Over the past few years, I've had a few opportunities to learn a little bit about Wider Opportunity for Women's Family Economic Self-Sufficiency (FESS) project. And, quite frankly, I think they have developed a really interesting alternative to using the Federal Poverty Line or some percentage thereof as a measure of worker economic well-being or lack thereof. Simply put, the FESS standard is nuanced - it uses data (from well respected state and federal government sources) on several common family expenses (e.g., housing, food, childcare, transportation, health care, and taxes) and then tailors its calculations, according on family size and location, in order to determine what it takes for a family to make ends meet.
Today, at the NNSP conference session on "Self-Sufficiency Tools for the Direct Service Needs of Sector Implementation," I had the further good fortune to see representatives from the Workforce Development Council of Seattle King County and the Colorado Center on Law and Policy demonstrate how their states use on-line self-sufficiency calculators to work with clients as part of the case management and career counseling. The most interesting thing about both State's on-line tools is that they let the user save several different financial scenarios for each client, so the client can see side-by-side projections on household income and expenses under changing conditions. For example, a client could compare their current situation to their potential financial situation if they chose to cut back their hours at work and go back to school. The calculator might then also point out where the individual may be eligible for work supports that can help reduce expenses under this changing scenario. Or, the calculator could demonstrate the difference that accessing the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) could potentially make in their household budget.
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