How One Mom Manages Life’s Financial Curveballs
EITC and United Way Help Working Families Like Lisa’s Reach Financial Freedom
Lisa has the kind of unshakable spirit that comes from living in a 100-year-old farmhouse in a rural town. She makes things work, no matter what hand she’s dealt.
When COVID-19 began shutting down businesses and shifting life to remote living in her small 89-person town of Garfield Plantation in Aroostook County, Lisa and her two sons, Jacob and Joshua, adjusted.
The family feels fortunate that they have space around their house where they could have socially distanced meet-ups with friends, ride ATVs and fish. Plus they’ve all remained healthy, even as COVID-19 cases rise in the state. The family’s ability to manage is partially because of Lisa’s penchant for keeping a level head and an optimistic outlook through change. She sees the past year as an opportunity for both her sons to learn an important lesson.
“Learning that sometimes life throws curve balls and things kind of get shaken up on occasion is valuable. [My kids are learning] we all have to figure out ways to work together when that happens,” says Lisa.
She applies the same combination of practicality and positivity to her finances.
Lisa considers herself financially stable. She’s able to provide a home for her sons, takes care of the essentials and pays her bills on time. But the unexpected expenses are harder to handle.
“The regular house bills are not an issue because those are budgeted for. But when it comes to something like needing new studded tires on a vehicle to get to work or if the car needs repairs…that sort of thing [is harder],” says Lisa.
CA$H Maine (Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope), made up of ten local CA$H Coalitions, convened by United Ways, helps people like Lisa bridge these gaps and work towards long-term financial stability. CA$H Coalitions across the state empower 4,000 people through tools and resources they need to achieve their financial goals.
Through CA$H Maine’s free tax preparation program, Lisa found out she qualifies for the Earned Income Tax Credit. The tax credit is a benefit for working people with low to moderate income and can often be a key component of helping working people get out of poverty. In Maine, 95,000 people applied for the EITC with $200 million in credits coming back to the state. Nationally the average household receives close to $2,500. It is an amount of money that can make all the difference for families like Lisa’s.
Last year with her credit, Lisa was able to make a down payment on her son’s braces, pay for additional car insurance as both of her sons got their driver’s license and even buy a heat pump for their old, drafty house. It’s not just the initial lump sum of these payments. Lisa’s EITC refund helps her avoid fees that are attached to making smaller installment payments or even higher costs because of emergency repairs.
The heat pump is a perfect example of how the EITC has lasting benefits. Last winter Lisa had an issue with her heating system and had to have somebody come out and fix it. The unexpected repair could have been a big hit to her family’s budget, but the heat pump helped her keep her family warm and stave off the expense of having someone come immediately.
“Because of the heat pump, I was able to turn off my oil stove and my wood stove until I was able to get them to come to fix it. If [the repair company] comes as an emergency visit, you’re talking about a huge amount of money on top of your regular visits and parts,” says Lisa.
CA$H Maine and EITC have helped Lisa’s family since she started having to work part-time following the unexpected death of her husband. At the time her sons were nine and 12 years old, and Lisa was unable to run the log trucking business she and her husband started and be a single mom to her growing boys. When she decided to close the business and move to other work, it meant a significant change to the family’s income. Having access to CA$H Maine and finding out she qualified for the EITC was comforting.
“I’m relieved not to have to figure out which bills can be put off another month or two to cover any additional expenses. My worst fear is that I will have an unforeseen home or medical expense that I am unable to cover. This credit allows me to plan for the unexpected,” she says.
Lisa especially appreciates the personalized approach of the CA$H team. Team members and trained volunteers work individually with people to understand their unique situation, their financial goals and identify supports that will help individuals reach those goals. Because of that personalized help she encourages people to be honest during their initial meeting.
“I would definitely say take full advantage of [their approach]. And by that I mean, tell them how things are for you and your family or in your home as far as finances and what needs you have, because the more personal information they have about what your specific needs are, the easier it is to find ways to help you in those areas,” says Lisa.
Learn more about CA$H by visiting cashmaine.org.