to live on, save with, and spend. Many people have trouble getting re-employed after being on unemployment more than 6 months. Jobs are highly competitive and many people need help with today's electronic application process. Without a new job, they'll lose the assets they do have and become a statistic -- unemployed and sometimes eventually homeless. So beefing up our employment-related services and reaching out to communities that are hardest hit and most affected by our tough economic situation is closely tied to poverty prevention.
This also helps integrate our technology center more closely with the overall agency; something I've been working on over the past year with a good amount of success, but only possible because of the help of agency staff who also see the value in this. Together, we're providing better & more integrated services.
This transition will take time, as people still need help with benefits and we cannot expect other agency staff to know, overnight, all that I've learned in 2.5 years. But we have good staff who can rise to many occasions. Together, we'll at least be able to handle benefits applications and possibly refer to other agencies, especially legal ones, for many of the advocacy issues I've been handling. When state agencies continue to improperly deny benefits or make it difficult for eligible applicants to get benefits, perhaps it's best to let some "legal eagles" take them on and push them to properly train and supervise their case managers.
That is for the difficult situations. For the less difficult situations, many of my clients have learned how to advocate for themselves. This really is a good advocate's goal - empower clients to self-advocate and win on their own; help them recognize that they have the can do attitude and skills to do other things that will move them forward.
It won't be an overnight transition, but it is an important one. I'm so glad that our funders and board recognize Asset Development/Asset Formation as a proper and potentially powerful tool in the fight against poverty.