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Community Agencies Help Families with Income Support Systems

January 30, 2013
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The best way we know to help a family focus on positive parenting is by making sure their basic needs are met.

Michelle Grupe

Development Manager

Cope Family Center

When Dawn needed help for her 9-year-old son, who was struggling emotionally, she first went to Cope Family Center in Napa.

In the two years since, Cope has not only helped her with family support services, but also connect with housing vouchers, child care subsidies and other economic supports. In addition, she’s been able to put some of her income each month into a special Family Self-Sufficiency account maintained for her by her county housing authority.

“Cope has been a great advocate for me,” says Dawn, an office manager and single mother of three.”I can only save about $200 a month, but it adds up.”

Although Cope’s mission is child abuse prevention and family support services, the staff also works hard to help people access all the economic supports they’re eligible for — from low-cost health insurance to tax credits to child support.

“The best way we know to help a family focus on positive parenting is by making sure their basic needs are met,” says Cope’s development manager Michelle Grupe.

Cope and other community agencies can play a crucial role in helping families connect to public programs that provide crucial income supports.

Families losing out

Only about one-third of families receive all the economic supports for which they are eligible; the others lose an estimated $3,000 to $5,000 per family per year.

“Many low-wage workers don’t know what supports they’re eligible for, and others are overwhelmed by the hassle,” says Frieda Molina, senior operations associate for the MDRC, which studies family economic policy.

Filling out multiple applications, keeping track of renewal periods and finding documents can all be overwhelming, especially for someone who’s working during the day, Molina says.

Some programs, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and Medi-Cal, are available to everyone who’s eligible. Others, including child care and housing subsidies, have waiting lists because funds are limited. Still, there is hope.

The whole picture

At Cope, families sit down with a resource specialist who does a comprehensive assessment. If they’re not accessing one of the subsidy programs, Cope helps them fill out forms and make calls.

At Communities United for Families (CUFF), a family resource center in Stockton, most families who come in are already receiving some aid, says Pastor Amelia Adams, who works at CUFF.

“But it’s not enough,” Adams adds. “The families have other things going on,” from housing problems to unemployment to health problems.

So the family resource center figures out what programs a family might be eligible for, then convenes a team of service providers to meet with the family and let them know what supports are available.

“What we’ve experienced is that families have gone other places and felt very helpless because no one extended to them the information that could help them,” Adams says.

Networking

According to Grupe, the most important thing about helping parents get connected to benefits is making connections with other organizations –knowing what they provide and what the eligibility guidelines are.

“One of the strengths of Cope is that we work with everyone, so we don’t have to do it all for a family,” Grupe says.

According to Adams, CUFF has over 150 partners it works with.

Understanding the web of available economic supports is no easy task, says Sid Gardner, executive director of the nonprofit Children and Family Futures. There are 20 different funding streams for child care in California and more than 15 for drug and alcohol treatment.

No one, says Gardner, can understand it all.

For community agencies, “the important thing is understanding the best possible route for someone to get help with something,” Gardner says. “You have to make a good referral, you have to make a good hand-off to someone who understands how best to help.”

Effect on Kids

When families receive economic supports, kids benefit.

“Income supports provide the family with the basics that help them move on to (programs such as) parent education,” Gardner says. “If the parenting problem is that the parent isn’t there because she has to work two-and-a-half jobs to make ends meet, you can’t counsel that away.”

Originally written by Eve Pearlman.