A pilot sponsored by United South End Settlements (USES), which selected 16 local families to each receive guaranteed, unrestricted monthly payments of $800 for 18 months, has made a significant impact in the lives of its participants, according to a study on the program recently released by the nonprofit multi-service organization.
USES sponsored S.T.E.P. (Striving Towards Economic Prosperity), which ran between October of 2021 and May of 2023. The pilot’s participants comprised 16 families – all single-parent, female-led households who were already involved in the organization’s multi-generational programming in one way or another, from financial coaching to afterschool programs. (While all of the families selected were single-parent, female-led households, that wasn’t a requirement, said USES Chief Program Officer Melody Valdes.)
In all, 46 families applied for the program and were then entered into a “randomized” lottery, which put “extra wight” on families with an AMI of 30 percent or lower, said Valdes, “because the focus of the program was on the folks who needed [the funds] the most.”
The baseline Average Median Income(AMI) of the selected S.T.E.P. families was 82 percent of households with an AMI of less than 30 percent, and 18 percent of households with an AMI of between 30 and 50 percent. The average monthly household income was $1,825, according to the study.
Of the families chosen for the pilot, 31 percent were either Black or African American, or Hispanic or Latina, respectively, according to the study, while 6 percent were white, or identified as “other,” respectively. Another 19 percent were of “unknown” ethnicity.
Twelve (originally 17) control-group families were also selected for the program, said Valdes, who fit the same demographics as the selected S.T.E.P. families, but unlike them, the control-group families received no monthly stipend from USES. This in turn allowed the organization to better analyze how much of an impact funds from the S.T.E.P. program were having on participating families, added Valdes.
Findings from the report include that median savings per family increased from $200 to $1,000 as the percentage of families making regular savings deposits rose from 12 to 73 percent. Median credit card debt decreased from $3,000 to $1,000, and while 25 precent of families had challenges meeting basic utility expenses, such as electricity or heating/cooling, at the start of the program, this number had dropped to 7 percent by its end. The pilot “also decreased financial stress, increased emotional well-being, and enabled parents to invest emotionally and financially in their children,” according to the report.
One parent bought braces for her son, according to the study, while another participant was able to make long-distance visit to family for the first time in seven years. One more participant shared how the program helped her while she finished her nursing degree, and yet another parent said she was able to help her daughter purchase her first car.
“[The program] gave a sense of relief and the comfort I needed not to overwork but physically be there for my children,” one parent said in the report.
Another parent quoted in the study said, “It has significantly improved our lives and emotional well-being…made me more self-aware as a parent, and it provided peace of mind.”
USES conducted assessments of the participating families every three months, asking the impact that money had but not how they spent the money, which, Valdez said, was an “intentional decision.”
“We really wanted to understand how the funds were impacting the families receiving them,” she said.
In the first evaluation, however, USES did ask the program’s participants to account for how much money they spent on things such as groceries and entertainment, said Valdes, “but then we recognized that data didn’t inform us of anything.”
USES plans to follow the S.T.E.P. families for another year after the initial 18-month pilot wraps up, said Valdes, to see what the impacts of the guaranteed monthly stipends had on them, and whether the changes they have made in their spending habits and in their lifestyles are sustainable, or instead just a temporary result of having received the monthly funds.
Meanwhile, USES plans to bring the S.TE.P. program back in September, said Valdes, with another group of families selected to receive the guaranteed monthly stipends.
Visit https://www.uses.org/programs/step/ to learn more about USES’s S.T.E.P. program.