In the last three years in Contra Costa County, the cost of child care has increased by 25%, unemployment by 74%, and the number of CalFresh (food stamps) recipients by 123%. Meanwhile, wages rose by only 2%.
A family of four in Contra Costa with one school-age and one preschool-age child would have to earn $69,069 annually to cover basic costs including housing, food, transportation, child care, health care, and taxes. This level of self sufficiency is out of reach for most of the families our funded programs serve, especially when you consider that last year 48% of our families earned $15,000 or less.
Financial insecurity affects children. According to the Long Reach of Early Childhood Poverty report released earlier this year, an income boost of just $3,000 for families with young children earning less than $25,000 improved children’s educational achievement and future earnings when they reached adulthood. The study’s authors say instead of cutting programs that support the incomes of low-income families with young children, we should be thinking about increasing Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit.
I agree. First 5 Contra Costa has supported many efforts to reduce poverty and increase family self-sufficiency in Contra Costa. For example, we have been an active partner in the county’s Family Economic Security Partnership (I am FESP’s Chair) and have supported the annual Earn It Keep It Save It Contra Costa campaign (EKS) since its inception.
The EKS campaign is getting underway again this year to provide free tax preparation to households earning less than $50,000 a year, and to help workers claim the EITC and other tax credits. These credits can add up to over $5,000 in tax returns – yet as much as 25% of the people eligible for credits in Contra Costa never claim them. That’s millions of dollars going unclaimed every year and perhaps thousands of children who won’t benefit from their family’s increased financial security. That’s why our First 5 Centers have also become partners in this agenda. The West County and Antioch sites have each served as tax preparation sites in the EKS campaign.
The Bay Point First 5 Center has entered into an exciting partnership with the Women’s Initiative to help low-income mothers start or expand their own businesses. Most graduates of this program see an average increase in personal income levels of 85% within 18 months. The Bay Point First 5 Center is also participating in the new SparkPoint Center, a one-stop financial education center offering job training, career development, and financial asset building services located in Bay Point. Through this partnership, Bay Point First 5 Center families will have access to a variety of financial coaching and asset development services. You can learn more about the SparkPoint Center at its grand opening in Bay Point on October 31 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (3105 Willow Pass Road).
There are many other efforts happening in the county to address poverty and family income stability. Public and private funders are looking to shore up traditional safety net services, Bay Area financial assistance agencies are developing an online financial education resource directory, and the United Way of the Bay Area is embarking on an ambitious plan to reduce poverty in the Bay Area by 50% in 2020.
You can learn more about these efforts at our next FESP meeting on November 17th from 9:00 to 11:30 a.m. For more information, please contact Fran Biderman: (925) 771-7331.