Centering the Margins: A Framework and Practices for Person-Centered Financial Security PolicyDECEMBER2020CENTERING THEMARGINSA FRAMEWORK AND PRACTICES FOR PERSON-CENTEREDFINANCIAL SECURITY POLICY
AUTHORRachel Black, Associate Director of the Aspen Institute Financial Security Program, authored this report.ACKNOWLEDGMENTSThis paper was made possible through an ongoing partnership between Springboard To Opportunities and TheAspen Institute Financial Security Program (Aspen FSP). Aspen FSP would like to thank Rachel Black for authoringthis brief; as well as Sarika Abbi, Karen Andres, Sheida Elmi, Stephen Nunez, Meghan Poljak, Joanna SmithRamani, and Elizabeth Vivirito for their assistance, comments, and insights. Additionally, Aspen FSP would also liketo thank Aisha Nyandoro for her thought leadership and partnership, and especially the women participating inthe Magnolia Mother’s Trust interviewed for this report. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions expressed inthis brief—as well as any errors— are Aspen FSP’s alone and do not necessarily represent the views of the funder.ABOUT THE ASPEN INSTITUTE FINANCIAL SECURITY PROGRAMThe Aspen Institute Financial Security Program’s (Aspen FSP) mission is to illuminate and solve the most criticalfinancial challenges facing American households and to make financial security for all a top national priority.We aim for nothing less than a more inclusive economy with reduced wealth inequality and shared prosperity. Webelieve that transformational change requires innovation, trust, leadership, and entrepreneurial thinking. AspenFSP galvanizes a diverse set of leaders across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to solve the most criticalfinancial challenges. We do this through deep, deliberate private and public dialogues and by elevating evidencebased research and solutions that will strengthen the financial health and security of financially vulnerableAmericans.To learn more, visit AspenFSP.org, follow @AspenFSP on Twitter, or sign up for our newsletterat http://bit.ly/fspnewsletter.
Centering the Margins: A Framework and Practices for Person-Centered Financial Security PolicyIntroductionSince the first cases of the COVID-19 werereported in 2020, the US has entered an eraof unprecedented unemployment, lost wages,and hardship. Federal policymakers mobilizedto push money to displaced workers and theirfamilies through provisions in the CARES Act,including 1,200 direct payments to mosthouseholds, as well as a 600 a week top-up oftypical Unemployment Insurance (UI) payments.The results were clear: early evidence showsthat the measures enacted by the CARES Actdecreased poverty rates nationwide in April andMay.1Despite these successes, there were clearfailures leading to the delay or absence of criticalresources, which fell most heavily on those whocould least afford it. As of October, for example,around 12 million people, disproportionatelyBlack and Latinx households, had yet to receivetheir Economic Impact Payments.2 Further, theCentury Foundation estimates that less than 60percent of the 33 million UI claims made by theend of May had been paid, leaving millions offamilies experiencing or on the brink of financialhardship.3The federal response to COVID-19 highlightsthe failure of existing programs to performto meet human need as well as the lack ofsustained political will necessary to avert thisoutcome. The inadequacy, inaccessibility, andunresponsiveness of the safety net was alreadywell understood by the people for whom theeconomy already wasn’t working. Failure hasn’tbeen a case of programs now buckling under theweight of an anomalous crisis. They have beenperforming precisely as designed, but at scale—and with a level of visibility that has brought theirfailures into plain sight.Rather than a failure of any one programin isolation, the performance of the publicsystems charged with meeting human needis an indictment of an approach that is at bestThe Aspen Institute Financial Security Programdisconnected from—and at worst indifferent to—the people our policies are impacting.The lesson is clear: to change theseoutcomes, we have to flip the currenttop-down model of policy design,replacing it with a person-centeredapproach that originates with—and isaccountable to—the people that policyis impacting.The non-profit service organization Springboardto Opportunities in Jackson, Mississippi, is apioneering model of what this approach couldlook like in practice. With a “radically residentdriven” mission, Springboard launched theMagnolia Mother’s Trust in 2018. This pilotprogram provided 20 Black women living inpublic housing 1,000 per month with no stringsattached for a year. An expanded demonstrationproject reaching 110 women began in March of2020. Critically, the Magnolia Mother’s Trust wasco-designed by women living in these housingcommunities. The Magnolia Mother’s Trust ismeant to study not just the impact of regular cashinfusions to families in need, but to display thepower of community-driven program and policydesign and to refute existing pejorative andracialized narratives around welfare policy.This paper is a partnership between Springboardto Opportunities and the Aspen InstituteFinancial Security Program. (FSP), seeks tooperationalized Springboard’s “Radicallyresident-driven” approach to the design andevaluation of financial security policy.Of course, the current top-down model of designpractices is pervasive both within institutionsthat set policy, like government, as well as thosethat influence policy. As such, this personcentered framework and practices can providea tool for philanthropic foundations, socialservice agencies, and other stakeholders thatset priorities and shape systems that will affectpeople experiencing financial insecurity.1
Centering the Margins: A Framework and Practices for Person-Centered Financial Security PolicyWHAT’S IN THIS PAPERThe Lived Reality of the SocialSafety Net. 3A “Radically Resident-Driven”Framework for Centering People. 7Person-Centered Practices forFinancial Security Policy. 10Conclusion. 18This paper:1. Establishes a rationale for “centeringthe margins,” shifting power andinfluence to the people excluded byour current economic and politicalsystems—and Black women inparticular—within financial securitypolicy;2. Defines a framework for designingperson-centered financial securitypolicy as being Holistic, Systemic,and Power Building, and;3. Identifies a set of practices forapplying a person-centeredframework to the design andevaluation of financial security policy.By examining ways to institutionalize the voiceand influence of impacted communities at everystep of policymaking—from identifying what isneeded, to determining how it should work andevaluating its effectiveness—this framework aimsto ensure that policy is accountable to thosethe policy is intended to serve. In doing so, thisframework offers a positive alternative to policydesign, one that honors and thrives on theinsights and experiences of people underservedunder the current approach and supports theircapacity to drive the creation of policies thatserve their needs.For more information on the central role ofbenefits, read “A Modernized System ofBenefits is the foundation for an InclusiveEconomy.” To learn more about Benefits21,visit aspeninstitute.org/programs/benefits212The Aspen Institute Financial Security Program
Centering the Margins: A Framework and Practices for Person-Centered Financial Security PolicyThe Lived Reality of theSocial Safety NetThe inadequate and inequitable performanceof the safety net at a time of a national crisiswas presaged by the everyday experiences ofBlack women living in Mississippi. Even beforethe economic fallout from the pandemic, recentresearch from The Insight Center for CommunityEconomic Development finds: The median wage among the 50 mostcommon occupations in Mississippi is just 12.09 an hour. The fastest-growing occupations in Mississippipay relatively low wages, with a median wageof 11.37 an hour. Black women are locked out of 62 percentof all jobs, the highest percentage among allgroups. In the Jackson area, three of the top-fiveoccupations in which Black women areoverrepresented pay less than 15,000 a year. Black women in the Jackson area are crowdedinto the occupation of home health aidewhere they comprise an overwhelmingmajority (88 percent of workers) and are paidonly 8.00 an hour.4Despite these difficult labor market conditions,the state nonetheless takes full advantage of itsflexibility to administer public benefits programsand tighten eligibility requirements. As a result,Mississippi provides among the most meagerand least accessed assistance in the nation. Thestate has the highest poverty rate in the nation,and in 2019, 43 percent of its Black childrenwere in families living below the poverty line,compared with 14 percent of White children.5Yet, only 6 percent of families living in povertyparticipate in the Temporary Assistance forNeedy Families program and those who doreceive a maximum benefit of 170 per month, avalue that diminishes each year due to inflation.6The Aspen Institute Financial Security ProgramSPRINGBOARD TOOPPORTUNITIES: PERSONCENTERED PROGRAM DESIGNIN ACTIONSpringboard to Opportunities in Jackson,Mississippi, responded to these dynamicsby launching the Magnolia Mother’s Trust inDecember of 2018, the nation’s only guaranteedincome project tailored to poor Black women.Springboard, led by Chief Executive OfficerAisha Nyandoro, is a direct service organizationcurrently working in 11 low-income affordablehousing communities in Alabama, Maryland, andMississippi. The organization serves more than5,000 residents annually, 98 percent of whom aresingle Black women and their children.Operating within affordable housingcommunities, the families Springboard serveshave very low incomes. To be eligible for federalhousing assistance, applicants cannot exceed 50percent of the median income in the surroundingarea (80 percent for public housing), and atleast 40 percent of families newly admittedto programs each year must have an incomethat is no greater than 30 percent of the areamedian. In 2013, this ranged from 7,800 to 36,600 for a family of four, depending on thearea; the average household in public housinghad an income of 13,800 that year, while thosein Project Based Rental Assistance on averagemade 12,000 annually.7The “Radically Resident-Driven” ApproachAll of Springboard’s services are shaped byits “radically resident-driven” ethos, whichemphasizes the need for those being servedto be included in every aspect of programdevelopment, implementation, and evaluation.As a result, Springboard has successfullydeveloped inclusive processes to ensure that thevoices of residents are included in all aspects ofthe organization’s work.3
Centering the Margins: A Framework and Practices for Person-Centered Financial Security PolicyFor example, Springboard engages its residentsin participatory budgeting; inviting them tohave a voice in budgetary decisions regardingprogramming. This inclusion of resident voiceswas intentional to the organization’s modelbecause in many instances families that livein poverty have limited positive contact withindividuals “in power”; in many instances theserelationships are hierarchical.In September 2016, Springboard toOpportunities staff conducted focus groupswith 70 residents of four affordable housingcommunities in Jackson. All participantsidentified as Black or Black mixed race, and allbut five identified as female. Participants rangedin age from 18 to 77 years, and the averageparticipant was 38 years old with two childrenand some college education. Discussionswere facilitated to address topics includingparticipants’ personal understandings of theterms “wealth” and “poverty”; their experienceswith affordable housing; their awareness of,experiences with, and perceived impacts of othergovernment services and supports; and theirlong-term housing and employment plans andbarriers to reaching them.Using the perspective of families, findings fromthis research demonstrated that the top-downmethodology currently used to implement socialservice policies are creating households wherefamilies have little to no access to discretionarycash, thereby creating not only immenseeconomic stress but emotional stress as well. Thestories of the women who informed this researchwere punctuated with experiences where effortsto improve their lives in meaningful ways—likereturning to school for additional education andtraining—are thwarted by the instability of theirimmediate circumstances, or, too often, heldin tension with their ability to smooth over therough edges of living in poverty and make lifemore comfortable for their families now. As oneof these women, Tracee, observed, “It’s like youhave to pick one.”Accordingly, Magnolia Mother’s Trust wasenvisioned not just as a program to meet a4clear and immediate need for cash amongresidents that Springboard was serving. It wasmade to inform a reimagined set of policiesthat were dictated by the people those policiesare serving. In other words, a set of policiesdriven by Springboard’s own “radically residentdriven” theory of change. As Aisha Nyandorodescribed, “If you bring new people to the table,but everyone else around the table stays thesame and still believes the same philosophiesand ideologies, you’re not changing the table,so you aren’t changing the narratives that arethe basis for poor program designs. You haveto change the narrative, and to do that, youhave to change the narrator. That means makingsure that individuals with lived experiences ofpoverty have an opportunity to tell their truthand not have someone else tell that story on theirbehalf.”8“You have to change the narrative,and to do that, yo
around 12 million people, disproportionately Black and Latinx households, had yet to receive their Economic Impact Payments.2 Further, the Century Foundation estimates that less than 60 percent of the 33 million UI claims made by the end of May had been paid, leaving millions of families experiencing or on the brink of financial hardship.3 The federal response to COVID-19 highlights the .