On May 20, 2019, we launched the Trust and Invest Collaborative, a partnership between FII-Greater Boston, the MA Department of Transitional Assistance, and the City of Boston. This 3 year pilot holds the hope of transforming economic assistance so that families in Massachusetts and beyond have more choice and control over the decisions that impact their lives. This issue is dear to me because of my own experience growing up living on the edge of income security.
My Dad started hustling side jobs to support himself and his family when he was 9. He wanted to be a history teacher, but his family couldn’t afford to pay for him to go to college. He dropped out because working and schooling full-time was too much.
My mom’s parents wanted her to be a good girl and go to secretarial school. But that wasn’t what interested her. She had been accepted into fashion design school. For many reasons, she had to leave the house for her own well-being and was never able to pursue that dream.
They raised me and my 3 younger siblings in the woods of Maine. We had enough to meet our basic needs, but if we wanted anything extra we had to get jobs so we could buy it ourselves. I remember several years of my parents living in fear because we couldn’t afford health insurance. What if something happened? I still often feel inadequate in spaces of material wealth, and my dad, in retirement, is still working way too hard. It continues to weigh on me why it’s so easy for those with money to pursue what they want. From my experience, it clearly isn’t hard work alone that fulfills dreams.
Yet, there were policies that supported our family that were easier to access because we are white. My parents were able to buy a home and investment properties that helped two of us go to college and continue to support their fixed-income retirement, making it easier for my siblings and me. I’m pretty sure everyone assumed that my parents worked hard, and that we could be trusted.
That’s not the case for everyone. We have growing wealth and income gaps by race in this country. And the stereotypes that continue to fuel our lack of trust and investment in families, especially those of color and those living with incomes below $60,000, are horrifying at best.
This could feel daunting. We yearn for the cure-all to end racism and to end poverty. But it’s actually the small steps we take together, in community, challenging our assumptions and checking our perceptions, that make the biggest difference.
And that’s why I’m so excited about the Trust and Invest Collaborative and the standing room only turnout with more than 100 guests, including a strong contingent of FII Family Partners, state and elected officials from Boston and Cambridge, representatives from the Department of Revenue, and our friends from various non-profits.
The curiosity and excitement in the room was palpable. Convening the launch at the Museum of Science was an important reminder to all of us to channel the endless curiosity of children and keep asking why–to focus on what is possible rather than what is safe.
I was moved by the powerful testimonies of FII Family Partners NaTasha Hunt and Marisol Tejera, who spoke on the panel. They shared their personal experiences with DTA during challenging transitions in their life. They invited us into intimate moments, reminding us how human change is and how our current systems often group people into small boxes and don’t reflect or even ask about the goals and wishes of those they work with. They also shared their vision for a system that moved beyond simply doling out benefits to one that listened to families’ dreams and supported their social networks as FII does. They showed us what is possible when people have complete choice and control over how they want to live their lives and the dollars to fuel those initiatives.
Perhaps one of my favorite moments was when DTA Commissioner McCue shared, “We work with families that are very smart, that are very savvy, and figure out ways to be able to move their family forward every day…I look forward to learning myself from our partners, be able to see the things brought forward immediately and over the next couple of years that translate into us making lasting policy decisions…and to make sure that we get out of their way and allow them to do those right things.”
I was recently asked, why do you think the Trust and Invest Collaborative will be successful? First, FII has demonstrated over nearly two decades that families have tremendous initiative. Second, we have willing partners at the table who recognize it is time to update this system. DTA, under the leadership of Commissioner McCue, has been embarking on a culture shift for a few years now. This collaboration comes at the right time to take their work to the next level.
I also think it’s important to acknowledge that one of the flaws of the current “helping” system is the onus we continue to put on families to change their behavior rather than changing the systemic barriers that keep them from fulfilling their dreams. Society is standing in the way because there is a basic assumption that “we” know what families need. What if we let that go? Here in Massachusetts, DTA stepping forward to lead this charge changes the game. I’m so excited we are transforming this system–making it easier for families living with low-incomes to live their wildest dreams.
Over the next few months we will be designing the study and begin enrolling families. Sign-up here so you don’t miss any of it!
Instants by Jorge Louis Borges