I’ve been thinking a lot about how our goal as a community is, as the popular analogy goes, to teach people to fish rather than just giving them fish, at least for those who can fish. I’m sure most of us have noticed that teaching someone to fish isn’t of much use if they don’t have a fishing rod, either loaned, rented or owned. But even then, can you really support yourself just by the fish you pull in with a fishing rod, given that fish (income) are not all that plentiful these days? For people in generational poverty to no longer need financial help to pay for basic needs for themselves and their minor children, they need a fishing boat. Maybe they can borrow or rent one for now, but how can we help make it possible for them to buy a boat? How can we get around or remove the obstacles that keep them from self-sufficiency?
What can community and faith-based organizations do about the benefits cliff?
Community-based and faith-based organizations are often the first line of defense and are increasingly the informal safety net for persons suffering economic hardships. While regularly overburdened with providing services, these entities can help address the cliff effect in the following ways:
Supplement “benefit transition navigators” with a mobile “211” service that goes into neighborhoods to improve the availability of exact information about services and supports.
Educate workforce development programs and employers about the barriers low-wage workers confront when taking part in education and training and about the trade-offs between meeting immediate needs and seeking socioeconomic advancement through employment.
Facilitate collaboration across programs that serve low-wage workers.
Support the continuation of task forces comprising members from public and private sectors, as well as state and local government agencies. The task forces should examine the range of issues affecting working persons in poverty, develop strategies to help them, and monitor the outcomes.
Poverty is intersectional, has many causes, and needs coordinated and sophisticated solutions, among which is reducing the cliff effect.