By: Jacqueline Chan
United Way Bay Area’s latest report, SparkPoint Programming During COVID-19: An Assessment of the Health-Wealth Connection, describes the impact of COVID-19 on our SparkPoint program’s clients and how our work has pivoted to meet the needs of low-income families and individuals. In addition, the report highlights the health-wealth connection in SparkPoint programming and makes recommendations on how programs like SparkPoint can tackle economic, as well as, health inequality.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had devastating health and economic impacts on low-income families and individuals across the Bay Area. Many SparkPoint clients are experiencing financial insecurity due to unemployment and/or reduction of work hours, leading to widespread food insecurity, difficulty paying for rent and bills, and negative mental health impacts. Clients were already facing many challenges prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the pandemic amplified these challenges and compounded barriers to self-sufficiency. Structural inequities further deepen divisions along class, racial, and ethnic lines with profound effects on future employment, income, and life expectancy, which ultimately limit the opportunities that historically disadvantaged groups have for reaching their full health and wealth potentials. Among SparkPoint clients, certain populations have experienced disproportionately greater health and financial impacts, including African-American communities, Hispanic or Latinx communities, people with limited English proficiency, immigrants, families with limited or no technology, older adults, undocumented individuals, people living with disabilities, and persons with preexisting mental health conditions.
SparkPoint centers serve as one-stop sites where low-income individuals and families can access a full range of integrated financial stability services. The program supplements its core suite of financial and career coaching with additional services like food pantries, housing resources, rental assistance, and help filing for benefits. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted both SparkPoint clients and staff, resulting in increased mental health and economic challenges. Despite these challenges, SparkPoint centers were able to successfully continue their important work, providing emergency relief and keeping staff and clients safe—all while staying on mission under extraordinary stress.
Though SparkPoint was originally designed to provide financial and career services to clients, in our assessment we found that SparkPoint’s mission, goals, values, and activities align well with the shift toward integrative health-wealth services, where clients can access financial support, as well as services that support their preventive health and basic needs.
SparkPoint clients reported positive health benefits from their participation in SparkPoint, including feeling supported and empowered, reduced stress and anxiety, social connectedness, and support for meeting their basic needs. In a recent interview, a SparkPoint client described how SparkPoint made them feel less anxious about financial uncertainty when they knew they had a place to go to: “Talking about what’s happening in my life at SparkPoint empowers me. It has lessened the stress because I am able to talk to someone who can do something about it and make a change.” Some clients have also cited how financial coaching helped them be resilient to the economic impacts of COVID-19. However, many SparkPoint clients are still struggling to remain financially stable.
SparkPoint centers have become a trusted source of support and resources in many hard-hit communities in the Bay Area. As the economic impacts of COVID-19 continue into the next year, SparkPoint staff will continue to support low-income families and individuals through comprehensive financial, career, and basic needs supports that could also have profound impacts on their health and well-being.