Calling poverty's fiercest adversaries

Author: Leigh Lynes

While Covid-19 raged across the country, a unique partnership was budding deep in the heart of Texas—a collaboration between three Jewish Family Service (JFS) agencies in Houston, Dallas, and Austin, and BubbieCare, an organization that matches professional home health caregivers with senior citizens. 

Caregivers are a crucial component of a senior’s ability to live in the place they love—home. But despite the central part they play in the well-being and independence of their clients, most caregivers don’t make a living wage. While the typical home healthcare agency charges a senior’s family $22 to $24 an hour for care, the caregiver providing these essential services only receives $9 to $12 an hour in pay. For many, this conscripts them to a life of financial uncertainty and struggle.

An elderly woman and her caregiver

JFS and BubbieCare aim to change this trend. BubbieCare’s model already provides a way for caregivers to earn significantly higher wages than they would working for a traditional home healthcare agency. JFS is supplementing that pathway with financial education and coaching so caregivers are empowered to manage their increased earnings. They’ve partnered with LEO to study the impact of their work together. 

Nancy Pulte Rickard is no stranger to economic injustice. She leads her family’s foundation to support programs that serve people who are often overlooked in our society, including those who are low-income and the elderly. When she learned about the JFS-BubbieCare partnership last October—against the backdrop of the health, economic, and social crises of the coronavirus pandemic—she knew what these two organizations were teaming up to do was special. And it spoke right to the heart of her family’s legacy.

“We all know the important role home caregivers play in the life of seniors,” Nancy says, “but many of these caregivers aren’t paid a living wage. They’re working, but they still can’t break out of poverty.”

JFS and BubbieCare think that one of keys to breaking out of this cycle of poverty is financial education and coaching. Not knowing how to save, budget, invest, or properly use a credit card can wreak financial havoc, no matter how much money a person makes. 21% of Texans say that they spent more than they earned in the last year, and 48% lack basic savings. 68% don’t have the financial means to obtain self-sufficiency, despite having a job.

Using a financial coaching curriculum developed by the United Way called Thrive, JFS will offer BubbieCare caregivers lessons and personalized coaching specific to the financial barriers they face. The theory is that, when caregivers have the financial know-how to maximize the higher pay they receive by working for BubbieCare, the quality of their life—including their mental health—will improve. And less financial stress doesn’t just benefit the caregivers. Their clients benefit from their increased stability as well, creating a better situation for everyone.

Nancy Pulte Rickard
Nancy Pulte Rickard

Nancy sees the potential of this collaboration: “Jewish Family Service saw an issue, BubbieCare saw a different side of the same issue, and then you bring in LEO to really work out how to study the solution and you can start to see real change, not just a Band-aid.”

It was this possible systemic solution that inspired Nancy to direct the Pulte Family Foundation to invest in the JFS-BubbieCare work. The foundation is helping JFS scale up its services to include enough participants for LEO to conduct a rigorous research study. Though the foundation has historically backed programs benefiting children, Nancy doesn’t see this newest investment as straying from that focus. Her foundation can make life better for children living in poverty by supporting services that, when part of a research study, will build evidence on      the best ways to lift parents up and give them the skills to improve their financial stability.  

Nancy has her sights set on that outcome. “I hope this study finds what it is that helps provide financial stability for those who have always worked in low-wage jobs,” she says. “I think many people take for granted making a decent wage and having financial literacy. These are important components of being better family members, community members, and just being able to navigate daily stress better.”

Turning the tide on financial instability can’t be done alone. The strength of the JFS-BubbieCare-LEO-Pulte Family Foundation partnership reminds us that together, we can be poverty’s fiercest adversaries.