Why Funders Should Invest in Flexible Cash Assistance

  • By Crystal Ayala-Goldstein, March 25, 2024

A growing national movement has shown incredible promise, tangible changes

Funders have an opportunity to significantly invest in and advocate for one of the most impactful financial tools that supports people in building economic security: cash. Cash assistance, whether it’s distributed as a guaranteed income over a period of time or as a one-time lump sum, has shown incredible promise and tangible changes in the lives of those who participate in cash pilots or programs. Skeptical? Just click on any of these success stories from across the country to learn about the benefits of cash.

According to the national Guaranteed Income Community of Practice organized by the Economic Security Project, approximately 149 guaranteed income pilots have run or are currently operating across the U.S., many of which are funded by private, philanthropic dollars or a mix of public and private funds. In addition to these pilots, a burgeoning number of nonprofits manage cash assistance programs to help participants meet basic needs, cover emergency expenses, and fill in gaps left by public assistance programs and other sources of income. This spectrum of cash assistance all contributes to a growing, national movement that calls for an income floor under which no one falls.

The benefits of cash assistance ripple beyond an individual

The Women’s Foundation of Colorado (WFCO) is an ardent supporter of cash assistance, and our WINcome grantmaking program is part of this movement. We increase women’s and gender expansive people’s incomes by providing cash assistance to individuals and advancing equitable systems. In the most recent WINcome evaluation report, we see that the benefits of cash assistance reach beyond the individual. For instance, their being able to secure safe and secure housing and reliable transportation ripples out into their community, providing a stable home environment for their family and increasing opportunities for employment. It’s what we call the Ripple Effect of WINcome.

The benefits of WINcome cash assistance to individuals ripple out into their families and communities.

The narrative around cash assistance is inaccurate and incomplete

Findings like these underscore how the common narrative around cash assistance is often inaccurate and incomplete. One myth is that people who participate in cash assistance programs spend it on “vices.” In reality, WINcome participants use their funding primarily to meet basic needs and avert emergencies. In WINcome Year 2, rent, mortgage, housing; transportation or car expenses; and home expenses were the top three uses of cash assistance. We’ve debunked additional myths about flexible cash assistance on our blog.

The top three uses of WINcome cash assistance were rent, mortgage, housing; transportation or car expenses; and home expenses.

Equitable grantmaking must embody trust, flexibility, and autonomy - all components of cash assistance

As the movement for cash calls for a social contract where trust, flexibility, and autonomy reign, it also demands funders to embrace equitable grantmaking practices at their core. For The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, WINcome needed to embody those same three values. WINcome grants are an intended three-year commitment, and we are proud to partner with 11 direct service and six public policy organizations since 2021. Grants for direct service organizations include up to 50 percent general operating funds with the remainder being dedicated to cash assistance for participants. Grants for public policy organizations are 100 percent general operating funds. Grant partners have the autonomy to distribute the cash in the ways that best fit their communities; for Collaborative Healing Initiative within Communities (CHIC) cash assistance looks like a one-time lump sum for participants in a construction and trades pre-apprenticeship while cash assistance at Full Circle of Lake County includes recurring payments of $250 for several months. The women and gender expansive individuals participating in cash programs through WINcome grant partners can utilize the funds to best meet their needs, making the decisions they want.

Systems change must be part of the cash assistance equation

In addition to WINcome grantmaking, WFCO is a leader in public policy advocacy supporting legislation and ballot measures that advance gender, racial, and economic equity of Colorado women and gender expansive people. Alongside WINcome grant partners, we co-convene the Colorado Direct Cash Policy Working Group, which meets monthly to progress systems change that would result in more cash for more Coloradans. As funders, it is imperative we utilize all the tools available to advance opportunity within systems that were built to benefit only a few.

We invite you to lean into cash assistance and learn with us on April 4

We invite our peers from across the field to lean into investing in one of the best financial tools that creates tangible opportunity for people. Please join The Women’s Foundation on Thursday, April 4, 2024 at 3:00 pm Eastern for a Community & Partner Call and dive into an engaging discussion about key learnings from our WINcome initiative.

Crystal Ayala-Goldstein

Programs Manager

Crystal began her career in philanthropy in June 2022, after joining The Women’s Foundation of Colorado (WFCO) as the programs manager. She primarily manages WFCO’s WINcome grantmaking strategy. Before WFCO, Crystal worked for direct service organizations in the Denver Metro Area, mainly with students accessing post-secondary options. She completed her bachelor of science in psychology and bachelor of arts in Spanish at Regis University. Born and raised in Denver, she is passionate about all things access, building social capital, supporting the growth of talent that represents the diversity of the state, and ensuring those most pushed to the margins have what they need to thrive in this country.