A homeless encampment near 9th and Brannan streets in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood is seen July 20, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Jobs break the cycle of poverty

At a recent San Diego employer forum, Gov. Jerry Brown encouraged businesses to hire formerly incarcerated individuals. He said to the full house, “… to make it better, we need your help.”

We all know that people who have been incarcerated, homeless, experienced violence, addiction, limited education — all tragically inter-related circumstances — face big hurdles on the job market. Employers see risk and avoid it. And with little work experience, no means of self-support or evidence that change is possible, people get trapped in the revolving door of jails, shelters and streets. But with unemployment falling, the employers at the San Diego forum were more open to talent with challenging backgrounds, but they want assurance that they’re ready to work.

That’s where the social enterprise solution comes in. These are businesses with a mission to provide jobs, training and support that help people who are overcoming tough circumstances get jobs, keep jobs and build a better life.

Independent research shows that it works. People who get a job in a social enterprise business are more likely to remain employed one year later than those receiving traditional workforce services. They earn more money, stabilize their housing and are less dependent on government benefits — results all the more significant when you consider that one in four had never had a legitimate job before, and 70 percent had been convicted of a crime.

In addition to the human impact, every dollar spent by a social enterprise returns $2.23 in benefits. Not only do those employed become taxpayers, but the social enterprise generates revenue from the business earnings, rather than depending primarily on government or philanthropic grants.

The Transitional Jobs Support Act — Assembly Bill 415, authored by Assemblymembers David Chiu, D-San Francisco, and Eloise Gómez Reyes, D-Grand Terrace — would increase access to social enterprises and other employment and training programs, put people to work and invest in critical supports like transportation, childcare, books and supplies that help social enterprise employees stay employed and advance. AB 415 does not require new funding — the bill leverages state and federal dollars already available to make this happen.

For millions of low-income Californians, the CalFresh program (formerly known as food stamps) is an essential support, preventing hunger and malnutrition. Obviously, it’s hard to look for a job or make a good impression on a job interview when you don’t have enough to eat. AB 415 connects social enterprises and other employment and training organizations to a powerful part of CalFresh: CalFresh Employment and Training (CFET). CFET helps its participants gain skills, training or work experience to increase their ability to obtain regular employment that leads to economic self-sufficiency. AB 415 enables CFET to partner with third-party providers, like social enterprises, and expands CalFresh participants’ access to training and supportive services by leveraging federal dollars.

Nikole’s story says it all. Nikole is a single mom who had returned home after incarceration. As a recent employee of Community Housing Partnership’s social enterprise, Solutions SF, Nikole had a job along with support she needed to foster her success and pathway to mainstream employment. “Nevertheless, I still juggled being a single mother and a full time employee,” Nikole explained.

“Even as a CalFresh recipient, sometimes I did not eat so my children could.” CalFresh benefits, complemented by CFET supportive services, which could cover child care costs, would allow people like Nikole to free up income for food, housing and other purposes. In fact, an Economic Policy Institute study noted that mothers who received help paying for child care were 40 percent more likely to remain employed two years later, in addition to experiencing greater wage growth than those who did not receive help.

AB 415 powers up the social enterprise approach that is proven to help people get jobs while overcoming serious challenges like histories of incarceration and homelessness. AB 415 is a fresh example of the kind of innovation that is California’s specialty — leveraging public dollars for a humane business solution that has a meaningful positive impact on people’s lives and the state’s bottom line. I urge Gov. Brown to sign AB 415 into law and to stand with Californians who want the chance to go to work so that they can provide food and shelter to their families and contribute to the growth of our economy.

Carla Javits is the president and CEO of REDF, a venture philanthropy that invests in the growth and effectiveness of social enterprise.

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