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LISC Shows Value of Integrated Services

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Most low-income families face a litany of financial and employment challenges, which is why Social Innovation Fund (SIF) intermediary the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) is expanding its comprehensive Financial Opportunity Centers and using data to inform these expansion efforts.

These 75 centers nationwide represent both a workforce-development and asset-building programming model with services such as job readiness, employment training, financial coaching and help in accessing public benefits.

Through these services, participants can boost monthly net income and obtain critical supports such as health insurance and utility assistance that improve family well-being.

“Low-income, low-wage jobs are not enough to sustain a family,” said Seung Kim, LISC program director for family income and wealth building. “Our strategy is to empower individuals and families through an intentional, integrated services approach.”

These integrated services, or “bundled services,” aim to provide individuals with employment counseling, financial coaching, and access to income supports to help boost steady income, reduce expenses, and build credit and wealth. It is a value-added approach that includes a major emphasis on data and evaluation. For example, one key research question is whether participants receiving multiple services show stronger outcomes than those participating in only one or two activities.

“The data really drive how we understand the program,” Kim said.

For example, job placement rates are higher for those with greater involvement. Individuals with only basic employment services have a 26 percent job-placement rate, while those with financial counseling and employment services boast a 46 percent job-placement rate.

In addition, for those with both multiple services and intensive participation – defined both by hours of participation and number of services – the job-placement rate jumped to 74%.

During 2014, the Financial Opportunity Centers provided bundled services to more than 23,400 participants, and LISC reported that over half showed gains in at least one financial stability outcome:

  • 5,760 participants gained jobs;
  • 6,280 improved their net income;
  • 5,340 improved their net worth; and
  • 5,750 improved their credit scores.

Across the project, data are part of a client-management system that includes services, communication, and feedback loops. When working with clients, coaching is the key approach.

“We’re not just trying to get people a checking account, but we’re trying to help them manage it effectively,” she said.

Other evaluation activities are underway, such as a quasi-experimental study in Chicago comparing Opportunity Center participants to similar individuals accessing local workforce centers.

So far, LISC participants exhibit better behaviors such as paying bills on time, said Laura D’Alessandro, LISC program officer.

D’Alessandro also described an ongoing ethnographic study targeting 12 individuals. Researchers regularly conduct interviews to better learn about the participants’ progress toward greater self-sufficiency. At the end of the first year, individuals reported that financial stresses were reduced.

By incorporating data from multiple sources, LISC is building an inventory of effective strategies and approaches.

“We’ve been committed to data since the program’s start,” Kim said.

More information about the Financial Opportunity Centers can be found on the LISC website.

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