By: Diana Farias Heinrich, Communications and Marketing Manager, Teen Success, Inc.

Direct cash assistance has to be a part of the equation if young mothers and their children are going to survive the short and long-term consequences of the pandemic’s economic crisis

Without financial support, young families are bearing the brunt of the worst long-term effects of the pandemic, from developmental delays on their children due to stress, food insecurity, and homelessness, to potentially lowering earnings across their lifetime for both mother and child due to inability to stay in school and support their child’s learning.

What is at stake if young families don’t receive financial support directly

The impact of the pandemic, where 4 in 10 children living in rental housing aren’t getting enough to eat and their household is behind on rent [1], is happening to young families too.

“Some moms are constantly on fight or flight mode and don’t know what tomorrow brings,” says Teen Success, Inc. Advocate Ana Robleto. “It’s important to provide direct financial assistance in addition to goods and services because most of our moms lack support from family. They [aren’t yet] financially stable enough to provide for their children.”

Currently, fifteen percent of Teen Success, Inc.’s participants are homeless or have experienced homelessness in the past three months.

How young families are being left behind by government stimulus checks and rent programs

Federal pandemic safety nets, from stimulus checks to rental assistance programs, aren’t made for undocumented immigrants or those who have informal lease agreements. Although some California relief programs include provisions for undocumented immigrants, they don’t go far enough or make up for lost federal benefits.

This is important when talking about young families because young mothers at Teen Success, Inc. are often immigrants themselves or children of immigrants.

Furthermore, for many families in the Teen Success, Inc. program who were already living in multi-generational, overcrowded housing, the situation has deteriorated further. COVID-19’s economic impact is driving more and more families living in low-income, under-resourced neighborhoods to live with other families in overcrowded rooms and apartments. For some, this is the only way to make ends meet and to make sure they don’t end up on the street. [2]

Nearly 50% of all Teen Success, Inc. participants, young mothers and their children, are living in informal rental situations and don’t have a lease. Most often, these young families are renting a room in a house or apartment, living with their relatives or partner’s relatives, and paying rent in cash.

Young mothers living in informal living situations don’t meet government requirements for COVID-19 rental support, including eviction moratoriums and back rent pay. They’re left out of government relief efforts, putting them more at risk of facing homelessness with their babies.

A third of the young mothers Teen Success, Inc. supports are at risk of eviction due to inability to pay rent, and the organization expects the number to rise as the pandemic continues.
Urban epicenters like Silicon Valley are fishbowls for economic disparities, so are Sacramento and Fresno. These are the same zip codes where teen pregnancy rates are high despite the downward trend across the nation and where Teen Success, Inc. operates it program.
Too many of the families Teen Success, Inc. works with were already facing housing instability and food insecurity when the pandemic took hold of everyone’s life. Worsening economic conditions are putting them in the eye of the storm with few resources to make it out.

How low-income, young families’ economic situations have been affected by the pandemic

Entering the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, young families continue to experience the avalanche of consequences caused by its subsequent economic crisis, from homelessness to food insecurity, to rise in parenting stress and hopelessness.

Even the few young mothers who do have formal rental agreements and are staving off eviction through the rent moratorium, can’t offset the financial losses they have incurred during COVID-19. They don’t have enough income or steady work to back-pay missed rent when the moratorium ends.

They are in and out of low-wage, essential service jobs like restaurants and retail. One Teen Success, Inc. participant suddenly became the sole provider of her household with her partner and 1.5 year old daughter when her partner’s custodial job hours on a school campus were cut. “I get super stressed out because I know that we will be tight on money for bills and stuff,” she says.

As young women of color with families to support [3], Teen Success, Inc. participants are bearing the brunt of the worst economic downturn and the highest rate of job loss for women in three decades [4]. Many of their relatives have lost their jobs as well or experienced drastic cuts and changes in hours. Young mothers are struggling to make ends meet and provide for their children, and as a result, mental health challenges and parenting stress are on the rise as well.

There is no equity for young women of color without direct cash assistance

At the onset of the pandemic last March, Teen Success, Inc. moved quickly to provide limited one-time cash relief to the young mothers in its program. Strategic partnerships with other organizations, including Stand Together Foundation, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, and Destination: Home made it possible provide gift cards, cash, and essentials like diapers and wipes.
The organization continues to focus on helping young mothers meet basic needs for themselves and their children including food, masks, and everyday essentials like diapers and wipes. When its program went online, drop-offs of supplies became a regular activity.

Teen Success, Inc.’s highest commitment is to remove barriers to education for the young mothers in its program, and today the biggest barrier is surviving the negative economic and health impacts of the pandemic.

“Direct Assistance, especially during this pandemic, is so essential for moms,” says Teen Success, Inc. Advocate Aleah Cox. “My participants are always appreciative for the diapers, wipes, books, etc. that we provide, but direct assistance allows them to decide for themselves where their needs lie.”

Consistent and flexible economic support for young families is more critical than ever.

If there is to be any hope of achieving an equitable and just community everyone needs access to financial resources regardless of rental agreements, bank accounts, and tax returns, all things the government relies on to support communities. Teen Success, Inc. is going to make sure young mothers in its program are receiving the aid they need.

Teen Success, Inc. is providing direct financial assistance to its program participants in two ways – monthly cash assistance and emergency rental funds. Last month, the organization rolled out educational stipends for every young mother enrolled in a post-secondary education program. This direct financial assistance will be provided to all of its participants and on top of the educational stipend for those in higher education.

The organization expects that the influx of cash will help young mothers cover their families’ basic needs, forestall evictions and homelessness, and reduce stress mothers are facing while trying to provide for themselves and their children.

The economic downtown is turning the opportunity gap into a crater, arguably it already was. When there is already a crisis of homelessness and food insecurity among students in California [5], basic needs must be met first. Only then will young mothers be able to focus again on their educational ambitions and dreams.

Cash relief and rental assistance will be available to all young mothers in Teen Success, Inc.’s California programs across San Jose, Redwood City, Fresno, and its partner programs with Planned Parenthood Mar Monte in Sacramento and with Harmony at Home in Monterey County.

The direct assistance fund provides two forms of support, including:

Ongoing, monthly cash investments
Young mothers will receive $50-$100 monthly. This money is to be spent at their discretion for groceries, essential supplies and any other needs their family may have.
By providing no-strings attached cash assistance, Teen Success, Inc.’s participants will direct the money in whatever way will benefit their family most.
Emergency rental assistance
Young mothers at risk of eviction due to inability to pay rent will receive up to $500 to hold off eviction or homelessness. This one-time cash relief will be paired with additional support to help participants access other resources and develop a plan for future rent payments. Organizational staff will work with members to determine need and Teen Success, Inc. will distribute rental relief to the most critical cases first.

Cash security for all families is the way through the COVID-19 health pandemic

Teen Success, Inc. will continue to take a holistic approach in supporting young mothers, adding direct financial assistance to its program that already includes education planning and barrier mitigation, early childhood development and parenting education, financial education and career development, and connection to mental and physical health resources.

Ensuring young families are able to survive both the health and economic crisis of COVID-19 is critical now. The newest stimulus package isn’t going to go far enough to help young families who need it most, especially those who are not yet legal residents or unable to file taxes on their own. Long-term investment and access to resources via community organizations like Teen Success, Inc. is going to make the difference in how and in what condition young families are going to make it out of the pandemic.

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