MacArthur will invest $3 million dollars to expand an innovative new effort to help low-income families in 13 Chicago neighborhoods achieve financial stability and build wealth.  Centers for Working Families (CWF) are one-stop, neighborhood-based facilities that provide job services, financial counseling, fairly-priced financial products, free tax preparation, and screening for public benefits. 

MacArthur funding will bring Centers to neighborhoods participating in the New Communities Program run by the Chicago office of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC/Chicago) and operated by local organizations.  An estimated 22,000 individuals and families are expected to be assisted by the Centers each year.

Median household income in these neighborhoods ranges from approximately $10,800 to $39,000, but even in relatively higher-income neighborhoods there are significant populations of low-income families.  In Logan Square, for instance, where median family incomes approach citywide averages ($40,720), 17 percent of the families live at the poverty level.

MacArthur President Jonathan Fanton said, “Most low-income families are working, but no matter how hard they try, they can’t climb the financial ladder.  This creative approach treats all aspects of a family’s finances – employment, debt, and money management – as a single, integrated system and gives priority attention to the area most in need of repair.  MacArthur supports such efforts to strengthen communities for the benefit of individuals and families but also for the positive contribution that such communities make to our city and our region.” 

 “Centers for Working Families help people get a good job, get out of debt, and effectively manage the assets they have. It gives people the tools to take control of their financial future,” said Andrew J. Mooney, executive director of LISC/Chicago.

Centers for Working Families offer families several significant advantages:

  • Job services are available to all participants for as long as they need them.  CWF sites offer job placement, job retention, re-placement, and career advancement assistance to all residents of the community, as well as their friends and family. 
  • One-on-one financial counseling is provided to all participants by full-time experts with extensive experience in money management.  CWF counselors include former private sector bank branch managers, financial planners, and certified credit counselors. 
  • Fairly-priced financial products and services are made available through CWF partner banks and credit unions.  Customized banking products reduce dependency on payday loans and other costly financial instruments.
  • Free tax preparation services are offered on site at many CWFs.  Free tax services increase family income by maximizing use of the Earned Income Tax Credit (worth up to $4,300 annually for low-income families). 
  • State-of-the-art software screens participants for public benefits eligibility.  CWF staff assess eligibility for benefits such as food stamps, health insurance for children, and fuel assistance; this information is then used to help participants apply for and access these resources.

Centers for Working Families are based on a model developed by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and have been established in 13 cities around the country.  The Annie E. Casey Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation are sponsoring a Leadership Conference for investors and other organizations interested in this effort in Chicago December 6 and 7.

Community & Economic Development, Chicago, Community Development