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Monday, February 6, 2012

The Quintessential Need

Christina is pursuing what she thinks is the best long-term strategy for her family’s stability. She went to school to become a registered nurse and hopes to secure a position in a hospital in the coming months.

Christina ran into a roadblock, however, when her husband lost his job and the family couldn’t come up with the money she would need to sign up for and complete two certification courses necessary for her to secure an entry-level nursing position.

This story is the quintessential Benevolent need. It’s so incredibly clear that one can almost quantify the cost of not meeting it.

Let’s think about that. It will cost $250 in support for Christina to move from stuck to employable. The cost to Christina’s family and to the welfare system of not overcoming that hurdle is even greater and more tangled.

If Christina does not get certified and employed, then…

  • The City’s and Christina’s investment in the costs of her nursing education will have been misspent.
  • Christina’s children’s child care - subsidized on a sliding scale - will require more public funding if Christina’s employment is lower-paying, as it will be in a job which does not utilize her new education.
  • With Christina unemployed or underemployed, the costs of the overall safety net will be further taxed, potentially including food banks, social services, job training and workforce development programs and more.
  • Finally, Christina’s family could be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit each year as her family remains under the income threshold, costing our tax base even more.

So if $250 spent now can save all the thousands of dollars in expense I’ve touched on above, then why is it so hard for Christina and all those in similar situations to secure the support they need? That, of course, is a still longer and more complex question. The answer lies in the shifts we’ve made in this country in the ways we spend what we call “welfare” dollars in the past fifteen years or so. Rather than putting cash supports in the hands of those who are struggling to reach the goal of stability and sustainability, our system now focuses on providing in-kind support in the form of subsidies and service.

There are clearly shortcomings to our current systems of supports for those living in low income circumstances if $250 in discretionary cash is unattainable but thousands of dollars in consequential expenses are readily available.

By helping Christina over this hurdle of nursing certification courses, we can not only help her family move forward towards stability and success, but we can also help prevent thousands of unnecessary expenses to our social safety net and shine a light on just how essential cash supports are for families along their paths to financial stability.

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