Employment is an essential building block for economic mobility, but it is not the only thing that our Culinary Workforce participants need in order to succeed. To help our Workforce participants and alumni achieve their financial goals throughout their careers and lives, in early 2019 we introduced financial literacy and coaching into our training program.
Sujata Bharani is leading Hot Bread Kitchen’s expanded financial readiness training with group workshops and one-on-one sessions. Sujata’s goal is to help Hot Bread Kitchen’s Workforce alumni better achieve their financial goals and understand the building blocks of financial management. Sujata covers topics such as setting up direct deposit, understanding the relationship between income and expenses, and feeling empowered to ask questions at a bank.
As a result of Covid-19, we pivoted our programming to support the most critical relief that women in the food industry and their families need in these challenging and uncertain times. We spoke with Sujata about how her work as a Financial Coach has shifted and what she’s hearing from our program alumni.
What has your work been like since the pandemic hit? What has changed?
Since the pandemic hit, our whole team has been helping our Workforce alumni navigate the unemployment insurance process and benefits they might qualify for. We know there is a limit to the Covid-19 related unemployment insurance benefits available right now. As it stands, many of our workforce alumni are eligible to receive unemployment insurance, plus the additional weekly $600 unemployment relief funds from the CARES act. However, we have had to emphasize that this situation is not going to last forever, therefore, ensuring that they each have financial management plans is even more critical.
What does your day-to-day look like?
In my one-on-one coaching work, I guide women in their financial plans through simple household budgeting tips, healthy saving concepts, and financial goal setting. We are currently partnering with Neighborhood Trust Plus, a virtual financial coaching service, which will help extend our financial programming offerings. Trust Plus enables all 100+ of the women in our network to be connected with a financial coach in addition to my support. What I’m trying to do is to get women engaged in that service which will give them access to individualized financial coaching on a regular basis.
What are some of the common concerns you have heard from our Workforce alumni since the beginning of the pandemic in March?
At Hot Bread Kitchen, we want to provide a forum for women in our program to talk about personal finances, especially now. Since the pandemic, there is a lot of contradictory information out there.
Many of the women are expressing not knowing if they are going to have enough or not knowing how to plan during this time of uncertainty. What we aim to do is explain these uncertainties and the resources available. This is on a lot of women’s minds: “how do I make my income stretch to reach everything that I need?”
What are some of the most important financial health practices you instill in your financial coaching work?
In general, we want women connected and talking about their finances whatever their situation is. Our approach to financial coaching is very goal oriented: we want to help our program participants learn to set financial goals for themselves. We help them set goals toward achievable milestones whether it relates to childcare, housing, or education. Since the pandemic hit, women still have the same interests in learning how to save and set goals, but now it is a bit less dream-like and a little less aspirational, since there is more urgency at the moment. We also emphasize the importance of saving and saving techniques.
What are the biggest barriers to saving or learning how to save?
The number one barrier is having access to information and having questions answered—from how to manage credit cards to how to protect your identity. Women of color and immigrants suffer the most because they often have no one to ask.
We don’t talk about finances or money much on a societal level, it’s personal business, but when I have individual meetings or group lessons with the women in our program, they are very vocal.
In general, the women in our program have never had an easy way to talk about finances. They feel better or more at ease that they have someone to ask at Hot Bread Kitchen.
What are some of the positives that have come out of this situation? How will your work as a financial coach change?
I’m happy to see despite this time of uncertainty, we have some wins: one woman was able to pay off a certain amount of debt, and two women have paid off their credit card debt.
I’m hopeful that our alumni feel more confident to ask about their finances. When I started my work as the Financial Coach at Hot Bread Kitchen, I was surprised to find out that many women didn’t know how to ask for their starting salary, so we teach them that they have every right to ask questions like that to an employer. That’s really important.
I want women to be confident in their financial situation. I want them to understand what they have and what they can do. It’s so empowering to understand that and to be able to make informed decisions based on understanding your budget.