Why one woman turned down a $70K job due to the benefits cliffs

Why one woman turned down a $70K job due to the benefits cliffs

Frankie and Luisa

Why one woman turned down a $70K job due to the benefits cliffs

Key Points

  • Frankie made an unexpected choice when she turned down a $70,000 a year job opportunity while living in hotel housing.
  • Oftentimes people on safety net services make rational choices to stay on these services because the system would punish them before they have a firm place to land.
  • Our safety net services must be reworked to address these “cliffs” and rebuilt to encourage and support the move into the workforce.

The thought of someone turning down a well-paying job to stay on welfare seems absurd. But that’s the exact scenario Frankie Johnson faced. It’s a real world example of the way benefit cliffs hurt people. Thankfully, Frankie found the BETTER WORK program and is on a new path to success.

 

An unexpected journey in life

Frankie Johnson, a Washington, D.C. native, grew up in a middle-class neighborhood and spent time serving her community. Through her community service work, she connected with many individuals who were victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, job loss, and poverty. By the time she’d reached her teens, Frankie knew she found fulfillment in working alongside others to improve their lives. 

At age 14, Frankie became pregnant with her first child, Evelyn. She gave birth just before her 15th birthday. She went on to get an internship through Job Corps, then earn her high school diploma. After graduation, she attended California College of the Arts in San Francisco, where she planned to study photography and 3D installation. 

But leaving Evelyn in Maryland with her parents while she studied in California proved to be too difficult a separation for Frankie. She moved to New York instead, which allowed her to see her daughter more often. 

At age 18, Frankie married a member of the military who was six years her senior. His deployments and resulting war-related trauma proved to be difficult on the family and the couple’s marriage. For the next six years, they lived in Texas and the Midwest before returning to Maryland. Steadily, the situation with Frankie’s husband deteriorated. 

 

It’s time to stop funding poverty.

And start finding solutions.

It’s time to stop funding poverty. And start finding solutions.

High aspirations, hidden pain

Despite the trouble at home, Frankie was a high achiever, building a career in human resources and working for firms such as Monumental Sports and the Nick Cannon Foundation. She worked as a high-end event planner, where she regularly brushed elbows with celebrities and influencers. 

When the family returned to Maryland, Frankie found herself heading up events for women who were victims of domestic violence. Meanwhile, at home, she was living in an abusive environment herself. 

“At home, I never knew what was going to become of my peace or if he was going to get triggered,” Frankie says. “I was serving in the community as a social worker. I put on events for women, took them on yacht parties, and tried to boost their self-esteem. No one knew I was suffering so much.”

Finally, the situation in Frankie’s home came to a head, and she fled to Atlanta with her children. Her uncle lived in the city, and she planned to make a fresh start there. 

But that fresh start didn’t come quickly or easily. 

 

Seeking safety in Atlanta

Without a job or a place to live, Frankie was forced to seek out government assistance and transitional housing in Gwinnett County for her family. 

“This was my first time being on the opposite side of transitional housing and understanding what the women who would talk to me [in the past] were going through,” she says. “It was strange to see the scarce resources, and to see women locked out of their hotels because the projects or community partners ran out of funding.” 

Transitional housing in hotels and apartments can cost women $500 or more per week, and according to Frankie, the living conditions are unsafe and unsanitary. Worse, residents got a chilly reception from their case workers when they raised concerns. 

“The water makes your skin itchy, and there are roaches coming up out of the sink and the drains,” Frankie says. “We were told we needed to boil our water to use it. It comes [out of the faucets] brown, and we had brown rashes on our bodies.”

While Frankie’s family was living in transitional housing, she experienced relentless prejudice, racism, and ridicule. 

“I had people come to my hotel, and ask me if I was a prostitute because my daughter said we were living in a hotel at school,” she says. “Someone from [the Department of Family and Children Services] came to my apartment and asked if I left my children [alone] at nighttime. He asked me if I was a stripper.” 

 

Forced to choose between assistance and higher income

While Frankie was waiting for available childcare and a pathway to affordable housing, she was forced to turn down a job placement that would have paid $70,000 per year. While she needed employment, she also needed the support from the government program. That was her ticket to a home she could afford, but she wouldn’t qualify if she took a new job that raised her income past eligibility requirements. 

“I never thought it would come to this,” she says. “I hadn’t prepared financially; I spent through my savings because I was waiting on childcare.” 

Frankie found herself trapped on what we call the Benefits Cliff — torn between taking steps toward a more secure future, but ultimately forced into making decisions that trapped her into long-term dependence on government benefits. Individuals and families who make over a certain amount of income per year are automatically struck from the list, and are no longer qualified for affordable housing, food support, or other government assistance. 

“They want to see your pay stubs, your bank statements. They want to make sure you’re poor,” Frankie says. “If you have a car, they want to know what kind of car you’re driving and if you have insurance. They want to make sure there’s no possible way you can work a job.”

“If there are no daycare facilities within a 30-mile radius of where you place me in my hotel and I don’t have a car to take my child a city over, I’m not going to be able to get a job,” she added. “Who’s going to watch my child all day?” 

Families in these transitional programs often find themselves stuck paying high bills while they await affordable housing. Frankie was forced to pay more than $2,000 per month for the hotel she and her children stayed in. Financially, staying put made no sense, but Frankie held on in hopes that affordable housing would come through. 

Leaving transitional housing puts parents at risk of losing their children to CPS, particularly if they’re perceived as living out of their vehicle. On the other hand, getting a higher-paying job disqualifies them from further government and charitable support. 

“It’s like a loophole to keep you destitute,” Frankie says. 

 

Dreams for a brighter future 

After three months in transitional housing, Frankie was able to connect with BETTER WORK Gwinnett. Her case worker, Luisa, formed a close connection with her, encouraging her and checking in on her as she prepared for a fresh start. 

“We lost our jobs during the pandemic,” Frankie says, “and that was the time when we needed encouragement and to find our way again — laugh again. Ms. Lusia provided a lot of that. She called me every day just to check on me.”  

After experiencing the frustration, humiliation, and helplessness of transitional housing herself — including witnessing another mother abandon her children when her time at the hotel was up — Frankie wants to help other women in similar circumstances. She hopes to go to law school to provide legal aid to other families who have suffered at the mercy of the system. 

“We need to get them their GEDs and diplomas. Start them off as home health aides, CPAs, LPNs, RNs, physician’s assistants, or doctors,” Frankie says, “But no one’s willing to help. They just want to enable their programs to get money for housing us. After that, you’re out on the street like a dog.”  

As for Frankie, she’s working with Luisa to get back into the human resources field, and considering a move to a more affordable city in south Alabama. 

“I’m not going to sit and wait for anyone to take care of me,” she says. “For the women who don’t have options, I’m going to school to fight for them.”

WATCH: These powerful stories show why we need to share the Success Sequence each and every day

WATCH: These powerful stories show why we need to share the Success Sequence each and every day

man on top of mountain

WATCH: These powerful stories show why we need to share the Success Sequence each and every day

Key Points

  • All young people — not just those who come from rich families — deserve to know this “secret to success”: get an education, work hard, get married, and then have children.
  •  No matter the challenges young people face, there is a path to build a bright future — through the Success Sequence.
  • Institute for Family Studies has shared 3 powerful videos that show the face and opportunity brought by the Success Sequence.

The Success Sequence and its impact

“The choice of having children too early is one you’ll have to play catch up with for the rest of your life.” 

“I wish that I had made some different decisions when I was young. Think before you act. Definitely be intentional about the decisions you’re making at that age, because they do have a lasting effect on your life.”

 “Having to get food donated to us was the bottom of my life.”

Those are just a few of the powerful quotes contained in the narrative stories — called Straight Talk About the Success Sequence — in a series of new videos on the Success Sequence from the Institute for Family Studies.

The basic premise of this campaign is simple: All young people — not just those who come from rich families — deserve to know this “secret to success”: get an education, work hard, get married, and then have children.

As you know, the Success Sequence is a powerful and proven way for even the most disadvantaged men and women to avoid poverty and to have a shot at the stable, happy family life they really want.

 

The Success Sequence:
His Story

Part One: Men

The numbers prove it all

Statistics show that 97% of young people who follow these steps are not poor later in life, and fully 85% of them enter the middle class.

Can it really be that simple? That’s what’s so great about the Success Sequence: The answer is simple, but the key is to get the information to young people at the right time.

No matter the challenges young people face, there is a path to build a bright future — through the Success Sequence.

It’s organizations like the Georgia Center for Opportunity that are bringing the truth of the Success Sequence to young people every day. Whether it’s GCO’s work to expand educational options for all students, bring career opportunities to the impoverished, or bringing relationship enrichment classes to local communities, we are on the front lines. The Institute for Family Studies recognizes this.

The Success Sequence:
Her Story

Part Two: Women

“The Success Sequence is only effective as a concept if it’s shared in practical ways with young people,” said Brad Wilcox, senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies. “On-the-ground organizations like the Georgia Center for Opportunity play a key role in this. Our young people deserve to know about their potential to take hold of the American Dream.”

Please share these important videos on social media, with your friends and family, and with young people in your life who need to hear this important message. We need to spread the word on the Success Sequence so that other young people don’t face the same struggles in life faced by Scott, Stephanie, and Caylie and Carlos.

The Success Sequence:
Their Story

Part Three: Cohabitation

Better Work Providing On-Site Unemployment Assistance

Better Work Providing On-Site Unemployment Assistance

Better Work Providing On-Site Unemployment Assistance

Key Points

  • BETTER WORK Columbus is launching a new service allowing us to assist clients on-site.
  • BETTER WORK provides connections to local resources and work opportunities. 
  • Listening and responding to the needs of our community is how BETTER WORK better serves those in need.

Client assistance just got a little bit better

BETTER WORK Columbus is now able to assist clients on-site. We enjoy assisting our non-profit partners and helping them connect clients with employment. This is a new dimension of our work and is proving to be very helpful to non-profit organizations in Columbus and the surrounding area. Our non-profit partners who are focused on providing resources like housing, food, or assistance with utilities know that their clients also need the stability that comes with work. Meeting their clients on-site is a way for BETTER WORK to allow them to focus on their lane while we leverage our existing resources to help with the employment connection.

“Home for Good is partnering with BETTER WORK Columbus to help formerly homeless clients obtain and sustain employment so they can end their cycle of poverty,” said Terry Gallops, Home for Good Director. “Kristin Barker, BETTER WORK Program Manager, has been very successful in fulfilling this need by helping our clients as they complete applications and establish contact with potential employers. We are exceptionally pleased with the success of the BETTER WORK program, and several of our clients now have substantial employment!”

 

For Latesha, finding work was more than a paycheck. It helped her start a life journey that had meaning and purpose.

For Latesha, finding work was more than a paycheck. It helped her start a life journey that had meaning and purpose.

Meeting the need

Kristin recently shared why this is so important. “We enjoy meeting people where they are and where the need exists. It is in these spaces where we can learn more from each other and connect in new ways that will make all groups and all people in our community more successful. It’s a pleasure to help people like James who are looking for an opportunity to improve their lives by earning a steady income.”

If you are a non-profit and would  like to take advantage of the support and tools that BETTER WORK has to offer, send an email to kristin.barker@georgiaopportunity.org and start a conversation today!

 

Jobs For Life Collaborates With BETTER WORK in Columbus

Jobs For Life Collaborates With BETTER WORK in Columbus

Jobs For Life Collaborates With BETTER WORK in Columbus

Jobs 4 Life Meeting in Columbus

A Partner For Life

Several of the Chattahoochee Valley Poverty Reduction Coalition (CVPRC) member organizations attended the May 26th Jobs for Life class to share information on resources and talk with students about overcoming the roadblocks they face. Some of the potential roadblocks discussed included mental and emotional health, childcare challenges, and needed education and training. This Community Resource panel was able to help students understand the steps they must take to overcome these challenges and others.

 

Responding to the needs in a community is paramount to our success.

Learn how our community partners stepped up to support the needs in Columbus through area-businesses.  

Our Partners Matter

We would like to thank Candace Muncy (United Way-211), Dr. Asante Hilts (Columbus Health Department), and Jessica Neal (Goodwill) for attending as well as Jamie Thomas (Enrichment Services) and April Hopson (Columbus Technical College) for sending representatives on their behalf.

Our entire Jobs for Life team and students appreciate you!

Job for Life classes are successful because of our community partners and volunteers. If you are interested in learning more about these classes and getting involved, visit our website at https://betteropportunity.org/jobs-for-life/

 

The Water Tower will soon make Gwinnett County a hub for water innovation and research | Gwinnett Daily Post

The Water Tower will soon make Gwinnett County a hub for water innovation and research | Gwinnett Daily Post

In The News

The Water Tower will soon make Gwinnett County a hub for water innovation and research | Gwinnett Daily Post

Gwinnett County’s new center for water-related research and innovation development is close to opening its doors after years of planning and construction.

The Water Tower property in Buford is set to welcome tenants in March, and officials from the center and Gwinnett County government will hold a ribbon cutting for local officials on March 30. The center’s “industry” grand opening, where water industry businesses and professionals from around the world will be hosted, will then be held nearly a month later on April 22…

A ground breaking for The Water Tower was held in 2018 and several partners have signed up to team up with the center.

Those partners include Georgia Tech, Georgia Gwinnett College, Georgia State University, the Georgia Association of Water Professionals, the Georgia Center for Opportunity, Science for Georgia, Gwinnett County Public Schools, Global Water Works, Siemens, Mueller, JEA, Gresham Smith, Wade Trim, Kamstrup, AECOM, Ardurra, OnSyte Performance, Infiltrator Water Technologies, Municipex, Reeves + Young, HL Strategy, Safe-T-Cover, Aqaix, GWWI, Resilient H2O Partners, go:hub and McWane.

The Water Tower will soon make Gwinnett County a hub for water innovation and research | Gwinnett Daily Post

Media blasted for ignoring study on harmful government lockdowns | The Johnston County Report

In The News

Media blasted for ignoring study on harmful government lockdowns | The Johnston County Report

A new meta-analysis from Johns Hopkins University shows that government-mandated lockdowns in America and Europe during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic only reduced the death rate by 0.2%, on average. Researchers concluded that lockdowns “have had little to no public health effects” while imposing “enormous economic and social costs” and should be “rejected as a pandemic policy instrument.”

Meanwhile, another faculty member at Johns Hopkins is blasting his own university and the media broadly for ignoring or downplaying the study…

The working paper comes on the heels of other research questioning the effectiveness of lockdowns in saving lives compared to the social and economic toll. A working paper from the Georgia Center for Opportunity found no correlations between the severity of government-imposed shutdowns and reported rates of COVID-19 hospitalizations or deaths. But states that imposed more stringent lockdowns — such as New York and California — continue to experience negative economic effects compared to less severe states, such as Utah.