How Self-Employment Becomes Cooperative Employment
By Blair Benjamin, Guest Contributor on 09/21/2012 @ 08:45 AM
The session titled “Innovations in Entrepreneurship” introduced attendees to various approaches to building assets through entrepreneurship assistance, which is a topic close to my heart (it’s the core of my own Assets for Artists program). We learned about national work by Noel Poyo’s National Association of Latino Community Asset Builders and Elizabeth Isele’s Senior Entrepreneurship Works program, and examples of local initiatives including WAGES in Oakland, CA, and work in San Francisco’s Mission District by Luis Granados’ Mission Economic Development Agency, which I blogged about yesterday after attending the “Tax, Savings & Entrepreneurship Institute.”
What struck me the most after the session was the model pioneered by WAGES. Alex Armeta discussed how they build worker-owned green cleaning businesses that generate healthy dignified jobs for low-income women. Most of the co-op members have been sole proprietors in the past, and have chosen to pursue their work in the more mutually supportive environment of the worker-owned co-op.
Alex made a strong case for how asset-building in a worker-owned co-op is still very much asset-building. Members automatically accumulate savings in the form of retained earnings. Median retained earnings of their less mature co-ops are $3,422, and members have the opportunity to take emergency no-interest loans from the co-op, which effectively removes them from the predatory lending world. The co-ops also develop human capital assets. Most recently, WAGES has begun developing partnerships that can help the members put some of their profit distributions into appropriate financial products and providing customized financial education and coaching to assist with savings, credit building, etc.
I had heard of WAGES before, but this session got me thinking that even as we champion the stories of the self-employed and seek to help them as solo entrepreneurs, there are some entrepreneurs who succeed better in this hybrid world of worker-owned co-ops. However, there seem to be very few models of support for the difficult challenge of establishing successful worker-owned co-ops. Alex noted that they’re interested in looking at other industries where they can work with partners who have industry knowledge that can be matched up with WAGES‘ knowledge about developing and supporting worker-owned co-ops.
I’ll be thinking more about how the industry I work in (serving self-employed artists and artisans) might present some opportunities to explore co-operative business development in a more rigorously supportive way. I can think of many overwhelmed sole proprietors who might thrive in a co-operative business, if the right supports were in place. Yet another idea to further research back home.
Today in Democracy: The Homeowners No One Thinks Of
By Sean Luechtefeld on 09/20/2012 @ 08:45 PM
In yesterday’s newsletter, we mentioned that the Fall 2012 edition of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, includes a symposium on asset building titled “The Forgotten Forty Percent.” Today, we’d like to suggest another important read for the 1,200+ participants of the Assets Learning Conference working to advance America’s assets agenda.
“Manufactured Housing: The Homeowners No One Thinks Of” examines the importance of resident ownership of manufactured home communities. The essay’s authors, Paul Bradley of ROC USA® and George McCarthy of the Ford Foundation, point out that owners of manufactured homes tend to go unnoticed, thanks largely to a culture that tends to forget the value these homes offer as important sources of assets. Yet, when the value of manufactured homes as affordable sources of income is realized, the asset-building potential for millions of owners of these homes is immense. To maximize this potential, promoting resident-owned cooperatives for manufactured home communities can keep lot prices stable while ensuring any dividends on the appreciating value of these lots is returned to the owners for use in other asset-building activity.
Bradley & McCarthy paint a vivid picture of the fascinating and complex field of affordable housing and the role manufactured homes can play. To read their analysis, check out “The Forgotten Forty Percent” in your Conference bag today.
Get Ready for Capitol Hill Visits
By Sean Luechtefeld on 09/20/2012 @ 07:30 PM
Capitol Hill Visits kick off tomorrow at 2, when you’ll board buses outside the 24th Street entrance of the hotel. There are two important steps to make sure you’re ready to advocate. First, make sure you’ve picked up the Capitol Hill Visit packet prepared especially for you by CFED’s Government Affairs Team. If you haven’t already received the packet, stop by the Registration Desk. Second, be sure to attend the special Capitol Hill Visit Training during Concurrent Sessions II. The Training will be held from 11 am – 12:15 pm today in Washington I, located on the lower level.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to stop by the Information Desk next to Registration.
Tomorrow @ ALC
By Sean Luechtefeld on 09/20/2012 @ 06:30 PM
I hope today’s busy schedule left you feeling excited about the potential new directions for your work (if not a little tired, too). Here’s what tomorrow has in store for you.
The morning kicks off with breakfast at 7 am in the Marriott Ballroom. You’ll want to make sure you’re downstairs and ready to go, as we’ll have a special film screening at 7:30 while people finish their meals. Then, we’ll jump right into our Conversation with Accountholders, moderated by Under Secretary for Education Martha Kanter.
After the morning Plenary, we’ll have two more blocks of Concurrent Sessions. At 9:30, consider checking out “Building Credit as an Asset: The Power of Rent” in Virginia B, brought to you by our friends at Credit Builders Alliance. At 11 in Maryland B, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation will present “Piggy Banks and the Public Sector,” which will explore effective partnerships to promote children’s savings.
Perhaps the saddest news of the day is that like all good things, the ALC must come to an end. To conclude this year’s Conference, our Closing Plenary will offer a Call to Action and mark the official launch of the Assets & Opportunity Network. If you didn’t sign up for the Network when you registered, note that it’s not too late!
After the Closing Plenary, buses depart for Capitol Hill Visits outside the 24th Street Entrance of the Hotel. If you’re not attending the Hill Visits, we’ve got something for you, too. At 2 pm, the second national Poverty Summit kicks off with a Poverty Simulation in the Thurgood Marshall Ballroom.
We hope the last day of your Conference is enjoyable, and that you’ll let us know how we did by dropping off a Conference Evaluation on your way out!
Behavioral Economics 101
By Elvis Guzman on 09/20/2012 @ 06:20 PM
With the help of the Citi Foundation, today some ALC attendees took part in a Behavioral Economics 101 session. One of the major challenges asset-building organizations face is how to ensure people follow through on intentions. Many in the assets field work hard to provide families with opportunities, yet families often continue to fall short of their goals. Why is this? Why would people choose not to better themselves by investing in their future? The fact is that every day all of us make financial decisions that may or may not be to our best interest. Could it be that some of us are more "financially savvy" than others? Financial education is certainly a piece of the puzzle, but the speakers in this session emphasized the need to think beyond financial education - families need to build financial capability.
How do we build financial capability? Behavioral economics can help us understand the process of decision-making. People think in a certain way due to their life circumstances. In fact, there are many influences to decision-making and actions. A person experiencing extreme poverty thinks and acts differently than a middle-class individual who faces fewer financial challenges. Behavioral economics has made significant strides in the past few years to help the assets field understand problems and find appropriate solutions.
Unfortunately, not all solutions work for every situation. This makes it difficult for practitioners trying to help people make the right decisions. Some possible solutions which the behavioral economics field has found successful are reminders, incentives, and commitments from both practitioners and program participants. These strategies may not be successful in every circumstance but they are a good starting point in helping people stay the course and better themselves and their families.
The behavioral economics session was a great success with an eager and active audience. CFED would like to thank our guest speakers and the ALC attendees who helped make it into an informative and fun meeting.
Immigrants' Access to Financial Products and Services
By Jimmy Crowell on 09/20/2012 @ 06:15 PM
Often times, immigrant communities across the U.S. are not part of the financial mainstream and lack the knowledge and resources to achieve financial inclusion. New York City's Office of Financial Empowerment (OFE) and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) have undertaken extensive studies to identify the main barriers to financial inclusion for immigrant communities in the U.S. and what missed market opportunities exist.
OFE is the first local government initiative in the U.S. with a mission to educate, empower and protect low income New Yorkers so they can build assets and make the most of financial resources. With this mission in mind, OFE undertook the monumental task of surveying 1,324 New Yorkers in the Chinese, Mexican and Ecuadorian communities on their financial behaviors and relationships with financial institutions. The main findings of the survey were that structural and non-structural barriers to financial institutions exist, respondents were more likely to have long term savings aspirations like starting a business or saving for education and that savings behavior was prevalent, with savings rates higher among banked respondents.
NCLR undertook a similar survey of 1,038 Hispanics in California that attempted to identify pathways and barriers to financial inclusion for Hispanic immigrants. Of the 1,038 respondents, 20% were unbanked with the main reasons being concerns about immigration status and fears of identity theft. A main takeaway from NCLR's survey was that there is a great need for fundamental financial education to foster trust and understanding of financial institutions among the Hispanic community.
Both of these surveys offer great insights into the relationships immigrant communities have with financial institutions and what blocks them from financial inclusion. With these takeaways, financial products and services can be designed to address the structural barriers that dissuade immigrant communities from engaging financial institutions.
Which Assets Matter?
By Kate Griffin on 09/20/2012 @ 05:45 PM
I just attended the Applied Research Forum’s “Which Assets Matter” session, so I could really understand the role that assets play in moving people out of poverty – and hopefully use that knowledge to think through the right sequence of products and services a low-income household needs to sustainably move out of poverty and into self-sufficiency.
Here are some interesting thoughts from the session:
- Emergency savings matter. Many low income households are unprepared for crisis – they are at greater risk of falling deeper into poverty when a shock occurs. We all know it’s hard to build that emergency savings pool. But can having an emergency savings pool affect economic mobility? Leah Gjertson (Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin-Madison) found that (1) those who have an emergency pool are more likely to be savings for retirement, an auto, or education, and are less likely to experience economic hardship; and (2) those without an emergency pool are more likely to experience a hardship such as not being able to pay for medicines or having a utility disconnected. But that leaves us with further questions – what makes someone more or less likely to create an emergency savings pool? What did that savings pool look like – how often was it dipped into and restored, and for what uses? Many are already working on these issues.
Another compelling question: How do we ensure that when families are no longer asset poor, they remain that way? Tammy Leonard at the University of Texas at Dallas worked with Wenhua Di at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas to explore this question.
- Tammy explored first whether there is a threshold beyond which households won’t build assets because they are focused on daily survival. (We wonder whether there is a relationship to WOW’s Economic Self-Sufficiency Framework) She did find some evidence that accumulating assets greater than or equal to 75 percent of the income poverty line leads to less re-entry into asset poverty. Frank DeGiovanni of Ford Foundation, who moderated the session, points out that achieving this level of asset ownership (roughly $15,000 in assets for a family of four) would basically mean home ownership for low-income households – a goal we all care about, and know how difficult homeownership for all would be to achieve.
- People are less likely to fall back into asset poverty when (among other things): they are older and more educated, they have cars and homes, and they exhibit asset building behaviors after re-entering asset poverty, including by paying down debt.
- Higher debt ratios are associated with falling back into asset poverty.
- Asset diversification is unrelated to re-entering asset poverty.
Note that there is some caution in using this data – it only looked at households in two-year intervals, so the researchers did not see any movements in or out of asset poverty between those points in time.
All of this generated intense discussion in the room. Some thoughts that arose:
- Do families segment their thinking about financial stability (where emergency savings lives) from economic mobility (where asset building lives) – and is that why you don’t see the correlations between the two so strongly?
- We are promoting asset building – but to do that requires incurring huge amounts of debt, both to boost your credit score and to acquire said assets. Isn’t that too much of a disparity?
- Could we do research around pairing of emergency savings (perhaps with a match) that can be combined with a secured credit card to help people move from short-term needs to long-term needs. Will that improve economic mobility? Can we use credit union data to help with this?
How to Talk about Assets
By Sean Luechtefeld on 09/20/2012 @ 05:30 PM
This afternoon, I had the pleasure of moderating a session called “How to Talk about Assets: What Works with Policymakers and Allies.” The session included Wendy Yaross of Hattaway Communications, who presented compelling research commissioned by the Ford Foundation, and Janet Byrd of Neighborhood Partnerships in Oregon, who discussed how assets messaging research can make a difference in how we approach on-the-ground asset-building strategies.
I was excited to moderate this session because as a communications professional in our field, there are constantly issues with which we must grapple. Part of this comes from the fact that our field is diverse, both in terms of the viewpoints it promotes and the perspectives it encompasses. It’s clear, for example, that the perspectives of policymakers and the perspectives of practitioners aren’t necessarily alike. How, then, do we package the right message for the right audience that persuasively makes the case for asset-building approaches that create financial security?
“How to Talk about Assets” made great headway in answering this question. To share just some of the insights, I compiled my top takeaways from the session to share with those of you who weren’t able to attend the session.
- Some themes compel, regardless of audience. Hattaway’s research that Wendy presented finds that tangible and personal benefits, financial independence, opportunity and the protection of social security are all themes that resonate well, regardless of whether you’re talking to a policymaker, a funder/advocate or members of the public at large.
- Stories empower, and empowering stories are critical. We often hear about the need to “put a face on asset building” by personifying those who benefit from programs that create financial opportunity. Both Wendy and Janet spoke to the power of creating a narrative of empowerment and aspiration.
- Messages need to present the problem, appeal to values and present solutions. As Janet noted during the session, audiences can’t be moved to act (regardless of the “ask”) if they don’t see the problem with the status quo. Likewise, assets advocates need to make the case for their audiences for why they should care, and they need to be ultra-clear on the solution. Why, for example, does the solution address the problem and create a vision for long-term financial stability?
Did you attend “How to Talk about Assets?” Use the Comments below to leave your top takeaways and share your own stories about messaging the work of the assets field!
Getting Ready for Capitol Hill
By Blair Benjamin, Guest Contributor on 09/20/2012 @ 05:15 PM
Thanks to a session with several government policy staff from CFED and a couple of guest experts, I now feel armed to speak with my Senators tomorrow afternoon.
I was interested to hear the opinion of Jeff Hammond of Van Scoyoc Associates that with the changes that have swept our political system the last few years, it may be that our best chance to achieve major improvements in asset-building policy will come from approaching it through entitlement reform rather than tax policy. Four years we were talking about tax policy as the big issue that could open doors for asset-building policy, but we may need to shift our emphasis.
I was also glad to learn more about what it means to seek re-authorization of the Assets for Independence (AFI) program, a campaign which was raised by CFED in 2009 but failed. CFED is now looking to bring it up again in 2013 if any Republicans will co-sponsor the legislation. I was puzzled why we even still have AFI if it failed to be re-authorized in 2009. What I learned is that while a typical federal program can be funded and continued year after year without re-authorization as long as funds are appropriated in the annual budget, it’s the process of re-authorization that helps to cement the federal support in place over a longer period (it would be much more difficult to take funds away from a newly re-authorized program), and re-authorization allows policy-makers to make improvements to the program. In the case of AFI, such re-authorization improvements might include adding new asset goals, increasing the income eligibility guidelines, and better addressing the asset limits of the program.
More information about AFI re-authorization is available here on the CFED website.
Highlights from "Integrated Service Delivery"
By Kate Griffin on 09/20/2012 @ 04:00 PM
Bank of America (BoA) sponsored a great conversation with Erica Lowitz from Local Initiatives Support Coalition (LISC) and Carolyn Seward of Better Family Life that boiled down the essential elements of integrating social services into one delivery mechanism for low-income families.
Invoking the likes of Tim Tebow and Robert Griffin III, moderator Wynne Lum from BoA helped us understand how picking up supplies and groceries for your football tailgating party has dramatically changed over the years – and now we only have to go to one store for everything we need. That is the definition of integrated service delivery.
Erica Lowitz from LISC highlighted their innovative Financial Opportunity Center (FOC) model – based on the Annie E. Casey Foundation Center for Working Families model – which helps families find a better job, identify and apply for public benefits, and act on financial counseling. The metrics they are tracking are increases in net income, increases in credit scores, and increases in net wealth.
Carolyn Seward discussed the MET Center – a Center for Working Families in the St. Louis area. Through their integrated work, she has found that bundling leads to longer-term engagement with households, and the effectiveness of services increased as a result. Therefore, they have better customer retention, and saw an increase in participant’s wages due to this approach.
Things I think are essential to take away from this discussion are:
- Sequencing is important – you have to meet households where they are. If they walk in the door and expenses exceed incomes, it’s inappropriate to start the conversation with why they should start saving money. They have a different crisis to solve for first.
- You have to understand everything that affects the success of the low-income person – for example, if they come into the door looking for a job, you have to look at their credit score and repair that if there is a problem – or it will affect their ability to get a job when an employer looks at the credit score.
- Metrics are so important to integrated service delivery – everyone involved in the service delivery has to agree on the metrics that matter, and how they will be measured. Performance-based contracts need to be used. And, there needs to be one data system collecting all the data. Then, everyone is acting from the same foundation and with the same information and incentives.
- Integrated service delivery is about adding on services – but in order to do that well, you have to recognize that people walked in the door for one reason (e.g., to get a job). In order to give them the suite or bundle of services you want, you have to do it before the person gets what they came for, and make it mandatory. Once they get what they came for, you’re unlikely to see them again. Moreover, you should bundle services when someone is coming for a patient service (one that takes time to deliver, like workforce training or getting a job) rather than transactional (such as emergency cash assistance). But, if you make the mandatory services good – people will come back. Seventy percent of participants come back from more after the first financial counseling session, even if that wasn’t what they walked in the door to do.
Recap: Measuring and Understanding the Racial Wealth Gap
By Elvis Guzman on 09/20/2012 @ 02:15 PM
Today the 2012 ALC hosted a concurrent session sponsored by the Ford Foundation, "Measuring and Understanding the Racial Wealth Gap." Kilolo Kijakazi from The Ford Foundation moderated this jam-packed session with a widely diverse audience. The speakers engaged the attendees with a vast array of wealth and income data which show a clear discrepancy between non-Hispanic Whites and other racial minorities. These include the fact that White households have 18 times more wealth than Hispanics and 20 times more than African-Americans. Ms. Kijakasi emphasized that the current gap is a structural problem and not just a product of individual factors. There are a number of institutional practices and flawed policies which have permeated throughout the system since the Great Depression.
Speakers in this session included Rebecca Tippet, University of Virginia, and Derrick Hamilton, The New School, which highlighted the importance of building and maintaining financial wealth. Buying a home or getting a post-secondary education are some of the most important factors which can expand the economic opportunities of all Americans. Unfortunately, African-Americans and Hispanics continue to stand at a disadvantage. Mariko Chang, another speaker and an Independent Contractor, chimed into the conversation by including the continued struggles of women in accumulating wealth. Single women, and African-American women in particular, have less access to the “wealth escalator” than their male counterparts.
The session ended with a very passionate Q&A portion in which audience members asked what the field could do to remedy these problems. Speakers cited the need to advocate their policymakers and work together to address the gap. Overall, this session spoke to many of the participants. The racial wealth gap continues to affect our daily work and it is an issue we must face head-on to advance the future of all Americans.
Copy of Luncheon Plenary Live Blog: ALC 2012
By Sean Luechtefeld on 09/20/2012 @ 01:30 PM
Sean Luechtefeld (10:33 pm): You know, this was a lot of fun! So much fun, in fact, that we should do it again. We'll see you back here next Thursday, October 11 at 9 pm EDT for the first and only Vice Presidential Debate. Meanwhile, continue the conversation on our Facebook page and via Twitter, and remember that you don't get to complain about the outcome of the November 6 election if you don't get out and vote!
Kim Pate (10:32 pm): One role of government is to provide ladders of opportunity, create jobs by supporting the self-employed, small businesses and community revitalization.
Sean Luechtefeld (10:31 pm): Governor Romney: "What kind of America do you want to have for yourself and your children?" That really is the question, isn't it?
Anne Kim (10:30 pm): With only a few minutes left to go, the ultimate "winners" of this debate (and the election) are supposed to be the American people. This debate notwithstanding, let's hope that's the case come November 7.
Sean Luechtefeld (10:28 pm): President Obama: We need to let go of some of what the most extreme parts of our parties want us to do and do what we know is right. Yes! Whether Democrat or Republican, there's real work to be done - to expand economic opportunity and more. But, we need to work together. In today's political climate, we can't put party over people.
Sean Luechtefeld (10:25 pm): C-SPAN (where I'm watching the debate) will be taking calls from the public at 10:30. I'm tempted to call in...what should I ask?
Jeremie Greer (10:22 pm): Glad we are talking about student loans; they could be the next major debt crisis (after foreclosure crisis, which we still haven't talked about...).
Lauren Williams (10:18 pm): Both candidates indicate that too many college grads are in too much debt. Here's the reality: college isn't accessible. But, it doesn't have to be that way. Children's Savings Accounts help close the aspiration gap, and can put higher ed within reach.
Sean Luechtefeld (10:17 pm): So many commenters! Thanks for sticking with us, folks.
Kasey Wiedrich (10:10 pm): Consequesnces of medical debt: 39% of people did not go see a doctor when they had a medical condition (New Demos research presented at the Assets Learning Conference in the Applied Research Forum. View the full presentation here).
Sean Luechtefeld (10:07 pm): Governor Romney: "we need private markets to solve the problem." Yup, but we also need public policy. And, while we're at it, community practice, too!
Sean Luechtefeld (10:04 pm): Finally, someone is talking about the struggles for the self-employed. Entrepreneurship isn't just good for the economy; for a lot of folks, it's the surest way out of asset poverty and into the mainstream.
Kristin Lawton (10:01 pm): Sean, the health care issue is an assets issue. People without health care are financially vulnerable - they could be one medical emergency away from losing it all.
Anne Kim (9:58 pm): If there is any silver lining to the financial crisis, it is the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. No other agency is better poised to protect Americans' wealth. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Check out CFPB Director Richard Cordray at the ALC!)
Sean Luechtefeld (9:57 pm): Now we're moving onto health care. I think it's an important topic, but it makes me worry that we won't circle back to those who are financially vulnerable.
Sean Luechtefeld (9:52 pm): Is this debate changing anyone's mind?
Anne Kim (9:51 pm): Why do all debates around health care devolve into a contest over "Medi-scare"? No question health care is fundamental to economic security (check out CFED's Scorecard on this topic), but policy makers need to realize that Americans know there's no free lunch. We can handle an honest debate over the trade-offs we're all facing.
Lauren Williams (9:46 pm): Don't forget candidates for the ponies! Ponies need help building assets, too. Just ask @assetpony.
Sean Luechtefeld (9:45 pm): We keep hearing about the $716 billion. What would happen if we put that money into something other than Medicare? Like, something that created longer-term financial stability for the "forgotten 40 percent?"
Katherine Lucas McKay (9:42 pm): Social Security and Medicare, great. But what about investing in opportunity for today's children and their future, not just today's retirees? (by the way...CSAs work!)
Kim Pate (9:41 pm via Twitter): Taxes are important to both #candidates in this #debate, follow @cfednews for ways tax reform can support lower and middle income Americans.
Jeremie Greer (9:39 pm): Forty minutes into the debate and no talk about the foreclosure crisis? Huh?!?
Sean Luechtefeld (9:37 pm): Obama says governors are creative, but not so creative to overhaul public programs in a productive way. We'd disagree, and in fact, some of the most innovative work to create financial security are happening at the state and local levels. Anyone see Cory Booker at the ALC?
Anne Kim (9:33 pm): The red versus blue ties are a nice touch. Although we're not yet hearing much new, the contrast between the candidates' visions couldn't be more clear than the contrast between their neckwear!
Jeremie Greer (9:32 pm): There are a ton of ways to cut the deficit. Cutting programs that support the most vulnernable populations is not the way to do it.
Katherine Lucas McKay (9:30 pm): When talking about deficit reduction, the crucial question we need to ask is whether the program is so critical that we can't live without it? You can't answer that question without thinking about the people the programs are intended to serve. Neither candidate has addressed economic vulnerability yet tonight.
Sean Luechtefeld (9:27 pm): Psst...Jim! No need to move on. The economy is a topic we care about, and I'm pretty sure we aren't alone.
Ida Rademacher (9:25 pm): Neither candidate is using this opportuinty to appeal to the American people; they are in policy wonk-ville. Tons of data, but no effort to be accessible to the public.
Sean Luechtefeld (9:24 pm): "Math, common sense and our history all prove..." ZING! from President Obama.
Jeremie Greer (9:23 pm): It's refreshing to hear a balanced approach to deficit reduction that inlcudes revenue and spending.
Anne Kim (9:21 pm): Both candidates are focusing their appeals on what they would do for America's middle class, and each has named his litany of the principal hurdles to future middle class success.
But conspicuously missing so far is any mention of the 40 percent loss in wealth by all Americans as a result of the recession. Regardless of who wins in November, our work is cut out for us: we need to elevate household financial security to the top of the next Administration's agenda.
Sean Luechtefeld (9:19 pm): We absolutely agree that there needs to be deficit reduction. But, to be clear, there are a ton of things we can do to create a more inclusive economy that don't cost much and are both moveable (politically) and manageable (administratively). Read our recommendations in our Federal Stroke-of-a-Pen guide.
Sean Luechtefeld (9:17 pm): Neither candidate seems to be answering questions directly. Or, in the case of Romney, the opportunity to ask a question goes missed. Let's step it up, gents.
Kristin Lawton (9:15 pm): Romney wants to lower tax burdens for the middle class. Us too! So, how?
Jeremie Greer (9:13 pm): Both candidates are highlighting education as the linchpin for economic recovery.
Katherine Lucas McKay (9:12 pm): Governor Romney is right that new businesses are starting at rates that are a generational low. Big question: How can policies do more to support people who take the plunge and start business?
Sean Luechtefeld (9:07 pm): Both candidates talk about how the "top down" approach doesn't work. More importantly, we believe the "upside down" approach doesn't work. As is, of America's $400 billion in asset-building programs (most of which are delivered through the tax code), the majority of benefits go to those in the highest socioeconomic brackets. In fact, for those in the lowest 60% when it comes to income, the average federal benefit is only $5 per year. For more about how we fix these policies to make them "rightside-up," download Upside Down.
Sean Luechtefeld (9:05 pm): The candidates, along with moderator Jim Lehrer, have taken the stage. Remember, no noisy distractions allowed!
Luncheon Plenary Live Blog: ALC 2012
By Sean Luechtefeld on 09/20/2012 @ 01:30 PM
I felt an electricity [from this audience] from the minute I got here. There is nothing we can't do together in partnership.
Cory Booker just blew the roof off this joint. Not sure the Marriott Wardman Park will ever be the same!
Simply put: Let America be America again. Let it be the America it never was, but we know it can be.
When you leave here today, take with you a greater courage.
Booker: "Will we cultivate a better America for our children? "I believe this country is where it is because we understood the principles and that the power of the people is always greater than the people in power."
Is anyone following @assetpony on Twitter? Hilarious recaps and thoughts about Booker's presentation.
Booker's keynote highlights an important theme that has already resonated throughout this Conference: the challenge isn't really about getting folks to self-sufficiency, it's about getting them to productivity. How do we create an inclusive economy that not only levels the playing field, but allows folks to transform their lives with a hand up that they can then pass down to others?
Booker: The best political advice I've ever received came from Mayor Bloomberg: "Before you become a mayor, become a billionaire." Cory Booker is hilarious!
It's all about finding tools and putting them in the hands of those who need them.
Booker: "The slavery of the last generation was about physical bond. The slavery of today exists because good people are limited, not because of the failures of their own, but because of the failures of our common country."
As a rhetorician, I'm loving that Mayor Booker is quoting Lincoln's Second Inaugural. Booker does an excellent job telling stories.
Booker: The question is where are we. We can't just use symbols to advance the message, we need to make good on our words.
There's way too much energy in this room right now! How great is Cory Booker?
Bob Friedman has just introduced Cory Booker, who is getting the crowd fired up!
I appreciate the J. Mintz and J. Cisneros are co-presenting their remarks. It's like the Academy Awards up in here!
If I had a dollar for every program CFE has pioneered to build assets for citizens of their communities, I'd be rich!
Cities work as excellent laboratories for testing asset-building strategies because people trust them. If you see the city's logo, you know that you're getting free, safe products that will improve your financial life.
The Real Coalition Members of CFE, coming to Bravo this spring. Check your local listings! (side note: we've had the funniest speakers at this year's ALC!)
This room IS like an airplane hangar. Sooo many asset builders!
In 2008, this award was given to the Ford Foundation. In 2010, this award was given to Citi. For the first time, this award recognizes the critical role the public sector plays in creating real pathways to improving financial health. Congrats Commissioner Mintz, Treasurer Cisneros and all the members of CFE!
Those are some nice looking awards!
Purcell: "All politics is local. Today, we affirm the importance of the local government role."
Shout out to Bank On programs! When will Bank On be a national initiative?
Bill Purcell, CFED Board Member and former Mayor of Nashville, just introduced a short video which highlights Cities for Financial Empowerment, recipients of this year's Assets & Opportunity Award. Use the Comments below to share your feedback on the video.
So far, we've heard so many incredible stories of people for whom asset building has transformed their lives. It amazes me that there's anyone out there who doesn't realize the difference Corr mentions that our field makes.
What do you consider to be the lasting impact of Individual Development Accounts and the Assets for Independence program? To me, it's that AFI has proven that even the lowest-income Americans can save.
Corr: "We need to be creative in our approach...'we' meaning all of us."
The #ALC2012 crowd gives big applause for the Affordable Care Act!
The Department of Health & Human Services is providing the building blocks that every American needs to live safe and healthy lives. This includes things like child care, hunger programs and, perhaps most importantly, asset building.
Bill Corr, Under Secretary of Health and Human Services, is our first speaker. Excited to hear Secretary Corr's perspective on asset building from the federal agency arena.
Ida Rademacher, Chief Program Officer for CFED, has taken the stage! She'll be introducing our speakers for the Assets & Opportunity Award Plenary.
CFPB: An Asset for the Field
By Anne Kim on 09/20/2012 @ 01:15 PM
The asset-building field has long anticipated the creation and launch of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The protection and preservation of assets is as essential to building wealth as the mechanisms and infrastructure for helping Americans save.
As the fledgling agency hits its stride, the opportunities for partnership between the CFPB and the asset-building movement are becoming increasingly apparent. "We want a two-way relationship with the public," says CFPB Associate Director Gail Hillebrand.
Hillebrand was speaking at the ALC session, “What Can the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau do for – and in Partnership with – the Asset-Building Field?” The session was moderated by CFED’s Katherine Lucas-Smith and also featured David Rothstein of Policy Matters Ohio and CFED’s Jeremie Greer.
The takeaway: CFPB promises to be a different, dynamic breed of regulator. Far from being removed and remote from the products and marketplaces it seeks to regulate, CFPB will be an active participant in the communities it aims to protect and one that is deeply attuned to changes in the consumer financial products marketplace. Moreover, CFPB isn't seeking to be primarily a "prescriptive" regulator of financial products; its mission also includes arming consumers with the knowledge and capability they need to make the right decisions for themselves.
For nonprofits on the ground, this means the agency will be a ready ear and willing partner. In particular, speakers focused on these specific strategies for how organizations can engage and leverage the CFPB in their work:
- Hosting field hearings. Policy Matters Ohio has hosted field hearings for the CFPB in its “listening tours” around the country about consumer protection issues such as payday lending. Organizations can provide a valuable platform and conduit for CFPB to interact with the community.
- Bringing emerging consumer protection issues into the spotlight. To carry out its broad mandate, the CFPB will need to leverage the “eyes and ears” of organizations around the country that are working with consumers and that have firsthand knowledge of the problems they are confronting. Asset-building organizations are on the front lines of change in the financial services marketplace and can be a valuable source of information for regulators. As Rothstein said, organizations can "identify and refer bad actors" to the CFPB.
- Providing feedback on proposed agency actions. CFED’s Jeremie Greer spoke especially about how networks of organizations (such as the Assets & Opportunity Network can provide a powerful source of advocacy and information to the CFPB. The A&O Network, for example, will be one of several organizations providing comments to the CFPB on its call for research on financial education. And as Greer discussed, the feedback of organizations in the field can be vital for helping the agency design "safe and affordable" mortgage products that don't also crowd out borrowing opportunities for low- and moderate-income families.
The collective advice of organizations can be a powerful influence on the direction of CFPB’s actions and approach. While the CFPB is still in its youth is an ideal time for organizations to weigh in with their opinions and ideas.
Highlights from "Enduring Assets: The Financial Lives of Young People Transitioning from Foster Care
By Jimmy Crowell on 09/20/2012 @ 12:00 PM
In the United States, nearly 30,000 adolescents age out of foster care each year without achieving permanence. In many states across the country, young people in foster care lose public benefits and government support at the age of 18. These adolescents are not prepared to live on their own and, unfortunately, 1 in 5 of those youths will become homeless within a year. Without the support, guidance and resources of a stable family they have great difficulties securing a job, finding a home, accessing healthcare and attaining educational certifications. Fortunately, programs like Opportunity Passport under the Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative empower these young people and provide them with the tools they need to gain financial security.
Samanthya Amann and Eddye Vanderkwaak took advantage of the Opportunity Passport program after having entered foster care at age 11 and 14, respectively. Both young women never learned about healthy financial behaviors and were completely removed from the financial mainstream. They approached money with apprehension after having seen their parents struggle with debt for years. Opportunity Passport provided them with the financial education they needed, mentors to guide them and matching funds for their budding savings accounts. They were able to learn how to budget, engage in healthy financial behaviors and utilize matching funds to pursue their dreams. Both women now view money as a tool instead of a burden weighing down on them and holding them back.
The lessons learned from these former foster care youths really speak to the entire generation of young people trying to gain independence. Everyone needs support and financial knowledge to make it on their own and achieve their goals.
Opening Plenary Live Blog: ALC 2012
By Sean Luechtefeld on 09/20/2012 @ 08:00 AM
Ooops...we've run a little bit over. CFED and Conference staff are standing by to help you get to your Concurrent Session rooms quickly. Thanks for hanging in there with us!
Mensah: "We've got a story to tell. We need those stories to be in the newspapers and in op-eds. Our stories are stories of hope."
Campbell: We've gotta go city-by-city. We can't use a one-size-fits-all approach.
Levere: We couldn't have asked for two more similar speeches - prepared separately - that flow together so well.
Mensah: We could "wait it out." We could wait to see what happens and hope the economy gets better. Or, we could seize the moment. Our time is now, because "we aren't an optional field."
This is a good time for us. This is a time about foundations. It's a time when assets belong in the conversation.
Mensah: "Saving is the hardest thing to do. Other than losing weight." Ha! I'm not sure which is tougher - I struggle with both!
Individual Development Accounts are transformative. Stories like those of the lady in Chicago who saved $7,000 and bought a home are inspirational.
Lisa Mensah is taking the stage. "It's always great to go last" since I get to hear the insights of those before me.
Campbell: We need to focus on what's possible, rather than on what we disagree upon. Hmmm...I can think of a building across town where that approach might be needed.
One-third of people don't pay their bills ontime, while many more don't have the basic financial skills in their toolbox as arsenal for navigating the market.
The central theme here is about how we get people into the mainstream. Regardless of the products Wells Fargo offers, the challenge is expanding the limits of our economy for it to be more inclusive.
Folks don't always have great relationships with banks. So, how do we overcome this and reach out to consumers in need? One simple answer: partnerships.
Wells Fargo - and financial institutions more generally - plays an important role in financial security. Long-term partnerships allow the sharing of resources, expertise, networks and solutions that can advance the interests of communities. It's important that we invite them to the table to discuss, listen and connect with stakeholders, especially households.
Andrea introduces Jon Campbell (Corporate Social Responsibility @ Wells Fargo) and Lisa Mensah (Aspen Institute Initiative on Financial Security). Lisa has been the "copilot" on this flight toward building a robust asset-building field.
Andrea asks Director Cordray what ALC participants can do to work with the CFPB. Cordray notes that the 983 employees of the Bureau will work with practitioners. Chris Veath is here at the ALC, and he can help get you in touch with the proper person.
There's also a Consumer Advisory Board, many of the members of which are here today. That Board officially launches next week in St. Louis.
Folks can also go to consumerfinance.gov or call 855.411.CFPB (handles calls in 190 languages!!) to get information.
Side Note: I bet Andrea didn't realize she'd get so many answers to her question!
CFPB website also puts out press advisories and other resources. Part of the work we need to do is to make the mission of the Bureau known.
Cliff Rosenthal is leading the financial empowerment efforts at CFPB. Working with Cities for Financial Empowerment, CFPB is advancing the interests of consumers, especially those that are economically vulnerable.
Camus: '"The struggle alone is enough to fill a man's heart."
We want people to be in a position to make good choices; choices that help them succeed. We'll hold the ladder steady for them. Today, the CFPB has received over 72,000 consumer complaints on financial products that are predatory or unsafe (WOW).
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, under Cordray's direction, is playing an important function by stopping discrimination on factors like race or gender, and ensuring that the financial products offered to lower-income homebuyers are safe and can be a source of lasting economic impact.
Cordray: "We can't climb the ladder for people. But what we can do is hold the ladder steady for people...We can make sure that climbing that ladder is safe." One example of how we do this is through regulations of mortgage lending. As homeownership tends to be a major indicated of household wealth, ensuring mortgages aren't offered in a predatory way is key to preventing negative impacts that resonate throughout communities.
We're deeply committed to the idea that we've done away with class and caste. "But in the nonfiction world," equality and inclusionare still goals and not realities.
Jeopardy champion (and CFPB Director) Richard Corday has taken the stage. Says Cordray, "the thread that ties us together" is the drive to improve the lives of the financially vulnerable. In recent years, we've seen household wealth shrink. Census shows 46 million living in poverty today.
On a more personal note, Andrea shares the notion of Tikkun Olam, translated from the Hebrew as "repairing the world." This is the guiding notion in Andrea's life, and the spirit driving the work of everyone here today.
Plank #7: It takes a movement. We need a better way to collaborate nationally and test strategies together. This is what the Assets & Opportunity Network will do.
Plank #6: Remember protection, or risk losing it all.
Plank #5: Mainstream asset building where we live, work, learn and shop. It's the "supervitamin" to anti-poverty programs (shout out to Jonathan Mintz!).
Plank #4: Build "rightside up" policies to fix upside down policies. As CFED Founder Bob Friedman says, current policy "rewards the rich, misses the middle and penalizes the poor." Let's not just leave this to Congress, though - the willingness to make these policies is clear in cities and states everywhere.
Plank #3: Savings is essential. It's not just what you make, it's what you own. Savings make college more likely. Our task now is to ensure that every child has a savings account, and that every household has the products and incentives to save.
Plank #2: We must emphasize knowledge, as it informs behavior and decisions. Financial education isn't enough anymore; it's about financial capability.
Seven planks comprise the new American capitalism. Plank #1: It starts with financial inclusion. Levere: "Financial opportunity requires inclusion."
Cities for Financial Empowerment will receive the 2012 Assets & Opportunity award later this afternoon, signaling a recognition of the strength cities have shown in their efforts to create pathways to financial security. Cities are now outpacing Congress in many ways, and are showing the rest of the country lessons that impact our work.
Levere: "We have ideas that no one else can offer, and people are finally paying attention...Financial security now affects everyone."
Levere: "We are going to remake the foundation of economic opportunity in America."
The support from our sponsors this year has been unprecedented. If you see representatives from these organizations, please stop for a moment and thank them for making it possible.
Of the nearly 1,300 attendees here, 665 are at the ALC for the first time. We've got folks from 4 countries...including Benin!
Andrea's just taken the stage. Can you believe it's been 21 years since asset building became a field?
Five-minute warning! Quick tip: use the Comments option at the bottom of this blog post to leave your thoughts about this morning's Opening Plenary.
Getting ready for the Opening Plenary and Andrea's State of the Field address! Quick tip: Hit your browser's refresh button to get the latest updates to this live blog.
Integrated Services 101
By Blair Benjamin, Guest Contributor on 09/19/2012 @ 07:45 PM
As a practitioner whose asset-building program has had a laser focus on one thing – providing a matched savings account program to low-income artist-entrepreneurs – I’ve always been a bit intimidated by the concept of “integrated service delivery.”
That idea of integration was the focus of the Tax, Savings & Entrepreneurship Institute that I attended on day 1 of the ALC.
Thankfully, Lauren Williams of CFED led off with a definition of integrated service delivery: “it’s a practice of offering a suite of services in a coordinated way to solve multiple problems.”
We learned about several versions of integrating services, particularly in the context of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs, which serve a large volume of clients and can act as an entry point to other services. For many VITA programs, that possibility to use the tax moment as a gateway to other financial interventions has been the holy grail.
I thought the most provocative comment of the afternoon came from Luis Granados, Executive Director of Mission Economic Development Agency in San Francisco, who urged the institute attendees: “Do not confuse referrals with integrated services.” Not exactly fighting words, you say. Perhaps not by the standards of cable news shows, but it felt almost like he was throwing down the gauntlet to other panelists who talked, without shame, about providing referrals to achieve integration.
Luis was gentlemanly enough to acknowledge that the “process” by which a referral is made can define whether that action is “just a referral” or rather a form of vertical integration. If there’s an ESL class offered by a partner organization, and at the end there’s an opportunity for the students to actually apply for certain financial empowerment services that may be offered by a different organization, then that’s a referral that qualifies as service integration because of the explicitness and the clear pathway for follow-through.
Still, I sensed a philosophical difference. Luis seemed inclined to build capacity internally to offer the most critical integrated services in-house in order to assure staff quality, while the panelist that followed him, Anne Johnson of AccountAbility Minnesota (AAM), had developed a sophisticated system of partnerships to offer appropriate financial services and products in coordination with AAM’s “core” tax preparation services. Anne’s model is effectively a referral model, but a tightly structured one. She shared an “Integrated service mapping activity” worksheet that she finds helpful in evaluating the opportunities for integrated services and the pool of providers who could potentially serve as partners to meet a particular need. For her, it comes down to being very selective in developing partnerships (including clear MOUs outlining exactly how and when partners will respond after a referral is made – which Anne offered to share with any attendees in template form), and it’s critical to make sure that staff and volunteers at the VITA sites are well trained to identify what partner services should be recommended to particular clients.
There was also the question of whether service integration can be achieved much more seamlessly with an emphasis on technology, as in the case of the ResourcesMatch software product developed by Mission Asset Fund in San Francisco and the Efforts to Outcomes software used by LISC’s Financial Opportunity Centers, or whether there’s a danger in relying too much on software, which might mean that staff are not as well grounded in the various services that are part of the service integration model.
Daniel Lau of MAF made a strong case for the powerful ResourcesMatch software tool compared to the dreaded “resource binder” that has been a staple of social service delivery, and the ETO software described by LISC’s Jennifer McLain seemed equally impressive (although more focused on case management than on making referrals to other services). But again it was Luis Granados of MEDA who cautioned that technology, while it can add efficiencies, should be seen as a complementary tool that helps knowledgeable staff guide clients to other programs and services that will meet their needs.
Another point that came up repeatedly was the importance of securing staff and volunteer buy-in when you’re developing a more integrated service model. There needs to be buy-in from the top, to begin with. And then it needs to be supported at other levels through staff discussions, volunteer presentations, and a process of exploring and documenting how clients can benefit from service integration. AccountyAbility Minnesota, for example, developed a “Share your Story” campaign to find out “What my refund means to me.” They now use those stories, which often involve an act of aspiration and transformation (college savings, debt reduction, etc.), to help build understanding among their staff, volunteers and partners about how important it is to integrate other financial services with tax preparation.
This workshop has definitely spurred me to think more about the possibility of adding additional services or partners to offer a more integrated range of services in my own asset-building program. In some ways, I think that my program’s focus on artists (who are not typical clients of other services like VITA) might make it an excellent candidate for increased service integration. But it will take a lot more research on the ground in my own region to better understand the existing gaps and how to fill them with increased internal capacity and/or carefully selected partnerships. I’m sure I’ll be following up with some of the panelists to learn more of what has worked for them.
Recap: Assets & Opportunity Advocates' College
By Jennifer Brooks on 09/19/2012 @ 07:30 PM
On Wednesday, 200 Assets & Opportunity Network members and coalition leaders participated in the A&O Network’s Advocates College, designed to increase the capacity and comfort level to engage in policy advocacy.
The half-day session took on the familiar sentiments: “I’m too busy to meet with policymakers” … “I’m not ‘allowed’ to lobby” … “I wouldn’t know what to say.” It explored ways social service providers can act as agents of social change—building on existing ways of working, rather than adding a new item to your “to do” list. It demystified IRS lobbying rules and provided practical guidance on what nonprofits CAN do. And it provided concrete advice on how to communicate with policymakers at the local, state and federal levels.
The Assets & Opportunity Network launches publicly at the ALC closing plenary on Friday. We encourage you to share your thoughts about how the Network can continue to provide opportunities like this one for learning and sharing on issues that are relevant to you. Leave a comment and share you ideas!
Tomorrow @ ALC
By Sean Luechtefeld on 09/19/2012 @ 06:30 PM
Our full Conference programming kicks off tomorrow, with two Plenary Sessions, four Concurrent Session blocks and the return of the popular ALC Networking Reception.
Tomorrow’s breakfast starts at 7 am, with the morning Plenary, including Andrea Levere’s State of the Field address, to take place at 8. Then, Concurrent Sessions continue throughout the day. Of particular interest is the Applied Research Forum Kickoff at 9:30 in Washington 4, Capitol Hill Visit training at 11 in Washington 1, and the Lunchtime Plenary at 12:30 pm in the Marriott Ballroom, where we’ll present the Assets & Opportunity Award to Cities for Financial Empowerment.
Programming continues after lunch, where (shameless plug alert!) I encourage you to check out a session I’m moderating called “How to Talk About Assets” (2 pm; Virginia B). There, we’ll explore what messages resonate well with policymakers, media and potential assets allies. Finally, allow me to recommend “Behavioral Economics 101” at 3:30 in Washington 4. In 2010, this was one of the most popular sessions and we expect an even more exciting discussion this year.
Finally, wind down after a long day of learning and sharing with some dancing and networking at the Conference-wide Networking Reception from 5 – 9 pm in the Marriott Ballroom. As always, we’ll have live music and plenty of food, so bring your dancing shoes and get ready to have a blast!
Preview: ALC Applied Research Forum
By Sean Luechtefeld on 09/19/2012 @ 03:45 PM
We are proud to present our Applied Research Forum, a two-day event showcasing new and exciting research and data in the asset-building field. The Applied Research Forum brings together the best and brightest minds in the field today, with representatives from the Treasury, Federal Reserve System, FDIC, Center for Financial Security and academic institutions from all across the country, among other organizations, in attendance.
The Forum will feature eleven separate discussions over five concurrent sessions Thursday and Friday, as well as a Kickoff event Thursday morning. The Research Forum Kickoff includes a panel discussion – moderated by Sarah Rosen Wartell, President of the Urban Institute and CFED Board Member – between Ray Boshara (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis), J. Michael Collins (Center for Financial Security, University of Wisconsin – Madison) and Clifford Rosenthal (CFPB). The Kickoff will also feature presentations of assets-related data, including the FDIC’s 2011 National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, which was released Wednesday, September 12.
With eleven discussions over the course of the Conference, there truly is something for everybody at the Applied Research Forum. Drop by, prepared to engage in thought-provoking dialogue with fellow practitioners, researchers and developers. We’ll see you there!
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