Moving Families off the Brink of Financial Ruin

Mayors Prayer Breakfast 2016 High Resolution-280The high cost of living in South Florida leaves people more vulnerable to financial crisis than most anywhere else in the nation. In fact, a United Way ALICE Report found that 50 percent of South Floridians are only one financial emergency away from poverty with 3.2 million households, (45 percent) struggling to support themselves.  These are not people sitting home doing nothing. These are the working poor, who get up every day and go to work – some working two or more jobs to try and make ends meet, explained Germaine Smith-Baugh, president and CEO of the Urban League of Broward, at a CityTalks event in Fort Lauderdale last month.


The study found that 69 percent of jobs pay less than $20 per hour, with the majority paying between $10 and $15 per hour. And the growth of low-skilled jobs is projected to outpace that of medium and high-skilled jobs into the next decade.  Yet in South Florida the breadwinner for a family of four needs to make $23 an hour in order to survive, and even then, only basic needs are met such as food, housing, transportation, childcare and healthcare.

The financial instability of families increases the burden on all kinds of social services and is an underlying root to much of what ails our community.

How do we help those who are on the brink of financial ruin?

The Center for Working Families (CWF) seeks to improve the economic stability of families by helping them overcome hurdles that may be holding them back. It is a collaborative effort between the Urban League of Broward, Hispanic Unity and ARC Broward, an organization that assists people with disabilities and other life challenges to realize their full potential.


Coaching assistance is available in three main areas:

  • Employment – job readiness, occupational skills training, education, job placement and career advancement.
  • Benefits and Work Support – access to public work benefits, tax credits, financial aid, and more.
  • Financial Services – asset building, financial literacy, and homebuyer assistance.

The goal of these services is to help participants obtain and maintain employment, complete post-secondary education, acquire occupational skills training or certifications, and increase their knowledge of financial stability concepts and behaviors such as budgeting, saving, developing credit, purchasing a home and investing.

Building on an individual’s abilities and strengths, the overall goal is to increase independence and identifying personal goals for a successful financial future.

“It’s more than just dollars and cents. It’s loving on people,” said Courtnee Biscardi, vice president or program operations for the Urban League.


A story of hope

Anyela Ibague came to America seeking opportunities and a better life for her family. Due to domestic violence, she soon divorced. Now a single mother of two, she had no family members nearby and spoke almost no English when she found Hispanic Unity of Florida. Feeling vulnerable and fragile, Angela sought advice, support and strategies for her life. She began working with a CWF coach in 2011 with a goal to eventually buy a home.

“Often people think they only need one thing: a better job,” said Biscardi.  “It took a lot of hard work, but Angela weaned herself off benefits by getting a job and then a better job.  We were able to get her the supports she needed for her son, so she could work, then worked with her on building credit and developing a relationship with a bank,” explained Biscardi.  Today she is a homeowner. Her 19-year-old daughter saw what Mom accomplished and got a part-time job of her own. She studied hard and is now able to go to the University of Florida.

“In the coaching model, the client takes the driver’s seat while the coach navigates them to places they want to go and guides them through the process. It empowers people who already have what they need to succeed inside of them,” Biscardi said.


Seeking community partners

Howard Bakalar, chief program officer for the United Way of Broward, said this model is what works best for clients and the community. Our job is to make sure people are connected to resources. And he is looking to bring other community partners to the table to seek ways to promote financial wellness.

You can get involved by contacting your church or employer about teaching a course on financial health.

Financial Peace University teaches biblical, practical ways of handling money through video teaching, class discussions and interactive small group activities. Several churches such as Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, Christ Fellowship and others have utilized this program. Visit for more information.

Money Smart is a financial education curriculum promoted by the FDIC for financial institutions and others sponsoring financial education workshops. It is designed to help low- and moderate-income individuals enhance their financial skills and create positive banking relationships. For information,

CreditSmart is a program offered by Freddie Mac, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation. The curriculum includes 12 financial education modules featuring information on credit, money management, homeownership, foreclosure avoidance, and more. Online training and resources are available at

Another way to help is by becoming a mentor at the Center for Working Families. Neighbor Works is a program that provides training for those who wish to mentor others.

Business owners can also attend a lunch and learn hosted by the Center for Working Families, or send a member of their  human resources team, to discover what resources are available to them and their staff. Lunch and Learns are being planned for May. Contact Tara Dozier at [email protected] or call 954-625-2577 for more information.

In addition, here are 10 ways business can promotion financial wellness in the workplace.

1.Invite one of the Center for Working Families partners onside to educate your HR dept.

  1. Host brown bag luncheons where you bring in a local banker to talk about savings strategies.
  2. Provice school backpacks and supplies for employee’s’ children at the start of the school year.
  3. Consider creative arrangements like flexible hours, telecommuting or coordinating internal carpools.
  4. Provide incentives and rewards for savings plans.
  5. Partner with a local clinic to provide healthcare for employees.
  6. Share online tools and resources that promote individual financial health.
  7. Reevaluate compensation standards using market studies to determine total compensation.
  8. Consider issuing a full compensation statement for each employee, including benefits.
  9. Implement savings/retirement plans that are an active opt-out as opposed to an opt in.

The Center for Working Families can be reached through the following organizations: Urban League, [email protected], 954-625-2584; Hispanic Unity, [email protected], 954-342-0414; or ARC Broward, [email protected], 954-746-9400.\

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