Easing Money Stress With Free Financial Empowerment

By Julie McFayden

With many Canadians struggling to manage the financial impacts of COVID-19, cities are stepping up with innovative ways to help residents tackle their money challenges and rebuild their financial stability and security.

LONG BEFORE THE economic shock of COVID19, Canadians cited personal finances as their greatest source of stress. Since the beginning of the pandemic, over 5.5 million people have experienced job loss or reduced earnings. Those working in lower wage jobs, visible minorities and Indigenous Peoples have been hit the hardest.

Household financial insecurity, in turn, can cost cities up to 4.6 per cent of their budgets annually in foregone revenues and increased service costs, according to one U.S. study. A new program, developed by the national charity Prosper Canada, offers municipalities help to sustainably embed tailored financial help interventions into services they are already delivering to vulnerable residents to help them improve their financial health. The model is showing promising results in several communities, including Edmonton and Toronto, where financial help is being built into transit, recreation, welfare, employment and library services.

“Financial empowerment can be a gamechanger for municipal poverty prevention and reduction efforts,” says Elizabeth Mulholland, Chief Executive Officer of Prosper Canada. “Weaving proven financial help interventions into existing services is a cost-effective way to help city programs deliver greater impact and to create more gateways to financial stability and health for residents struggling to make ends meet, manage debt and build a stronger financial future.”

The City of Edmonton recently launched its Financial Empowerment program, which offers free and confidential one-on-one financial help to participants in their Leisure Access and Ride Transit programs to help them access income benefits they are eligible for, as well as tackle other financial challenges. City social workers have been trained and deployed at program locations across the city, working with community financial help providers who can provide tax-filing assistance and more in-depth financial counselling to over 60,000 program participants annually.

“In an effort to reduce poverty and social inequity, the City is making financial empowerment support available to more Edmontonians with low incomes on a sustainable basis,” says Jenny Kain, director, safe and healthy communities at the City of Edmonton. “Social workers have the expertise to help assess participants and the expertise they bring can help assess participants’ financial needs and connect them to community agencies with existing support that can help them access local, provincial and federal government benefits they may be eligible for.”

More and more cities are exploring similar approaches to build the financial resilience of residents through programs that help households to regain their financial stability.

Julie McFayden is the Senior Manager, Marketing and Communications at Prosper Canada. She oversees the development and implementation of all marketing and communications activities for the organization.