A Brief Tale of Two Working Moms of Color and the Social Safety Net

One makes it; another does not.

By Carla Murphy Mar 28, 2014

In Houston, a 43-year-old mother of six used a little known federal program to obtain a nursing degree, move her family above the federal poverty line and save to buy a home–all while living in public housing. This is unusual. Most welfare recipients lose benefits, including housing assistance, as they earn more income. But the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program, according to the Houston Chronicle, maintains stable rental assistance for a five-year-period. It thereby allowed Monica Johnson, starting over after leaving a drug-addicted husband, to save and improve her family’s livelihood.

Problem is, the FSS program is poorly funded. In Houston, federal funds only allow 540 (.03%) of 18,000 eligible households to enroll in the program. The average family doubles their income from $14,000 to $28,000. And while not every family completes the program, it’s difficult not to wonder what a similarly meaningful social safety net, one that accounted for transition periods,* might mean for a family like Shanesha Taylor’s.

The 35-year-old Scottsdale, Ariz. mother faces child abuse charges after leaving her 2-year-old and 6-month-old sons in a parked car while she went for a job interview. Taylor, gone for 45 minutes, told officers she did not have anyone to take care of her children, according to the police report. The FSS makes a difference in that it accounts for how vulnerable housing is, when transitioning from living below to above the poverty line. Could a similar "transition-aware" safety net program, which accounts for childcare when job-seeking*, have made a difference for Taylor?

Those interested in the FSS program should check availability through local public housing authorities. A list of past funding recipients, current through 2012, is available on the HUD site.

(h/t Asset Building Program)

*Post has been updated.