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Ask the Expert: Amy Willinsky
August 21, 2018
Ask the Expert: Amy Willinsky

Shared by Amy Willinsky

What are the goals of Emergency Financial Assistance?
The Emergency Financial Assistance (EFA) Program is one part of the Center for Basic Needs Assistance (CBNA), whose primary purpose is to ease the burden of poverty among members of the Jewish community in our service area. EFA provides case management and financial assistance, as well as information and support accessing additional resources. EFA’s primary goal is to provide one-time financial assistance to resolve an urgent/emergency situation related to basic needs, such as housing or utilities. The long-term goal is financial stability, but we are always looking at ways to assist with any factors that impact the ability to reach that goal, such as unemployment, mental health, or domestic abuse. Our far-reaching goal is to see our clients living stable and secure lives, with their basic needs being met in a respectful, predictable, and consistent way. 

How are clients referred to you?
We receive referrals both from within and outside the agency. We collaborate closely with many other JF&CS programs, and with the Boston area Jewish partner organizations. We also work closely with Rabbis who are in a unique position to connect clients in need with our services. We have ongoing relationships with community agencies that regularly refer clients to us, such as ABCD, WATCH, Brookline Center, Newton Social Services, and many others. Clients reach us through our intake line, direct phone contact, info@jfcsboston.org, and walk-ins. 

What happens after clients are referred to you?
Clients have an initial screening with an EFA case manager, by phone or in person, to determine eligibility for our services. We look at several factors in deciding whether to open a case, such as income, potential sustainability, and catchment area. We learn about their story. If eligible, we offer support for the client to complete an EFA application. While our initial focus might be on addressing the financial crisis that brought the client to us, we are looking at the whole person, frequently connecting them to other CBNA or JF&CS programs. Even when a client is not eligible for our services, we try to provide them with a referral or resource that could help to resolve their issue. 

How did you get into this type of work? 
During my three years working in JF&CS Services for People with Disabilities, I frequently shared cases with staff in the Center for Basic Needs Assistance. I was always impressed with the professionalism, compassion, responsiveness, and dedication—both toward clients and each other—shown by each person that I worked with. When the position of EFA supervisor became available, I was excited to become a part of that group. I have not been disappointed and continue to learn from my colleagues every day!

What do you think makes Emergency Financial Assistance at JF&CS unique?

Because EFA operates within the larger CBNA department, we have the unique opportunity to work as a team with other programs on behalf of the client. We believe that by providing an integrated set of core services under one roof, we help our clients meet their basic needs for food, housing, fuel, and utilities in the most holistic and comprehensive way possible. Although clients come to us seeking financial help, it is never just about the money. We see our role as far more significant than just sending out a check.  We work to establish a respectful and compassionate relationship, and to understand a client’s needs as a whole person. We can then give far more to the client than money. 

Please pose and answer the questions you are asked most frequently.

What does EFA provide financial assistance for?  

We help with rental arrears, moving, move-in costs, utility arrears. We also administer Hebrew Free Loans, Rosenfeld Loans, summer camp scholarships, and holiday gift cards. We also offer specialized funding for Bar/Bat Mitzvah assistance and Jewish funerals.

What else does EFA help with? 

We can negotiate with utility companies to arrange payment plans; calculate SNAP benefits; refer to furniture banks; provide emergency food; facilitate referrals to community services; review budgets; coach housing searches; encourage therapy; support lifestyle changes; advocate with landlords; coordinate with colleagues; support, listen, and be present for the client during crisis and beyond.  

What is the financial eligibility for EFA?

We work with individuals or families who are at 300% of the Federal Poverty level or below.

Do I need to be Jewish to receive help?

We work with clients of all religious, ethnic, and racial backgrounds.

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