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After Oceanside’s city staff quietly suspended a program for low-income families last year, longtime resident Claudia Muñoz decided to speak up.
“When I found out it had been suspended, I knew I had to do something,” Muñoz said. “I wanted to give a voice and a face to this program that has changed so many lives, including mine.”
Muñoz, a single mom of two who overcame near homelessness, is a former participant of Oceanside’s Family Self-Sufficiency program, a savings incentive program for low-income families that have Section 8 housing vouchers or live in HUD-assisted housing. HUD is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Families opt into a five-year contract with their housing authority – in this case, Oceanside’s housing authority is the Oceanside Community Development Commission – and work with the Family Self-Sufficiency coordinator to reach educational and career goals.
As a family’s income increases, and subsequently their rent, Oceanside deposits the increased rental charges that a family pays into a savings account.
In other words, the difference of the rent a family pays when entering the program and the increased rent that would be charged as the family’s income increases is put into a savings account that the family can access after the five years is up.
The savings build during their time in the program, and once families “graduate,” they can use the money to put a down payment on a home, go to college, start a business or whatever else they choose to achieve self-sufficiency.
Thirty-four families have successfully graduated from the program since 2012, with an average disbursement is $12,675 per family, according to Oceanside city staff.
Voice of San Diego previously reported that Oceanside’s staff suspended its Family Self-Sufficiency program last year without telling the Housing Commission or City Council.
At a Jan. 24 Housing Commission meeting, Muñoz publicly advocated for the program, pleading with the commissioners to reinstate it.
Last week, the Housing Commission voted to fully restore it, commending Muñoz for sharing her story.
Oceanside will resume enrollment of new families into the Family Self-Sufficiency program next fiscal year.
The Housing Commission has also called for improved marketing of the program to increase awareness and accessibility.
Overcoming the Stigma
In 1984, Muñoz immigrated from Guadalajara, Mexico, to Oceanside with her mother and sister hoping to find greater opportunities.
But that dream proved to be more difficult to navigate than they imagined.
“We were lucky enough to have family in the area that helped us until we were able to sustain ourselves,” Muñoz said. “But there was still a huge language barrier, educational barrier and cultural barrier that we were constantly working to overcome.”
At the age of 16, Muñoz decided to drop out of high school and leave home, removing herself from a difficult home environment. From then on, she was on her own.
In the years following, she worked multiple minimum wage jobs in dozens of different industries. She stayed with friends and anyone who would take her in for short periods of time until she started receiving rental assistance and was finally able to rent a small place of her own.
At 21, Muñoz had her first daughter followed by her second daughter a few years later, raising them both as a single mom. She worked long hours, oftentimes at night, and had to rely on neighbors to watch her kids while she shuttled to and from work on the bus.
“I wasn’t receiving any child support or any assistance from anyone,” Muñoz said. “I was the sole provider for my daughters, and it was really hard.”
Around 2003, a staffer in the city’s housing department introduced Muñoz to Oceanside’s Family Self-Sufficiency program. She was eligible for it because she was already receiving Section 8 rental assistance.
For families receiving rental assistance, their rent is usually based on income – as their income increases, so does their rent. This system can often discourage families from seeking a higher income because they will end up paying more in rent and may lose their other benefits in the process, like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, also known as food stamps.
“The more money you make, the more you will have to pay for rent and other bills, so you won’t have that cushion to do other things like pay off credit or pay off a car,” Muñoz said. “It’s easy to get into a vicious cycle and say, ‘I’ll just stay right here, so that I don’t end up in an even worse situation.’”
But with Family Self-Sufficiency, participants are incentivized to increase their income.
When she entered the program, Muñoz created several goals with the Family Self-Sufficiency coordinator. She wanted to go back to school, she wanted upward mobility in her career, she wanted to pay off her debts and she wanted to become financially independent.
At the end of her five years, Muñoz graduated from the program with almost $12,000 in her savings account.
Along the way, she earned her high school diploma, she moved up the ranks in her career as a caregiver for adults with developmental disabilities, she started earning more money, she became debt free, she was able to purchase two vehicles and she could finally afford real day care for her kids.
She is also no longer receiving Section 8 rental assistance.
“It wasn’t easy,” Muñoz said. “The program gives you what you put into it. Sacrifices have to be made because you’re used to doing certain things a certain way, but now you can’t do things that way – now you have to buckle up and do what you have to do to turn your life around.”
In the years since graduating, Muñoz has been able to keep applying the skills and tools she learned while she was in the program.
She went on to receive special certification in her field and later co-founded a group home, which she ran and maintained for eight years. She then landed the job she has now as the director of an adult day program.
Both of Muñoz’ daughters have since graduated from college and are both pursuing their careers. And Muñoz is working on purchasing her first home.
“There’s a negative stigma associated with government assistance programs,” Muñoz said. “But I am living proof that they do work, and if it wasn’t for Family Self-Sufficiency, I’m not sure where my daughters and I would be.”
If they helped 37 families since 2012, isn’t that only 3 families each year?
The program costs $150,000/year, and each family is receiving a $12,000/year benefit, so we are spending $50,000 per family to receive $12,000 in benefits.
Rank and file employees cut the program because it’s a waste of money, and a grandstanding politician insisted it be reinstated so that her name could appear in the newspaper. This is what’s destroying the country, death by 1,000 cuts of self interested elected officials.
I guess I see it differently. These families have broken the cycle of poverty. They are no longer reliant on the welfare system, which could have been a lifetime, multigenerational dependency. Far more than $50k. And, now, as taxpayers, they have repaid the cost of the taxpayer funds they received and are conributing members of society. Sounds like a good deal to me.
As usual, immediate negativity, but if we just look at the bigger picture,perhaps we can together make a change. Dollars and cents come and go,but a life long change in a family or an individual has more value. Teaching the next generation of oportunities, breaking generational inhereted cycles of poverty,lack of education or how to utilize and give back to the systems that ONLY this great nation has to offer is priceless. I support the system that proves to have results and less cost over all. Its not free, the participants have to work and keep progressing.
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