United Way Washtenaw invests $100,000 in programs to build financial stability

Programs that promote financial stability through literacy, tax preparation help for seniors, and services for formerly homeless people are among the recipients of $100,000 in grants from the United Way of Washtenaw County (UW Washtenaw).


In late July UW Washtenaw announced the 12-month grants for the second year of a three-year pilot program expanding UW Washtenaw's work in the area of financial stability, with an emphasis on work done in the 48198 and 48197 ZIP codes. UW at the national and local level puts an emphasis on serving Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (ALICE) populations, also known as the "working poor."


"In Washtenaw County, income inequality is not where it should be, and your ZIP code largely determines your opportunities in life," says Bridget Healy, director of community impact for UW Washtenaw. "We asked ourselves what we could do to get upstream and support the 52,000 households struggling to meet basic needs so that they can recapture the power they already have to maintain control over their finances."


Healy says financial stability has always been one of three priority areas for UW at the national level, along with education and health. However, UW Washtenaw hadn't done much work in the area of financial stability until two years ago, when community partners said it was an area that deserved attention.


UW Washtenaw grants went to a mix of existing programs doing work that aligns with UW goals, while others are brand new programs or expansions of existing programs.


Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County (CSS) received $8,000 for its tax assistance for low-income seniors program, which complements a similar service already offered by UW Washtenaw. CSS has access to seniors in assisted living who would have trouble getting out to UW locations where tax prep is offered, for instance.


Friends In Deed received two grants, including a $5,000 award for its existing transportation program that helps low-income individuals who are "one car breakdown from losing a job." Another $10,000 was awarded to Friends In Deed's new Circles Washtenaw County program, which pairs low-income individuals with more affluent mentors who can coach them in financial management and help break the cycle of generational poverty, Healy says.


A $25,000 grant to the Michigan Advocacy Program will assist domestic assault victims in navigating and paying for divorce. A $15,000 grant to Ozone House will serve youth who have experienced homelessness, teaching them financial management skills. The grant will allow Ozone House's part-time financial coach to expand into a full-time role.


SOS Community Services was awarded $25,000 for Work Start, a new program that helps mothers who have experienced homelessness to gain skills and find employers, who will receive a stipend for taking on non-traditional job candidates. A $12,000 grant to Washtenaw Literacy will help the organization continue to run its literacy learning labs.


"We're thinking more broadly about literacy in the traditional sense to include digital literacy, health literacy, and financial and workforce literacy," Healy says, with a focus on mothers and children. "When a mom can read and navigate the computer and the workforce and their own finances, that has a long-term positive impact on children and their academic achievement."


Healy says that after the third round of funding next year, UW Washtenaw will examine whether financial stability should be a permanent addition to the nonprofit's program offerings.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.