live / 2020

LIFT’s Family Goal Fund: Moving Money into the Hands of Families who Need it Most

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Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Grants Challenge by LIFT - Los Angeles

LIFT’s Family Goal Fund is designed to help parents build a small buffer. Not just in times of crisis like COVID-19, but to withstand the daily stressors that come with living in poverty and accelerate their progress towards long-term goals. As parents persist through LIFT’s coaching program, they receive $150 every three months that they can spend in any way they see fit— be it making a rental payment, starting an emergency savings fund, or paying for a vocational licensing exam on their path to a higher paying job.

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • Central LA
  • City of Los Angeles

In what stage of innovation is this project?

Expand existing program

What is the need you’re responding to?

Los Angeles County holds nearly 10% of the country’s homelessness population and has a poverty rate of 21.5%, significantly higher than the U.S. average of 13.4%. Families arrive at LIFT’s office in the Pico Union neighborhood (where one in three families live below the poverty line) with an average annual income of $18,000 and an employment rate of 32%, often just one financial emergency away from homelessness.

According to a recent study, four out of 10 Americans would not be able to cover $400 in unexpected expenses without selling something or going into debt. Which means that Americans need access to financial slack now, in times of crisis like COVID-19, and on an ongoing basis.

LIFT’s model helps parents achieve financial stability and well-being through personalized wraparound supports, including one-on-one financial and career coaching, workshops, and resources that will support them in increasing savings and income, decreasing debt, and securing family-sustaining employment.

Why is this project important to the work of your organization?

For more than 20 years LIFT has partnered with over 100,000 families on their paths out of poverty. We know from experience that parents are motivated, resilient, and thrive when they have access to the same things we all need to succeed—a financial cushion to weather emergencies, social networks that offer opportunities, and personal supports that give you the confidence to get through hard times.

Recognizing that parents know what they need most to succeed but often don’t have the luxury of investing in themselves, LIFT began piloting cash transfer programs in 2015. After testing matched savings, restricted use, and reimbursement models, we formalized our Family Goal Fund in 2018. Combined with our coaching program, LIFT’s model offers a powerful tool in breaking the cycle of poverty. Of the 400 families we serve each year, 95% report improvements in economic security, 95% report improved personal well-being and 99% of our members feel that they can turn to LIFT in a time of need.

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this proposal?

Direct impact
Indirect impact

Please describe the broader impact of your proposal.

LIFT can share key lessons that have clear policy implications. 1) We can trust parents. If given access to funds—and the right to choose how to spend it—our data show that parents spend on what they need most. 2) Fewer restrictions, more results. Offering more cash and cash-like supports (WIC, SNAP), not less, is the most effective way of reducing child poverty. However, burdensome eligibility criteria and enrollment procedures and the “benefits cliff” prevent families from accessing what they need. 3) More bang for your (public) buck. Research shows that increasing families’ incomes during a child’s earliest years leads to better long-term academic performance, health outcomes, and employment for their children. These outcomes save money.

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

LIFT will measure success using the following metrics: -90% of committed members will persist or progress in employment, finances, or education; -50% will persist or progress in employment; -70% will persist or progress in finances (i.e. increase savings, decrease debt, increase credit score, save money each month, make minimum debt payments each month, complete a Finances goal); and -50% will persist or progress in education

Our vision for the Family Goal Fund is that families are entrusted with regular injections of cash in order to provide much needed stability and ensure long-term security. Even the most motivated parents are vulnerable to getting knocked off track by seemingly small financial shocks which trigger a cascade of challenges that are hard to recover from. LIFT’s Family Goal Fund provides a concrete safety net based on implicit trust. Parents want to give their children a better life than their own, and they can and should be trusted to make smart decisions to get it done.

Christina’s story embodies our vision for success. Christina came to LIFT three years ago looking for connections to food and clothing support for her children. Though she did not have the legal right to work, she was able to set and achieve goals in LIFT’s program. Since then, she went back to school, got a job, started her own construction company, and became a homeowner. Access to LIFT’s Goal Fund was pivotal in helping her stay on course, rebound in crisis, and make her dreams a reality.

Which of the live metrics will your submission impact?​

  • Poverty rate
  • Resilient communities
  • Homelessness

Are there any other LA2050 goal categories that your proposal will impact?

  • LA is the healthiest place to CONNECT

Which of LA2050’s resources will be of the most value to you?

  • Access to the LA2050 community
  • Host public events or gatherings
  • Communications support
  • Office space for meetings, events, or for staff
  • Strategy assistance and implementation