"When it comes to finances, our residents are often locked in their own silence. But after introducing the Budget Buddies program, we noticed our residents more openly discussing financial issues. Budget Buddies was the key to unlocking feelings of shame, insecurity and intimidation…. The curriculum allowed our residents to face those fears in a supportive way. That was a huge win, because the subject of financial fear emerged from the shadows. Our staff could more effectively engage our residents.”
- Susan McNeff, Senior Director, YWCA Northeastern Massachusetts.
Operating throughout Eastern Massachusetts, Budget Buddies
helps women and girls from low-income backgrounds develop the financial skills and self-esteem to handle the exceptional challenges of overcoming poverty, homelessness, addiction, immigration and domestic violence. Women are referred to the program through social service agencies they are already working with, and commit to Budget Buddies’ three-month program, which consists of 10–12 hours of small group workshops based out of a partner agency and 10–12 hours of one-to-one mentorship. The intention of the program is to build money management skills and self-confidence by providing clients with tools to pursue greater economic stability, sustained employment, better housing security and educational opportunities.
According to research done by the American Association of University Women, women working full time in the U.S. make 82 percent of what men do. Collectively, working women lose out on more than $500 billion a year. Diving a bit deeper into these disparities, the pay gap tends to be larger for women of color, and in some instances appears to be getting larger. Recent studies show that on the dollar, Latinas make 54 cents, American Indian or Alaska Native women make 57 cents, Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander women make 61 cents, Black women make 62 cents, and Asian women make 89 cents. The numbers are sobering, and amplify the importance of Budget Buddies’ mission— working directly with individuals to move the needle on these disparities that have been present for decades, but today seem more vivid than ever before.
At the onset of the COVID virus, when social distancing and quarantine restrictions were put into place, Budget Buddies staff members temporarily lost connection with their clients, individuals living in transitional housing or shelters— some of the most vulnerable to the impacts of this health crisis. As physical barriers went up, the Budget Buddies team worked tirelessly to quickly adopt new operations and curriculum to fit the present challenges. Between March and June, the organization shifted focus from longer-term financial education to more immediate needs of clients, giving them direct, bilingual financial assistance through Navigating Financial Uncertainty workshops and a support line to answer questions related to unemployment, stimulus checks, talking to creditors, etc.
Up until this health crisis, Budget Buddies had run all programs in person; however, moving the programs online has made it possible for the organization to expand its outreach. It was not only able to support current clients, but also reach out to clients from 10 years ago, many of whom have moved, and see how Budget Buddies could offer immediate support. Alumni connected with the organization through a Google voice account and text line, in which staff and volunteers were able to provide individualized support, both emotional and financial, to each client. The reconnection with alumni and creation of a system that will allow Budget Buddies to remain connected to its graduates have helped keep staff and volunteer engines running with hope and persistence through the many challenges this health crisis has surfaced for their work.
Now, in late June, the Commonwealth is in Phase 2 of its reopening plan, and Budget Buddies is about to relaunch its financial empowerment program offerings. However, the work will remain online for now. Budget Buddies Executive Director Danielle Piskadlo explains that as the state begins to reopen, “I am most worried that people will start to feel like the crisis is over and, ‘We did it, we flattened the curve,’ without fully appreciating the economic fall-out this has caused for so many community members—especially low-income women of color—and the extreme amount of work it will take to address the economic crisis long-term.” At the same time, Piskadlo is hopeful that this crisis may finally bring to the surface how unequal and unsustainable certain aspects of our society are, such as access to paid family leave, childcare and affordable housing. This is the time, Piskadlo states, for us to finally wake up to and “address the systemic barriers and gender and racial biases that prevent low-income women of color from advancing economically.”