Proving Investments LIFT
By Chelsea Strelser, Communications & Development Intern, National Office
Though the presidential election has come to a close, there is still heated debate in Congress over how to solve the debt crisis and avoid the fiscal cliff. Republicans and Democrats may be unable to agree on a lot these days, but one thing we can all agree on is 46 million Americans living in poverty is unacceptable. But with a pressing need to reduce government spending, essential social programs that target middle and low-income families are facing potential budget cuts.
A recent study by the Center for American Progress suggests that cutting funding for these programs would be a mistake. In fact, cutting spending would aggravate the issue and send even more people into poverty. The study evaluated the effectiveness of these programs by measuring how many people each program kept out of poverty. It concluded that 22 million people were prevented from falling into poverty as a direct result of these programs. Without them, the number of Americans living in poverty would have increased by a third! You can see the exact breakdown by program here.
The current financial climate will require spending cuts in all sectors, but it is clear that these types of programs must be protected to keep Americans afloat. Furthermore, these programs are actually much less expensive than many believe. In the last forty years, nondefense discretionary spending (programs whose budgets are reconsidered every year) only accounted for 3 to 5 percent of GDP. It is safe to say that these programs are an easy and crucial investment in our country’s future.
This study also proves what an important role LIFT plays in the fight against poverty. By connecting our clients to these vital programs, we are building a wall between them and poverty. As noted in our new 2012 impact report, LIFT connected 750 clients to public benefit programs over the past year alone. That’s 750 people gaining access to health insurance, unemployment benefits, financial aid, food assistance, and more! By expanding access to these programs, we are increasing the personal and economic well-being of our clients.
Breakdown of Client Benefit Enrollment for 2012
Dismantling Perceptions, Setting a New Standard
by Ivy Anderson, Program Assistant, LIFT-Boston, FAO Schwarz Family Foundation Fellow
Recently, I’ve been reflecting upon my experience at LIFT, particularly in light of our new mission statement.
“LIFT’s mission is to help community members achieve economic stability and well-being. We are working to establish a new standard for holistic and enduring solutions in our country’s fight against poverty.”
As a former advocate and Summer Fellow, and now as a Program Assistant, this mission statement resonates as entirely apt in summarizing what we do at LIFT. It’s so accurate, I’m wondering and forgetting what the mission was we stood behind in the past.
As my summer as a Fellow has come to a close and I step into a new role as Program Assistant at LIFT-Boston, I am evaluating what I was successful (and unsuccessful) at as an advocate, and what it is about LIFT’s approach that led me in the direction of success. To me, success is a goal met—a step toward economic stability secured—whether as small as receiving a subsidized public transportation pass, or as huge as finding a home.
I have not studied the art of human services, nor have I any legal training in how to properly defend public benefits or navigate the complicated network of housing authorities. So how is it that Sandra and I found her an apartment compatible with the regulations of her Section 8 voucher? Or that Marie and I wrote and won an appeal to the Social Security Administration in the face of SSI reductions? In considering the summer and the array of goals my clients and I met together, I wonder: is it an advocate’s ingenuity that fuels client outcomes? Is it a client’s motivation that accomplishes goals?
It is a powerful combination: the momentum and urgency of a client facing real-life issues and the interest of their advocate who is seeking to expand their knowledge of a community through knowing and serving its members. And what is unique to LIFT, is that the people at both ends of this powerful combination, this partnership, are present because they want to be—because they pursued being present. This bonds our community members together. This lifts our communities.
And it is a two-pronged (if not three, four, or five-pronged) approach. While clients assess and reach their goals, advocates get an education in the inner-workings of institutions, and the race, class, and social “isms” that segregate opportunity in our country. Advocates connect a whole person and a story to the “ism” that may previously have narrowly defined their picture of poverty, and have the opportunity to redefine their notion of humanity.
LIFT has dismantled my perceptions about who is impoverished and what defines poverty. Poverty is broader than “welfare queens”—there is a wide and widening spectrum of families whose income is too high to qualify for public benefits, yet too low to be considered sufficient. In Boston, there are as many as 150,000 households living 185% to 400% above the federal poverty line, with the federal poverty line so low, families with twice the federally impoverished income remain below a self-sufficient wage. For a family of four, $22,050 constitutes the federal poverty line, while $81,419 constitutes comfortable. The federal poverty line is such an inaccurate measure of economic stability that income eligibility for public benefits is inflated yet still disqualifies economically disadvantaged households from subsidies.
Considering these statistics, it makes sense that for an organization to meet the needs of our struggling neighbors, it must have no eligibility requirements. The 215% gap between families eligible for public assistance, and families with sufficient income, clearly demonstrates that struggle has leapt outside the bounds of our government’s definition of poverty. By opening its doors to all people, LIFT acknowledges that a line cannot quantify instability, need, or well-being. Furthermore, it acknowledges that a numerical value—even if it was accurate—is not an inclusive or productive method of fostering the partnerships that energize success.
As I reflect on my work as a Summer Fellow and I focus in on what to take into my new role, I have much confidence in LIFT’s raised standard—a standard rooted in the collaboration of two minds and in the consideration of the whole person. I believe that LIFT is holistic, and is an enduring solution to combating poverty in this country.
It’s time that we look beyond the poverty statistics.
The Census bureau’s newly released poverty numbers for 2011 show that 46.2 million Americans today live in poverty, that’s 1 in 6 of our neighbors who are struggling every day to make ends meet. And that leaves out the many millions more that live beyond the technical definition of poverty but far from what any of us would consider economic stability.
All of this underscores the importance of the work we are doing at LIFT in cities across our nation. These numbers also intensify our desire to tell the stories of the real people who are getting lost behind these charts and graphs.
“It’s time that we look beyond the statistics. Behind these numbers are individuals and families working hard to ensure that their children have a chance to grow up in an America where the American dream is a reality to them”, says Kirsten Lodal, LIFT CEO and Founder.
Though the poverty numbers haven’t changed significantly since 2010, at LIFT our clients are seeing life changing results. Behind those numbers are some of our most resilient community members like Angela, a Philadelphia native who through working with LIFT not only found employment helping other Philadelphians get on their feet, but who found a restored hope and passion for her own community.
Or Gary, who after working in the aviation industry for over twenty years was laid off and unable to provide for his family. LIFT and Gary worked together not only to find Gary employment, but to restore his sense of pride and confidence.
At LIFT our clients are not one in six. They are Angelas, Garys, Beckys, Aarons. They have names and they have hopes and dreams. And thanks to the countless supporters, staff members, advocates, and community partners, we press on lifting individuals, families, and communities.
If you are new to LIFT, please consider joining our community of LIFTers by getting involved today.
If you are a LIFTer, please take a moment to tell us why you LIFT!
LIFT-Chicago Summit: Perspective
LIFT-Chicago Summit: Building Community
LIFT-Chicago Summit: Digging Deeper
LIFT-Chicago Summit: Starting a Dialogue
LIFT-Chicago Summit: Finding Solutions
Images of Summit
After our first Chicago Regional Summit last year, I cannot contain my excitement for this year’s experience. I think Summit is an essential time to not only better prepare student advocates to best serve our clients, but to instill within them a sense of solidarity in combating poverty and expanding opportunity in our community as well. It is a major opportunity for volunteers from the three offices to interact, connect and recognize how their personal experiences fit into the larger national movement. Despite having to address a subject as heavy as poverty, it is approached from a variety of angles that help to alleviate such heaviness and allow the student advocates to enjoy themselves rather than feel discouraged.
Summit provides volunteers with a level of comfort beyond simply knowing that there are other students involved in an experience that parallels one’s own; it allows individual volunteers to actually meet and discuss with these students, leading to a better, more personal understanding of LIFT’s work and mission. This—in addition to getting them out of their respective campuses for a day—ultimately challenges student advocates to build upon and progress their time at LIFT in such a way that complements the common human experience.
LIFT-Chicago Student Advocate/Loyola University Chicago ‘12
LIFT-Chicago Regional Summit
The LIFT-Chicago region is excited to see our Second Annual Regional Summit take place in just under 24 hours. After months of planning, we look forward for the opportunity to bring together our entire region and several community partners to engage in discussion around Problem Solving Across Systems and Creating an Opportunity Society.
Our student advocates will be blogging about their summit experience, their reflections from the day, and what it means to join with those from across the region to discuss their work and collaborate with those across the Chicago community. We hope you will continue to check back here over the coming weeks, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and engage in discussion as our student advocates react to their summit experience.
On behalf of all LIFT-Chicago Site Coordinators, we look forward to sharing this summit experience with you,
Alli Rosen and Matt Forrest
Site Coordinator/AmeriCorps*National Direct