Fixing the welfare system for working families – Larchmont Buzz

Imagine LA volunteers and staff help families struggling to break the cycle of generational poverty. (photo by Imagine LA)

Editor’s note: Imagine LA, a local non-profit organization whose CEO and several board members live in the neighborhood, strives to help families break the cycle of poverty through mentoring that transforms lives, strengthens relationships, well-being and economic mobility. We asked Imagine LA to share the results of a recent study the organization conducted with the USC Price Center for Social Innovation.

The welfare system is a sticky spider’s web for working families. Imagine LA decided to fix it.
By: Brian Rosenbaum, Director of Community Engagement, Imagine LA

For families, poverty is a trap that is transmitted from generation to generation. Homelessness is the most extreme form of poverty. For the 2 million children in Los Angeles County who live in poverty, this has trapped their grandparents, their parents, and it will trap them too if we do nothing to break the cycle.

And yet: what if you made $26,000 a year and were told you were no longer eligible for food stamps because you were “middle class”? The median annual household income in LA City is $65,000. What if you lost crucial income because your child turned 18? What if you were offered the perfect new job but didn’t know if you would lose your home if your salary increased?

For the past 16 years, this has been the lived experience of Leilani Reed, a graduate of Imagine LA’s Family Partnership Model, a holistic program that helps families break the cycle of poverty and homelessness.

“At every turn, I felt like I had a hand tied behind my back!” she says. “How are families supposed to get out of poverty with the system as it is? How can I create a better life for my children when I run into these roadblocks around every corner? »

“The welfare system felt like a black box that randomly punched our hard-working families in the stomach and left them mired in poverty,” said Jill Bauman, CEO of Imagine LA. “So Imagine LA, determined to help our families break the cycle of homelessness and poverty, decided to understand what was going on inside the black box. We engaged the USC Price Center for Social Innovation to help us – and the answer turned out to be: “It’s incredibly complicated”.

USC research revealed exactly how the benefit system works. He found that as families earn more money, they lose roughly the same in benefits, creating resource plateaus and benefit cliffs that don’t leave a family better off in terms of total resources at its disposal. These create disincentives to work and the fear of losing benefits.

The study also found that given the high cost of housing in Los Angeles, it was impossible for a single, full-time working mother to climb out of poverty with a housing subsidy such as Section 8. research found that the entry point to receive benefits was so low that families essentially had to hit rock bottom—that is, become homeless—before they could receive benefits.

Simply put, the social safety net, although well intentioned, has become a convoluted, sticky spider’s web that acts neither as a safety net nor as a stepping stone out of poverty.

The research also helped Imagine LA identify another startling gap: a leadership vacuum in the family poverty and homelessness sector.

“No one is responsible for this problem,” Bauman said. “No clear measure of success, accountability, transparency or dedicated funding streams means families experiencing homelessness are left invisible.” For example, while the 13% increase in overall homelessness in LA County in 2020 grabbed the headlines, the 46% increase in family homelessness was nowhere to be seen.

Now imagine something different: a set of innovative programs and tools that take ownership of the problem and free families from the sticky spider’s web. This is the void that Imagine LA fills.

Imagine LA’s innovative Economic Mobility Program (EMP) addresses basic financial empowerment for families through its living wage career paths, access to childcare and fitness programming financial. He has helped put many Imagine LA families on the path to economic success. But Bauman sees an opportunity for greater impact on a large scale.

Imagine LA is building an online social benefits calculator, which will serve as a tool for families and social workers to navigate the broken social safety net system. After serving 208 families in 2021, Imagine LA’s EMP expansion plan will bring the entire program to 100 additional families in 2022 through partnerships with four more agencies. Pilots are testing the calculator’s scalability, and if successful, the sky’s the limit for impact in LA County and beyond.

“Imagine LA is creating innovative programs to help families like mine,” Reed said. “But as long as the social safety net remains so broken, every family’s journey out of poverty will be that much harder.” That’s why Imagine LA is building an alliance of organizations to identify and advocate for more streamlined policies and administrative access that actually prevent family homelessness and promote economic mobility.

“We’re calling on the next mayor of Los Angeles to take this issue head-on,” Bauman said. “Our city will never be all it can be if families living in poverty remain trapped in a system designed to set them free. Join us, Mayor, in giving families a shot at the American dream of economic independence.

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Richard V. Johnson