Economic Development

The Oakland Project: Paying-the-Poor Program Relies on Self-Sufficiency

One of the newest entrants in the CCT sweepstakes is the Family Independence Initiative (FII), which is currently operating in Oakland, Calif., San Francisco and Hawaii, and is starting a fourth pilot in Boston.
by | September 2010
 

One of the newest entrants in the CCT sweepstakes is the Family Independence Initiative (FII), which is currently operating in Oakland, Calif., San Francisco and Hawaii, and is starting a fourth pilot in Boston. The program targets families at or near the poverty level with at least one adult who is working or able to work.

Enrolled families can earn up to $2,000 annually for two years for increasing savings, decreasing debt, improving grades, attending financial training sessions and starting a new business. Families can also earn up to $2,000 in matched savings to do such things as purchase a home, start or expand a business or go to school.

Unlike most other anti-poverty programs, however, the Oakland initiative emphasizes self-sufficiency by encouraging families to look within -- and within their own communities -- for help on stabilizing and improving finances and social standing. By asking participants to turn first to peers for help and advice -- rather than on government or other nonprofits -- the FII simultaneously encourages community connections and self-sufficiency.

The big question for the FII is scalability. It serves very few families. However, of those it serves, the program is reporting promising results.

In mid-2007, for example, the FII enrolled 16 very low-income families from the Bayview-Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley areas of San Francisco. Eighteen months later, the success of these first 36 adults and 50 children has inspired almost 200 even lower-income families to ask to join FII so they can follow the success of the first families.

The first families made tremendous gains in income, debt reduction and children's grades. Here's the tally for the first 18 months:

- The average household income gain topped 20 percent.

- The families started or expanded six businesses.

- Seventy percent of the children showed grade improvement.

- Two became new homeowners.

For more information on the Family Independence Initiative see: http://www.fiinet.org/.

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