by David Bass | Oct 4, 2021
Nicole’s story: How a raise meant losing food stamp benefits for this mom of four
Nicole had high hopes when she moved her family from a rural area in south Georgia to Henry County in the Atlanta metro. The cost of living went up, but the job opportunities were more plentiful and paid much better: She went from making $25,000 a year to over $35,000 as a corrections officer.
But that’s when Nicole got an unpleasant surprise. Her new salary level meant that her safety-net benefits from the government went entirely away—not reduced, but entirely eliminated. She ended up getting around a $10,000 raise but losing approximately $12,500 in benefits.
“I ended up getting kicked off social services because I made a couple dollars more than the max I could,” Nicole shared.
Nicole is 32 years-old and the single mother of four boys. “I’m the only income. I don’t get child support payments or anything else,” she said.
Losing her benefits—particularly food stamps—was a severe blow, especially during the pandemic. Although she has gotten help from local church-based food banks to help her make ends meet, her situation is still stressful.
To further bridge the gap, Nicole is working as much overtime as possible. But she would need to earn significantly more—to the tune of $25 an hour—in order to fully make up for the benefits she has lost. Even in an economy where wages are quickly rising for many workers, that raise level is a tough haul.
What needs to change?
Nicole encountered what we call the “benefit cliff,” where well-intentioned policies actually prevent people from getting off public services. They make just enough to lose their benefits, but not enough to make up for those lost benefits. The result is a system that keeps people trapped in poverty rather than one that propels them toward self-sufficiency and the dignity that comes with it.
While it is wonderful to see how the community has stepped up to help Nicole fill the gaps left from her losing access to food stamps, not everyone is so fortunate.
So, what’s the best pathway forward? Our goals should be to shore up the safety net for those who truly need it, eliminate these benefit cliffs, and create a system that encourages (rather than discourages) people from climbing the economic ladder. Along these lines, here are three possible ways forward:
- The food stamp program could be fully redesigned to eliminate the benefit cliffs.
- Separate pools of funds (from public, private, and charitable resources) could be set up as temporary stop-gap measures to get people like Nicole beyond the cliff.
- Nicole could work with someone who understands the cliffs to help her strategize a career and pay progression to effectively jump over the cliff.
The Success Sequence provides an outline of how to reverse the cycle of poverty in our communities. GCO uses this as a framework for much of our work.
#DareToClimb media campaign
This is why the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) recently launched the #DareToClimb media campaign. The campaign is designed to raise awareness and share stories of those trapped in government assistance programs that, while well-intentioned, are structured in a way that often does more harm than good. GCO believes it is important to share the stories of these courageous men and women who have overcome obstacles in their lives to achieve self-sufficiency.
To learn more, follow the #DareToClimb hashtag.
** The $35,000 income limit is based on Nicole’s interview with us. Although our calculations show it will be somewhat higher, the impact and stress she is experiencing will be the same.
by gaopp | Oct 4, 2013
GCO’s Breakthrough Communities initiative is modeled, in part, on the collective impact framework developed by the Strive Partnership in Cincinnati, OH. Over the past few months we have participated in numerous opportunities to learn from Strive, most recently we attended Strive Together’s third annual Cradle-to-Career Network Convening, in Dallas, TX.
To kick the convening off Jeff Edmondson, Strive Together Managing Director, shared a list of “Knowledge Nuggets” that he had gathered over his years of work in the world of educational collective impact. Below are a few that resonated with the work that is taking place in our first Breakthrough Community, Peachtree Corners & Norcross.
“I don’t care where it lives, I care how it behaves.”
One of the first questions I was asked at the convening was, “Where do you live?” To which, I answered “Buford, GA.” The woman asking the question was quick to clarify what she was asking, “No, What is your anchor entity? Where does your partnership live?” Now I get it. I shared briefly about GCO and how it is serving to support the Breakthrough PCN initiative. This really framed this Knowledge Nugget for me. One axiomatic realization from the Convening is that there is no normal for cradle to career partnerships. Some “live” in universities, others in United Ways, some in community foundations, a cohort are backed by chambers of commerce. The bottom line is that it should not matter what organization is serving as an anchor entity or backbone support role, what matters is behavior – how successfully is the partnership achieving its collective impact goals.
“There is a difference between engaged and committed.”
This resonated with me immediately. Of course, as one sits across a table from a community leader and brings up the topic of education the leader will be engaged in the conversation. Often community leaders will even be very excited about the efforts that are developing. However, what keeps the wheels of collective impact turning is not engagement, but undoubtedly, commitment. The process simply requires an organizational trust and vulnerability that all but prohibits success without the true long-term commitment of all involved parties.
“Action looks different now.”
Why must you be committed? Because, inevitably, this process is going to open your eyes to ways that action is going to change. Whether you are a funder who has to learn to look past outputs to true measurable outcomes, a non-profit who realizes that a program is ineffective and must be modified or eliminated, or maybe a business who realizes that the true battle ground for work force development is not what you expected – action looks different. There is no room in collective impact for a program that doesn’t push an indicator. Collective impact depends upon continuous improvement, and always pushing toward what proves to be the best solution. It was clear in discussions with partnership directors from around the country that action does look different now.
Through efforts to begin developing a collective impact here in the Norcross and Peachtree Corners communities, we are seeing the truth of these simple quotes lived out, and learning how deeply interconnected they are. The reality is, what matters about an intervention or support program is not who provides it or where it is offered – what should be the bottom line is its efficacy. However, growing that perspective requires some collaboration, which will demand the commitment of involved parties. Ultimately, as this starts to happen action will begin to look very different – and hopefully fare more successful!
by gaopp | Oct 3, 2013
The morning of September 17th, thirty leaders from community businesses, churches, and non-profits gathered at Brenau University’s North Atlanta Campus in Norcross to discuss how a Collective Impact effort could transform the landscape of social-service delivery in the Norcross and Peachtree-Corners communities.
Those at work in this space, quickly recognized the gap between an Isolated Impact approach – or as one meeting participant called it, “Every man for himself” approach – and the Collective Impact model, which focuses on a segmented pathway, where each organization and program serves a key role in getting the “client” to a desired end.
While this meeting was the first step in the process of filling the gaps between a shared community vision and measurable indicators, it marks a definitive transition point. A foundation was laid that recognizes the great value that each autonomous organization or program represents, yet establishes that each one of them is only capable of it’s most significant impact when working in harmony with those before and after them on the Cradle to Career pathway to success.
by gaopp | Sep 17, 2013
Who is responsible for our children’s education? Parents? Schools? Most would probably quickly agree that these parties are of paramount importance in insuring the education of future generations. However, what if businesses, faith-based groups, and non-profits were added to that list? What if there was community-wide shared responsibility for education?
Norcross high school is ranked 8th in Georgia. It boasts numerous athletic state championships, and is an International Baccalaureate World School — carrying a rigorous curriculum track that attracts students from other districts across Gwinnett County. However, only 70% of NHS students graduated in 2012.
At first glance, many would be shocked at this reality. How does a school of this undeniable high academic quality produce a graduation rate barely above the state average (69.72% in 2012)? In order to fairly answer that question, it helps go a few layers deeper into school data.
The Norcross cluster served just under 12,000 students in the 2011-2012 school year, of which 25% were classified as English learners and 72% as economically disadvantaged. The state averages for those classifications are 5% and 57%, respectively. This reveals a valuable insight: there are complexities impeding education that are rooted outside of the classroom. Given the external factors in place, Norcross is truly doing a phenomenal job at educating our children.
Demographic trends show that these emerging complexities are only growing in scope. So what is the solution?
You probably guessed it…that old “ it takes a village” cliché; except with a bit of a twist. Granted, the parent and teacher have a bit different role than the town blacksmith, but the blacksmith should still have a great interest in the education of his future clientele.
Because a community is impacted by its schools (e.g., property values, attractiveness to employers, etc), it should take a vested interest in their performance. As evidenced by the Strive Partnership in Cincinnati, OH, cross-sector community investment in education is proven to effect significant change in educational outcomes. They have adopted a philosophy of varied accountability, but a fully shared responsibility.
Breakthrough Communities is GCO’s approach to taking the proverbial bull by the horns in the Norcross school cluster. We believe that by establishing a community-wide common agenda, participating in mutually reinforcing activities, utilizing shared data measures, and implementing continuous improvement, we can see the systems of support changed for our students.
Imagine how student performance could be changed if after school programs, summer day camps, community based mentoring efforts, tutoring initiatives, and teachers were all watching the same numbers, and each one knew exactly how their efforts played an integral role in improving those numbers.
What if, through a collective alignment of efforts, the Norcross High graduation rate increased to 90%? Don’t you think that the benefit of that change would impact more than the additional graduates and their families? The represented cohort of 195 graduates would increase the gross state product by $3.1 million each year and spend an additional $215,000 each year exclusively on purchasing vehicles.
So, next time you read an article or hear a news report that is blasting poor school performance, stop and ask yourself two questions: 1) What is the rest of the story behind the alleged poor performance numbers? 2) How can you be a part of changing the future realities for students?