Emergency cash is about getting money into the hands of people who need it, when they need it. A large and growing portion of the U.S. workforce lives paycheck to paycheck, which means many workers are one broken down car, one medical emergency, or one bad day away from missing a rent payment or not being able to meet their basic needs. Wages are low and our current safety net is insufficient for a lot of workers. This is why having a way for workers to draw down on cash in an emergency matters.
So for the last few years, The Workers Lab has been trying, with our friends and partners, to give this helpful idea for workers a chance to succeed.
Knowing that worker income is volatile, we asked, “What if workers in need had $1,000 available - no strings attached - for unexpected expenses?”
Please take a look at this case study outlining our key findings across four separate design sprints, and learn more about each design sprint below.
Design Sprint #1: Identify the best practices for delivering emergency cash and the impact it has on workers.
From 2017 - 2020 The Workers Lab invested in and led a Design Sprint focused on getting emergency cash to workers. We partnered with thought leaders across the fields of financial inclusion, product innovation, and labor and employment policy to design and test an emergency cash delivery pilot. We called the effort The Workers Strength Fund and delivered $350,000 in emergency cash over the course of the Design Sprint. Our methodology and findings from this experiment are available in a report and recorded briefing.
Design Sprint #2: Utilize our best practices to deliver needed cash to workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the COVID-19 Pandemic hit in 2021, we were able to quickly respond. We utilized the learnings and infrastructure from The Workers Strength Fund to create The Workers Fund: COVID-19 Rapid Response. The Workers Lab had trusted relationships, tested tools, and respected partners in place to be a financial first responder. Through this effort, The Workers Lab delivered nearly $2.8 million in emergency cash to more than 12,600 workers across the country. More on this important effort can be found here.
Design Sprint #3: Incubate a new social enterprise to deliver emergency cash
In order to scale our findings from the first two design sprints, The Workers Lab decided to incubate a new social enterprise called Canary, which designed, built, and tested a new program that’s working with employers at scale to offer emergency grants as an essential benefit to employees.
Design Sprint #4: Explore how emergency cash can also benefit the organization helping deliver it to workers.
As the country started to emerge from the pandemic, The Workers Lab and our partners at Canary reached out to several worker-focused organizations including One Fair Wage, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and UpTogether (formerly Family Independence Initiative) as well as local community-based organizations like Adelante Alabama Worker Center, Twin Cities Hospitality Fund, Massachusetts Immigrant Collaborative, and Texas’s Workers Defense Project to learn more about the emergency cash programs they operated during COVID-19. We then partnered with the Texas Workers Defense Fund to measure the organizational benefits of providing emergency cash. The final report outlining key findings from this project is available here.
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