Direct Assistance Plus Financial Coaching: A Life-Changing Combination

Op-Ed by Danielle Robinson and Dr. Judith Allen

As we enter April 2021, the country recognizes Financial Literacy Month, but more painfully, April marks the thirteenth month of lives being forever altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. This month brings into focus the financial fragility of many Americans which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Of the 15% of Americans who reported losing a job because of the pandemic, lower-income adults were disproportionately unemployed, according to research conducted by Pew during the heart of the pandemic. Some 56% of workers with lower incomes who lost their job because of the coronavirus outbreak said they were currently unemployed, compared with 42% of middle- and upper-income adults.*

A key takeaway is that people living paycheck to paycheck are not able to endure the hardship of job loss like folks who have spare income. This is one reason why in the last year many social service nonprofits have seen unprecedented demand for their services. Meeting basic needs is critical and pairing this support with more long-term intervention is a recipe for building the capacity of our most vulnerable neighbors.

Communities In Schools (CIS) of Chicago has deep roots in the local community and over the past three decades has earned a reputation for success. The nonprofit works with more than 50,000 students annually across 175 Chicago Public Schools. Of these schools, 30 representing 18,000 students are part of CIS’s intensive on-site program that in ordinary times partners to provide the resources and support they need to stay in school and succeed in life. CIS helps students stay on track and ultimately graduate from high school prepared for success.

Throughout the pandemic, CIS’s services have been virtual and through its COVID-19 Intensive Response Initiative, the organization has increased focus on meeting basic needs for families coupled with providing money management tools to support long-term financial stability. CIS’s target demographic is families without a safety net, many of whom have been hit hardest by COVID-19. Support provided by CIS includes such benefits as a secure job, back-up childcare, health insurance and other important features.

During the pandemic, as many funders have shifted their philanthropic focus to provide pandemic-related relief, Jackson National Life Insurance Company® (Jackson®) has looked to its long-time partners for solutions. CIS was one of many nonprofits that saw the financial impact COVID-19 was having on its clients and quickly pivoted to provide new services that have also included direct assistance and emergency food distribution to their students and families. This response has been critical as families navigate the back-and-forth of virtual and in-person school.

Assistance with basic needs is step one for CIS clients. Step two is connecting them with a Student Supports Manager who provides one-on-one comprehensive services including counseling, help with goal-setting and access to financial coaching. Through CIS’s broad network of trusted community partners, families also receive comprehensive financial support that includes help with building a budget and an accountability partner to help them follow it. Over the past year, covering rent and utilities has been a struggle for many families and CIS has connected clients with direct rent assistance to help avoid derogatory credit and personally devastating evictions.

For the second year in a row, Jackson is honored to award a special $50,000 COVID-19 relief grant to CIS to fund their financial empowerment programs. The impact has been tremendous, benefitting 125 households and 375 children with a goal to reach another one thousand students this school year and next.

The demand for services from schools served by CIS continues to increase, and many of our neighbors need our help. Donors seeking an opportunity to create meaningful impact for people still facing hardships from the pandemic would be wise to consider supporting CIS and other nonprofits providing critical programs in our community.

Danielle Robinson is assistant vice president of corporate philanthropy at Jackson National Life Insurance Company and executive director of the Jackson Charitable Foundation. Dr. Judith Allen is Chief Operating Officer at Communities In Schools of Chicago.

Jackson® is the marketing name for Jackson National Life Insurance Company® (Home Office: Lansing, Michigan) and Jackson National Life Insurance Company of New York (Home Office: Purchase, New York). Jackson National Life Distributors LLC.

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