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Cash in Crisis

In October, we announced that in response to the ongoing Jackson water crisis, we would be providing all families in our multifamily Jackson communities with $150 each month for six months to help cover the additional costs families were incurring due to continued water outages and unsafe drinking water. The last of these six month payments was disbursed this month and based on the feedback and evaluation of the program, we heard one big thing: cash works.

When asked “in times of crisis, which type of support is most helpful?,” 70% of respondents in the communities said cash. 17% preferred in-kind donations, while 13% had no preference.

When asked more about why they felt this way, the answer was clear – cash provides agency, choice, and the ability to deal with all the effects of a crisis, not just the obvious ones like not having water.

“With cash, you have options.”

Residents often cited the importance of being able to choose for themselves. Some talked about having delayed paying utility bills or other household necessities so that they could stock up on water. These participants were able to use the cash assistance toward their utility bills or rent. Another participant said she used the funds to pay her internet bill as schools were forced to close when they had no water and students needed WiFi to participate in virtual learning from home.

Others talked about using the funds to put gas in their car to make it to water distribution sites or drive to other towns to find water, especially when the shelves in stores in Jackson were empty. Still others cited that donated food – a necessity since residents were unable to cook with the water they had – often contains ingredients their families could not consume because of allergies or restrictions. Having cash allowed them to pick out items that they knew were safe and appropriate for their household.

“I could go shopping for my own personal needs and not have to wait in line and drive from site to site for assistance.”

“It allows me the freedom to allocate the assistance as I see fit.”

“Cash gives me the opportunity to budget and make sure I get everything.”

“It helps me pay on my high bills for having to boil my water in the kitchen where I don’t have hot water. This runs my light bill up high. I also can buy a few groceries with what is left over.”

“Because with cash I could, if I needed to, relocate. Go to a different county and pay for a room, or stay with a friend and help with her utilities while I’m there. Transportation to and from school or work.”

“Because during a crisis we need help in all ways and with cash it could help for anything that we are lacking.”

“We are able to get the things we need without all the stress and fear of not having what we need for our household.”

A crisis never just affects one part of a family’s life; it affects everything. Providing cash acknowledges this and trusts our residents to know better than anyone else what they need to care for their family through that crisis. When everything around someone feels like it is falling apart, cash gives back a bit of agency and stability. And that is what every family deserves, despite economic circumstances, in any crisis.

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