Rigorous, independent study confirms impact of Compass FSS program on family economic security

Abt Associates released today the results of their rigorous evaluation of Compass Working Capital’s model for the federal Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program. The report points to Compass’s model as a promising approach for helping participants in federal rental assistance programs to increase earnings, build assets and pay down debt.

This study joins a small number of rigorous evaluations of the FSS program that have been conducted to date. It is the first study to examine credit and debt outcomes for FSS program participants, which are two key indicators of household financial security. Abt Associates followed rental assistance recipients in FSS programs offered by Compass in partnership with local housing authorities in Lynn and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

After an average of 40 months in the program, participants in the Compass FSS program earned more and received less welfare payments than their matched peers. They also achieved positive credit and debt outcomes that exceeded benchmarks. Specific findings include:

  • Increased Earnings: Participation in the Compass FSS program was associated with an average gain in annual earnings of $6,305
  • Reduced Debt: Compass FSS participants experienced an average decrease in total derogatory debt of $764 and an average decrease in credit card debt of $655
  • Stronger Credit: The average credit score rose by 23 points, among those Compass FSS participants who entered the program with a score. The share of participants with a prime credit score rose by 14 percentage points.
  • Reduced Welfare income: Participation in Compass FSS was associated with a decline of $496 in annual welfare payments

FSS is a 25-year old U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program designed to help recipients of federal rental assistance make progress toward economic security. The evaluation confirms that well-run, voluntary FSS programs can support families with low incomes to increase their earnings and become more financially secure. These results also add further weight to calls to streamline and improve the FSS program - a chief aim of the bipartisan legislation recently introduced by U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), Jack Reed (D-RI), Tim Scott (R-SC), and Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

Compass partners with public housing authorities, nonprofit housing organizations, and private housing owners to administer an innovative asset building approach to FSS. Like traditional FSS programs, Compass FSS provides participants with an escrow account that increases in value as participants’ earnings and rent contributions increase. In addition, Compass FSS offers client-driven financial coaching to help participants build their financial capability and savings, pay down high-interest debt, make progress in achieving their employment goals and improve their credit scores and budgeting. Compass now operates this FSS model at ten sites in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. The organization is also supporting local partners across the country to integrate core aspects of the Compass FSS model into their local FSS programs, through a national training and technical assistance network.

Click here to learn more about the study at Abt Associates’s website.

Click here to download a one-page summary of the study.