By Maria Cadenas, Executive Director of Santa Cruz Community Ventures
Our work at SCCV is grounded on our belief that a new economy that creates a more equitable, sustainable, and just community for all is possible and necessary.
Our work is beyond poverty, beyond access to a broken system. Our work is about the world we want to see and the economic and business systems that will help us get there. We are at a point of innovation, imagination, and vision.
Our work is based on the U.S. ideals that we are all created equal and with the promise that we have indelible right to life, liberty, and happiness.
But to build something new, to emerge beyond the world we know, we have to acknowledge and recognize the hate and divisiveness that came into full view in Virginia this weekend.
If we are brave enough to take on changing our economic and business models, we must be brave enough to talk about race. When we talk about working to create a new economy, when we speak about wealth gaps and affordability, we are talking about the fact that the system itself does not work. And it does not work precisely because of the inequities it is built on.
Today, I ask that we have the courage to be visible and intentional about our support of those U.S. ideals of equity and opportunity for all.
Let us remember, that to speak of innovation and truly bring change, we have to take a long hard look at unspoken assumptions, unacknowledged privilege, and have the courage to acknowledge that we are in this together. After all, there is only us.
By Brando Sencion, Program Coordinator
The Affordable Care Act recently faced possible removal and replacement by a bill in the senate that failed to pass. The law that is mostly known for its healthcare, has worked in favor of low-income families in relation to their finances by eliminating asset limits for all children and adults. This important aspect of the bill should be a critical component future health care laws should uphold.
Prior to the ACA, 27 states imposed asset limits on families as low as $1,000. The elimination of these asset limits has removed a financial barrier for low-income families. Families can obtain economic security by building upon their existing assets without losing essential benefits.
Low-income families are in constant struggle with affordable healthcare and financial security. They find it difficult to save, especially when dealing with the expensive cost of living in Santa Cruz County and paying for medical expenses.
At the moment, there is a sense of alleviation due to the removal of asset limits the ACA has brought many families. Important components such as the removal of asset limits should be a core mandate for future health care laws and one of the focus points in the financial capability community.
Asset limits and Financial capability comes into play with low-income families and their finances because of the importance of building financial security. The benefits of knowing how to budget and save are essential for families to improve their economic situations. The goal of financial capability is to educate residents and continue to build assets to create a thriving communities.
Thus, continue to call your representatives and let them know that the ACA is more than just health care, but creates access to economic security and growth in low-income families. Also, reach out to Santa Cruz Community Ventures for more information around financial capability and how it can help you. Our communities deserve the opportunity to grow and prosper.
By Maria Cadenas, Executive Director of Santa Cruz Community Ventures
The fact that medical debt is the number one reason for personal bankruptcy in the US should be guidance enough to recognize the danger of removing healthcare coverage from millions of families. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) ensures that getting healthy is not a gateway to poverty and its repeal would be an economic disaster.
The ACA's expansion of Medicaid, its consumer protection provisions, and the elimination of antiquated medicaid Asset Limit policies all work together to ensure families can focus on getting healthy and not on how to avoid poverty - which usually puts a family in a tough position of having to choose between getting their medication or paying the rent.
Consider that 36% of Santa Cruz County households are only three months away from poverty and that the cost of poverty is a burden shared by the entire community. In fact, studies have shown that the cost to the U.S. associated with childhood poverty alone total about $500B per year, or the equivalent of nearly 4 percent of GDP.
And let's not forget the thousands of well-paying healthcare jobs that have become their own economic engine in our communities. In Santa Cruz County the repeal of the ACA would costs us $314M per year, and this just accounts for the repeal of the Medicaid expansion.
The ACA provides better healthcare to our communities and is an effective economic engine. Its repeal would be a disastrous option for our local economies. Take a moment to share your story on how the ACA has made you healthier.
Poor families are constantly thinking about money and savings – save for a car to get to that job, for that rental deposit to move out of the shelter, or for tuition to get an education. Savings is what they aspire and need to do to get out of poverty. But they can’t save because the safety net programs we created as a society actively discourage it by using asset limits.
Asset limit policies create a catch-22 for poor families where if they try to save to move out of poverty they lose basic need support that their savings cannot replace – things like health, food, and rental assistance.
Take for example Santa Cruz, where the cost of is 34.7% above the national average. According to Zillow, the average price of rent is about $2,900. To move a family usually must have the deposit and the first month of rent – or about $5,800. Usually landlords also ask for the last month of rent, making the total cost closer to $8,700. However, in California, the cash assistance program under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) has limits of $2,000 for single recipients or $3,250 if household includes person over 60.
For these reasons eight states, Alabama, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Marilyn, Ohio, and Virginia, have eliminated the TANF asset limits. The elimination of asset limits recognizes the fact that without savings temporary setback such as job loss, illness, or car trouble can set a family back and prevent them from leaving poverty behind.
Families in Santa Cruz county already find it difficult to save and live in an area with extremely high cost of living. Many depend on these public benefits to make ends meet. It would be a lot easier for them to flourish without barriers inhibiting their asset growth.
In states that removed asset limits it has been found that removing the asset test did not greatly rise the number of new applicants for public benefits. In fact, the majority of applicants were already in asset poverty. Research has also found that removing the asset limits reduces time, effort and cost to each programs administration.
In financial counseling, we also recommend that families have 6 months of living expenses have in case of emergency. That is much more than $2,000. Asset limits are then not only preventing families from saving to move out of poverty, they are actively discouraging families from exhibiting healthy financial behaviors.
Call your representative and let them know that asset limit reform needs to happen in the state of California, as well as all over the country. Our communities deserve the opportunity to grow and prosper.
Kiana Morales got her Financial Counselor certification two weeks ago. She has worked hard and held multiple financial capability workshops with middle school girls in Santa Cruz County.
"Getting certified in financial counseling has broadened my knowledge and will help develop more in depth workshops for the middle school girls," said Kiana. "The middle school students that I have had workshops with really enjoyed them and even said they would attend more if they were available."
Kiana is one of the first Youth Financial Capability Interns at Santa Cruz Community Ventures. An effort to increase financial knowledge, skills, and access for youth in our community. In her role she has developed and launched a middle school peer curriculum in the Pajaro Valley.
Last week, I had to listen to family and friends as they shared their stories of being bullied and intimidated immediately following the election results. I had to listen to the fear that is now part of their bodies. I had to make peace with the almost numb resignation I found in myself. Yes, the election hurt me to my core.
Last week was not an easy week. The political environment we are in is incomprehensible to me. For over 20 years I have worked to make sure that our communities and country moved closer to a place of equity and justice. And yet, last week I had to force myself to remember to stand.
We are stewards of hope. And not hope of access to a broken system or that something will happen in the future. Our hope is a demand, a war cry, that the system must change right now because people are hurting right now.
I know that our work is but a thread in a much larger and complex tapestry of justice. Remember, we don't stand alone. We are loved, valued, and needed. And we will move forward.
We're going to speak up, stand up, be out, be visible, and not allow abuse. After all, we stand on the shoulders of giants and we will rise together. These are the front lines of the fight that we were born to fight. And we will win.
Maria T Cadenas
My name is Jefre Barrera and I am a Financial Capability Intern at Santa Cruz Community Ventures. I'm a student at Cabrillo College and resident of Watsonville.
Youth face so many obstacles on their path to adulthood that one of them should not be the deprivation of knowledge and resources that are afforded to other youth in other communities.
The majority of youth in my community are financially illiterate but I want to provide them with information and resources that will give them opportunities to create a better life for themselves. I want to show them that someone does care about them, their future, and wants them to succeed.
As the Financial Capability Intern I will be developing a new program focused reaching high school youth, primarily at risk youth in the community. I aim to create presentation modules that will provide youth with information and resources to help increase financial capability.
Through mentoring and the creation of a strong and successful network with community partners we hope to reach the youth and create a drastic impact that increases awareness in the community.
Financial capability is the premise that families should be able to thrive by having both the knowledge, skills, and access to be financially stable. That is a cornerstone of what we do here at Santa Cruz Community Ventures (SCCV). We believe that by strengthening the financial capability of youth and working families in our region we create the very foundation of an inclusive economy.
As you can imagine, the journey to financial capability is never a straight line, nor the same for everyone. But there are stages and aspects that could be pointed out as milestones for each age. And @CFED has done a fabulous job of putting a handy Financial Capability Lifecycle together.
Take a look and see where you and your family are at. It may be missing the party hats, but what better month than April to celebrate this idea. After all, this April we cap it knowing that our free tax services returned over $660K to working families, with an average federal refund of over $1,500 - for many the largest check they will see all year!
So here's a cheer to this very special April and to all of us working on increasing our financial capability and that of our families and neighbors!
Santa Cruz Community Ventures is the nonprofit affiliate of the Santa Cruz Community Credit Union