It's easy: I have money, you have bills
September 13, 2017 12:22 PM   Subscribe

What do I call the sort of organization/fund I'm looking for? I want to give people small sums to pay their bills.

We know that one of the things that sucks about being poor is that it's expensive. You don't pay a bill and then fees add up and you couldn't afford bill one, you certainly can't afford bill two and then all heck breaks loose.

I want to pay those bills. Can't afford a traffic ticket and going to lose your license, then your job? Let me write that check. Late on your cell phone bill and they're going to shut it off? Call me.

I'm not wealthy, but I can do this for one person a month if I redirect other giving. There must be organizations that are already doing this. What should I be googling?
posted by OrangeVelour to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
Also, GiveDirectly.
posted by WCityMike at 12:42 PM on September 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Absolutely consider GiveDirectly. Recent positive article from NPR: How To Fix Poverty: Why Not Just Give People Money?.

And GDLive, where recipients share their stories, such as: "The biggest difference in my daily life is that I am not stressed about school fees any more, before my son used to be sent home due to fee arrears but immediately I got the transfer, I cleared with the school and eventually he will sit for his final high school exams."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:48 PM on September 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

You might be interested in the story of Percy Ross, a wealthy man who did this for years through a popular newspaper column.
posted by attentionplease at 12:52 PM on September 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help so far. I already contribute to bail funds and this wouldn't interrupt that funding. To clarify, I'm not as interested in international microfinance as I am in helping people in my community (and yes, I understand the implications of that statement). I'm imagining there will be existing funds that do this sort of thing and am just not sure how to find them. I'm new in my neighborhood (in an east coast city) and not looped into the nonprofit scene.
posted by OrangeVelour at 1:22 PM on September 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Black Women Being fund, and if you join safety pin box and then the facebook group, there are calls for just this sort of thing. Most recently, they have been helping with Dr. Roni Dean-Burren's call for support for black women in Houston.
posted by freezer cake at 1:23 PM on September 13, 2017

Best answer: Yes, this is Modest Needs's raison d'etre. The amounts needed are usually at least in the low hundreds, though, so if you're hoping to change lives on your own with $50 or so, MN won't do it.

Now, they have a bit of a "deserving poor" whiff to them, in that they focus on people who are either employed or receiving Social Security. In other words, they are trying to intervene in situations where a family is relatively stable but is in danger of losing that stability due to an unexpected bill. While it's a defensible limitation, I can also understand why some people would prefer their money directed to those even poorer. But the MN recipients are genuinely in urgent need of assistance (often at risk of eviction or losing utilities or necessary transport), so it's not like the money is going to people who don't actually need it badly.
posted by praemunire at 1:36 PM on September 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You might consider contacting your local department of social services to see if they can give you a list of relevant local organizations in your community. They hear about these kinds of needs constantly, and, at least in my experience, frequently refer people to outside organizations for help. I spent a year working with a department of social services through AmeriCorps, and my main job was mapping what resources were available in the local community and connecting people with an organization that might be able to help them. Churches also receive a lot of these types of requests and will probably have a good awareness of what's available locally in terms of assistance from nonprofits. Good luck!
posted by lomes at 1:42 PM on September 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Many social service non-profits have an "emergency fund" that local people can apply to for one-time cash assistance, I think usually with rent or utility payments. Here's one in Chicago. I think I've usually seen references to Emergency Funds or Emergency Assistance when poking around the websites of big umbrella non-profits like Catholic Charities and the United Way, and maybe some homeless services groups? I would try googling things like "[location] emergency fund" and such.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:19 PM on September 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Lots of animal hospitals have funds to pay for pets whose owners are poor and/or elderly; some suggestions here.
posted by Melismata at 2:28 PM on September 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

This might not be the sort of thing you are looking for, but many churches have a "discretionary fund" that they use to help out individuals who come to them with smallish needs such as gas to get to work, or food. At my church we can make a donation specifically to that fund (as opposed to a general donation to be used for church expenses.) You would of course want to make sure this is a church you trust to be non-discriminatory and no-strings-attached as far as who and how they provide help.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 2:46 PM on September 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Small Can Be Big is another example of an organization where you can donate to help families with urgent needs like household bills and rent.
posted by cadge at 2:49 PM on September 13, 2017

Perhaps microgrants. I've heard of several people on Twitter doing similar things (giving small sums of money individually to people in need) and that's what they called it. There's also a Microgrants organization.
posted by glass origami robot at 4:36 PM on September 13, 2017

I'm in a couple Facebook groups for local community empowerment organizations that are led by and centered on people of color. I don't talk or post because that's not my lane, but there is a pretty steady flow of Gofundmes and PayPal links that I can chip in to. So, you could put your ear to the ground and find out what the equivalent groups in your area are.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:50 PM on September 13, 2017

many churches have a "discretionary fund" that they use to help out individuals who come to them with smallish needs such as gas to get to work, or food

Community colleges often have these kinds of funds too, and will also have anti-discrimination processes in place.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:59 PM on September 13, 2017

Join a local Facebook group. I'm in a single moms group, and in the last week alone, there were posts about needing to move but not being able to afford a mover, needing a baby crib asap, running out of diapers on Tuesday and not getting paid until Friday and so on.
posted by ficbot at 5:54 PM on September 13, 2017

The Human Utility (Detroit Water Project) lets you pay water bills for people in Detroit and Baltimore who are in danger of having their water shut off.
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 10:41 PM on September 13, 2017

It's not exactly what you're talking about but at my child's elementary school there are a lot of kids that don't eat lunch because there's no money on their lunch accounts. To help with this the school has made it so anyone can donate to a fund to clear lunch accounts so kids can eat at school. I'm not sure how they choose which account the payment goes to but I really like the program and we donate regularly.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 11:17 AM on September 14, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't want to put down Modest Needs but...yeah, no, wait, I do. I am an only parent living on a miniature disability income. I am, per MN, not amongst the deserving poor -- screw my kid for having a mother who did not latch on to the first dude with a job? and, who is sick instead of underemployed, because...? I don't know. But it is hurtful.

Quietly lurking on local FB groups will alert you to GoFundMes and the like, and the legitimacy of the need is usually not too hard to sort out just by bouncing around FB a little bit.

You could also simply look for members of the MeFi community in hard times. I once, at the complete end of my damned rope, posted, anonymously, asking how to get the mental strength to go on. Much to my amazement, three people sent $ -- one a not insubstantial amount that assuaged some wolves at the door over some utility bills -- and in the post I had mentioned "For example...[problem]...keeps me up at night; no hope of getting it repaired, and it is damaging things while it goes unrepaired. I feel pretty hopeless, etc. What now?"

A MeFite mailed the throwaway, turned out to be well acquainted with my username and -- I still get tears in my eyes thinking of this -- paid to have it fixed, even though it went a bit over four figures (I don't know exactly; she handled everything with the contractor -- and told him she was an old friend and it was a birthday present). It made a HUGE difference. I still had all the other problems, but having that awful burden so cleanly lifted was a big, "that is how and why you go on. Because most people are awesome. Also, you used to be in a position to help others, and did so, and should keep hacking away so you can return to being on that side of the fence." Mostly it was just really hard to be miserable in the face of such amazing generosity.

So, yeah, if you know and trust the username, god knows there are enough tales of misery on here. That much per month would not be sustainable for most, no, but I also appreciated the person who unknowingly lifted my bill burden a bit, and the people who sent a smaller amounts suggesting I just get myself some bubble bath and chocolate or take my kid out for pizza or whatever. Those were also very touching and did a lot to get me back on my emotional feet.

See if there is a volunteer organisation that helps the low-income fix up dilapidated housing that could use $ for supplies -- a LOT of help for the poor requires you to not own a home, no matter how crappy. And a great many expect you to be some sort of flavour of mess -- before my health and income went to hell my daughter and I picked a name off an "Angel Tree" in the library each Xmas and spent a wad trying to give that kid a nice middle-class Xmas. The kids were referred by the local Children's Aid Society and the local branch of the provincial police. If you were simply poor, and did not end up having any unfortunate interactions with authorities, it's really unlikely that you would have figured out this one way to get extra stuff for your child. Beware of things that are not well advertised and which require you to already have some sort of interaction with authorities or organisations and expect them to refer and that's it -- that's nice that they do make those referrals, but if you are just POOR and not deep into the bureaucracy of poverty, you often do not find, or are unable to access, many aid schemes.

My daughter and I used to volunteer at a snowsuit charity and a food bank. We are not far from a major city, but we live in a rural village. I ended up kind of despairing over the $ in gas it cost people to get such a tiny amount of aid from both charities. The food bank we worked at was lovely and generous and it cost me more in gas to get there than the value of what they gave out. Another thing that was depressing was that we had checked out two other food banks before offering our time to that one. One treated us like crap until it was made clear that I was there to ask after volunteering. The other had oppressive ID and paperwork requirements for tiny quantities. If you donate to a local organisation, step in, in casual clothing, and see if client dignity is a priority. If not, it is often a safe bet that it is more a make-work project for the people running it rather than a place that genuinely wants to offer help, and they are not deserving of yours.

If there are drop-in centres and you have a skill you can teach, do you have the time for that? Either fun or practical; doesn't matter -- crocheting is soothing, knowing how to fix a leaky tap is helpful. There is a youth services org here that tries to help teens learn beadwork; I started selling beaded jewellery to stores when I was 14, and as soon as my life is a bit more stable I would like to see if they would be interested in me GoFundMe-ing for beads and showing up to teach some of the more complicated weaving techniques, as it is both fun and a thing that can make the difference between groceries/no groceries when you are young if you get good enough. (And if it is just a hobby, the goodwill of a handmade present is a nice thing to be able to pass on even when you are pretty broke.)

I had to spend a bit in a city traffic court because the rural ditto is terrible (everyone had a story!) about mailing out notices; I thought a mild incident I had with a parked car years ago was over and done with -- I had paid fines at the time, etc. No, said the cop who drove up alongside, leered at me, slipped back behind me, ran my plates, pulled me over, and gave me a bunch of incorrect info. Traffic court was a really weird mix of people who had done incredibly dangerous, stupid, and deliberate things getting the same fine as me for a fender-bender. A lot of repeat offenders. I was, I think, one of a tiny number of people not employed there who had arrived with the idea that it was appropriate to dress up. That said, there were some real hard-luck cases, the single mothers who could not afford the fines, and who were not there for the first time because they couldn't afford it before, either. (Tying fines to income really needs to be a universal.) If you have time to kill during the day you could sit there and see if you could get a hard-luck case out of their fix.

(Please also vote to help the low-income, and don't forget to tell people who you are voting for and why. Also, this is a very cool thing to want to do -- thank you.)
posted by kmennie at 7:54 PM on September 14, 2017 [6 favorites]

P.S. Access to dentistry is a big, painful, only-gets-worse, employment-limiting problem for the poor. You might see if any local dentists do work at low costs with long payment plans for the broke, and quietly pay some months' bills for whomever they suggest?
posted by kmennie at 7:59 PM on September 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

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