Current marriage and financial stability efforts have been developed at the community level by providers who are often located within the same social service agency, focus on the importance of family stability, and have developed referral networks with outside agencies that could be strengthened through dialogue. A number of community-based organizations that support low-income families through financial crises saw the relevance of adding marriage and family-strengthening to their existing services. For example, they found that some mothers were repeatedly seeking assistance for financial crises triggered by a boyfriend moving out. They realized that offering financial support along with building relationship skills would be a way to break that cycle. After addressing the immediate crisis, service providers focused attention on building longer term skills to help parents plan for the future. At the level of the community providers, marriage and family-strengthening and financial education and asset-building are deeply intertwined.
Policy approaches have also been developed to integrate asset development and relationship skill enhancement. One example is the Marriage Development Account (MDA) pilot program in Washington, DC. Created through Congressional legislation (Public Law 109-115), the MDA program seeks to improve low-income couples’ financial stability and to help them to maintain healthy marriages using a modification of the IDA model discussed earlier. MDAs are matched joint savings accounts for low income married or engaged couples living in the District of Columbia. For every $1 a couple saves in their MDA, the federal government will set aside $3 of matching funds, up to maximum federal contribution of $9,000. A participant couple can use their savings and the match funds to invest in a first home, higher education, or a small business. The government has allocated $3 million to this program, half for matching funds and half for education services, outreach, and training. To participate in the MDA program, couples must complete eight hours of financial management training as well as a training related to their savings goal, such small business or homeownership classes. Additionally, couples are offered a $300 bonus as an incentive to attend marriage education classes. Participant couples who are engaged to be married are eligible for an additional $200 to help pay for their marriage license and other marriage-related costs.
In addition to integrating or co-locating services, many curricula in the family-strengthening field have integrated financial planning content. David Olson in his book “Empowering Couples: Building on Your Strengths” highlights some of the issues around integrating financial planning education and relationship lessons and is described further in Figure 5. Some financial education and asset building resources have also moved to incorporate relationship-strengthening information. Most prominently, the federal Assets for Independence (AFI) IDA program office in HHS created a guide for combining asset building with health marriage services entitled Building Assets, Building Stronger Families. While primarily intended for AFI grantees, the guide is available to the public on the AFI website (http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ocs/afi/) and could be valuable resource for other asset building or financial education programs as well.
Situation specific examples of collaboration will be presented in the second brief in this series.