Assets & Opportunity Network Leaders Make Significant Strides in the Field
By Dara Duratinsky on 11/22/2016 @ 12:00 PM
During the 2016 Assets Learning Conference, the Assets & Opportunity Network celebrated its 4th birthday. Since its official launch, the Network has expanded its reach and connections considerably, including:
- Growing from 850 Members to 2,000 Members in every state and DC
- Having 66 Lead State, Local and Tribal Organizations to 93 Network Leaders in 44 states and DC
- Reaching 10,953 people with communications to more than 134,000 individuals
- Reaching over 107,000 people through social media to reaching over 206,000 people
- Educating 1,308 policymakers in local, state and federal government to educating more than 3,000 local, state and federal policymakers on asset building policy issues
To celebrate the Network’s fourth birthday, we wanted to share with you the 2015 Network Leader Impact Report which discusses the reach, impact and accomplishments of the 93 Network Leaders! Network Leaders Learn, Connect and Act to build an opportunity economy in their communities and nationally by participating in capacity building and learning opportunities; connecting with other stakeholders for greater sharing and collaboration and take action in policy advocacy that will improve programs and policies for low- to moderate-income households. Nearly a quarter of Network Leaders also lead local or state asset building coalitions, convening partners in their communities to advance common economic opportunity agendas. Network Leaders had many accomplishments in 2015. Highlights include:
- Engaging nearly 6,000 stakeholders nationally through coalitions
- Successfully implementing, improving or defending 60% of state and local policies that were attempted to introduce, improve or defend
- Successfully advocating for increased VITA funding and improvements to the EITC and CTC at the federal level
If you want to get more involved, you can join the Network as a General Member to stay informed and find out how to engage in learning and advocacy opportunities. CFED staff hope you can help contribute to even more success in 2017 and beyond!
Assets & Opportunity Network Leaders Bolster Their Skills at ALC Pre-Convening
By Dara Duratinsky on 10/24/2016 @ 01:00 PM
Before the Assets Learning Conference in September, which brought together nearly 1,300 asset-builders in Washington, DC, Assets & Opportunity Network leaders came together to learn from each other and improve their ability to be leaders in their communities and the Assets & Opportunity Network. Nearly 60 Leaders from 27 states convened for the Assets & Opportunity Network Pre-Convening for an afternoon of peer sharing, preparing to lead delegations from their states to advocate on Capitol Hill, and deep-dive discussions on what it means to be a leader in the asset-building field.
To start the Pre-Convening, Network leaders reflected on what they consider qualities and skills to be an impactful leader in their communities. Qualities they identified included sincerity, honesty, the ability to build relationships, being concise and inspiring, maintaining coalitions, experience and knowledge and being able to support your cause with a mix of data and personal stories, all of which are inspiring qualities named by the people working across the country to create an opportunity economy and increase access and remove barriers to asset-building. In order to explore leadership roles and qualities more with their peers, leaders broke up into six groups to discuss other skills they would like to improve on and what support they need in order to do so. Their breakout topics included advocacy, coalition building, programmatic impact and data, fundraising and integrating financial capability. We know there are a lot of people who are also working hard in their communities to advance these issues, and we wanted to share insights from these peer discussions as well as what support the leaders identified as needs in these areas.
Leadership Skill: Advocacy
Advocacy on asset-building and financial security issues is critical to inform and influence the policies that regulate and fund the systems we live and work in. The advocacy group ultimately decided that in order to improve their ability and their partners’ ability to advocate for asset building policies and strategies at the local, state and federal level, the Network should create an asset-building introduction series.
Leadership Skill: Coalition Building
Coalitions are important in creating partnerships that can scale services and provide the masses needed for effective policy advocacy. The coalition building group included those working with local and state level coalitions and their concerns centered on capacity to move things forward, especially without salaried staff. A growing trend we have observed is decreased funding to support asset-building coalitions, especially at the state level. Other questions raised by the group included how to keep enthusiasm going, how to increase impact at the state level, how to formalize partnerships into a coalition and how to get more members interested in advocacy rather than just networking and information sharing. Ultimately, the coalition building group decided it would be helpful if the Network could guide members on action items and measurable targets for coalitions. In 2014, the Network released a Lessons & Insights document from our learning groups on coalition building. We plan to improve on and update this document to share with the Network.
Leadership Skill: Programmatic Impact and Data
Measuring programmatic impact allows organizations to determine the effectiveness of their programs and use that information to share with stakeholders like policymakers and funders. Demographic and policy data helps support advocacy. The Programmatic Impact and Data group focused on both measuring the impact of programs and finding the right data to use to make the case for advocacy. For programs, it can be difficult to juggle the metrics programs want to use with the ones their funders want and is also a frequent challenge to get back in touch with clients to measure their progress and the effectiveness of the services offered. For advocacy, certain metrics to make the case for a policy can be difficult to find or the ones that might exist may not tell the whole story. In both cases, the group noted the importance of supporting data with personal stories. This group concluded that the Network could help support their data needs by hosting a webinar series on data collection and analysis strategies (and sources) for programs, advocacy and coalitions.
Leadership Skill: Fundraising
Asset building organizations and coalitions are struggling for funding, which helps support staff and programs to carry out services and advocate. Two different groups discussed fundraising for unrestricted funds, which is something many nonprofits and coalitions are struggling with. The first group identified challenges, including foundations moving on from this work and former city-level asset building initiatives ending due to mayoral administration changes. Participants noted their interest in Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) funds, but the funds are hard to find and are also for restricted activities. Finally, one participant suggested groups create coalition partner dues, host annual events for profit and begin fee-for-service work around training. These efforts can only be successful if you are viewed as a valuable partner. The first group would find it helpful if the Network created a database on where to access CRAs.
The second fundraising group concluded that it would be helpful if the Network could collect and distribute information on where organizations and coalitions are raising unrestricted funds. The Network also intends to adapt the Assets Learning Conference session on fundraising for advocacy and coalition building to an online training system and will continue to educate funders on the national level about asset building and financial capability and the financial needs of local nonprofits.
Leadership Skill: Integrating Financial Capability
Integrating financial capability into existing services, like workforce development, helps improve outcomes of those programs and improve the financial well-being of clients. The group that discussed integrating financial capability would like the Network’s support in collecting stories from organizations that have successfully integrated financial capability and have proof of impact.
Racial Wealth Divide
After the discussions on leadership skills, the room came together to discuss the Network’s role in closing the racial wealth divide. Attendees learned about the differences between racial equality vs. equity, discussed their experiences and challenges working on this issue within their communities and learned more about CFED’s work and the Racial Wealth Divide Initiative. Following discussions on this topic, the Network will spend the next year helping the field get comfortable talk about this issue in their communities, coalitions and in their organizations and make the space to continue these conversations at the regional and national level with peers.
Staff at CFED are committed to supporting leadership at the state and local level and will be using the insights shared during these peer discussions to inform our work over the next year and beyond with the Assets & Opportunity Network. If you’re not already a member, sign up for free here to stay informed and engaged with future learning, advocacy and leadership development opportunities and resources. In the meantime, check out this Network Leader curated list of leadership development tools and resources!
Action Alert: Help the CFPB Curb Dangerous Payday Lending Practices
As you know, this past summer, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released its highly anticipated proposed rules for reining in the most predatory practices of the small-dollar lending industry. This market is notorious for trapping borrowers in costly cycles of debt, which drain over $9 billion from financially vulnerable households every year.
Over the past year, you have worked hard to promote the need of the communities and borrowers most heavily impacted by this market, both through our #ConsumersCantWait Campaign and through the collective efforts of the Stop the Debt Trap Campaign. It’s those efforts that have gotten us here, to the public comment period of the CFPB’s push to end the payday debt trap. We’ve finally reached the moment we’ve all been waiting for—the most important moment for taking action and ensuring the CFPB releases the strongest possible rule to protect consumers.
We applaud the Bureau for releasing a solid proposal – but that proposal needs improvements if it is to truly end the debt trap for all consumers. To do that, the CFPB needs to hear from as many advocates on the ground as possible.
As part of the comment period, CFED has written a letter that strongly backs the Bureau’s efforts, and recommends a number of ways the rule could be improved. As was reported earlier this month, payday lenders are actively—and openly—working to delay or defeat the CFPB’s efforts by adopting a number of aggressive schemes, including pressuring every single customer that comes to their stores “…to write out a handwritten letter [telling the] Bureau why they use the product, how they use the product and why this will be a detriment to their financial stability.”
In order to ensure the strongest rule possible and to push back against the industry and its hardline tactics, we need as many signers to CFED’s letter as possible. Let’s make sure small-dollar lenders do not succeed in their efforts to weaken the CFPB’s proposed rule.
Adding your voice is easy—simply click here for an executive summary that outlines our recommendations for making the rule as strong as possible. The deadline for signing on is October 4, so please don’t wait: sign on today!
If you have any questions about the rule or the comment letter, please reach out to Anju Chopra, Senior Policy Manager, at email@example.com.
Assets, Opportunity and Formerly Incarcerated Persons
By Rachel Merker, Graduate Intern on 08/12/2016 @ 11:00 AM
For advocates and practitioners focused on enhancing the economic condition of formerly incarcerated populations, the Assets & Opportunity Scorecard can be a useful tool for measuring your state’s progress. However, this population is often locked out of programs that would help bring them into the financial mainstream and ease the reentry process.
The good news is that there are a number of advocacy groups and government agencies working to address this problem. These experts make clear that states have myriad policy avenues for helping formerly incarcerated persons achieve financial stability and discouraging recidivism. This article highlights some of their recommendations.
Minimizing the burden of criminal justice system fees and child support debt: One of the biggest economic hurdles facing formerly incarcerated persons are state fines and fees that accumulate as debts unpaid. Meanwhile, many who enter prison with active child support obligations are released to a pile of overdue payments. States could reduce this burden by:
- Minimizing the fees they charge inmates for costs associated with incarceration. As the Brennan Center for Justice points out, seven states do not allow defendants to be billed for a public defender, and nine states and D.C. do not charge inmates for room and board.
- Reducing or suspending child support payments for incarcerated parents, a strategy encouraged by the U.S. Administration of Children and Families. California, New York, Massachusetts and Oregon are examples of states that have successfully implemented this policy.
Lifting or modifying the ban on public assistance for drug-related felonies: Thanks to a 1996 Federal law, individuals with a felony conviction related to drugs are, according to the Center for Law and Social Policy, restricted from fully leveraging food and cash assistance programs (including their accompanying employment training services). While states have the discretion to lift or modify these bans, not all have done so.
- Six states deny Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to persons convicted of drug-related felonies, putting them and their families at greater risk of food insecurity.
- Thirteen states deny cash assistance under Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, further restricting the program’s already-limited scope.
Providing fair-hiring remedies: A criminal record is a major barrier to finding employment, and the booming criminal background check industry is exacerbating the issue. Here’s how states could intervene:
- Implement ban-the-box statutes that keep employers from asking about criminal history on job applications. It should be noted, though, that while the National Employment Law Project considers this a powerful fair hiring tool, research from the Brookings Institute warns of an unintended consequence—increased racial profiling in hiring practices.
- Allow formerly incarcerated individuals to more easily expunge or seal their criminal histories so that they are no longer flagged during background checks. As of 2014, 24 states have expanded the classes of offense/offender that are eligible for expungement or sealing, and nine states have reduced the waiting period for this process.
Support housing initiatives for formerly incarcerated persons: An estimated 10% of people on parole are homeless upon release, making housing a key piece of the reentry puzzle. Eligibility for public housing is generally determined at the local level, and many housing authorities use stringent guidelines that make it difficult for recently released individuals to take advantage of housing assistance. In order to address this gap, states could leverage funding to scale transitional housing programs operating at local levels. Models in Minnesota, Idaho and Washington illustrate that supportive housing is a powerful tool for encouraging employment and reducing recidivism.
Actively seek to enroll inmates in Medicaid: There is no question that incarceration takes a major toll on mental and physical health, making access to health care crucial. Even though the Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid benefits such that most formerly incarcerated individuals qualify, take-up rates are still relatively low. However, states could do more to ensure access, including by enacting laws to suspend, rather than terminate, Medicaid while a prisoner serves time, so that they do not need to re-enroll upon release. According to Families USA, this policy exists in 16 states and DC.
Adequately fund high-quality correctional education: Around 40% of America’s jail and prison population lacks a high-school diploma or GED. Time in prison only widens the gap in education and skills, no doubt contributing to strikingly high unemployment rates among the formerly incarcerated population. Here’s how states could close it:
- Reinvest state funds in correctional education. The RAND institute suggests that every $1 spent on funding prison education reduces incarceration costs by $4-5 during the first three years post-release.
- Improve inmate participation and program quality. The Working Poor Families Project suggests that states make GED attainment mandatory for inmates, partner with state-funded universities and increase inmate access to internet-based learning.
The Bottom Line
While the above set of policy measures is far from exhaustive, it highlights just how complex the reentry process can be. As policymakers and advocates work towards criminal justice reforms, it is essential that states focus on equipping currently and formerly incarcerated persons to lead successful, economically stable lives post-release.
Network Leaders Convene to Educate Lawmakers, Set Agenda for Racial Wealth Equity
By Craig Sandler on 08/04/2016 @ 12:00 PM
Last week, the Steering Committees for both the Assets & Opportunity Network and the Taxpayer Opportunity Network convened in Washington, DC. Steering Committee members are local and state leaders who represent our Network members at the national level to inform and advise on the needs and opportunities facing the field. Not only was this the first time both Steering Committees have come together to collaborate on shared goals, but it was also the first-ever in-person meeting of the recently minted Taxpayer Opportunity Network Steering Committee.
During last week’s meetings, the Steering Committees addressed pressing topics such as each Network’s programmatic and advocacy priorities for the year to come. The two groups of leaders also agreed that we’re all more powerful when we work together. In so doing, these leaders made a bold, unprecedented commitment on behalf of the field to grapple together with some of the most important issues before us: closing the racial wealth divide and turning our inequitable tax code “right-side up.” These are not small tasks, to be sure, but they are critically important in terms of opportunity for reaching both scale and impact to bring economic opportunity to all.
Both Steering Committees also spent time during the week engaging in advocacy. A&O Network leaders visited their U.S. Senators on Capitol Hill to urge them to maintain funding for the Assets for Independence program, which provides federal support for Individual Development Accounts. Meanwhile, Taxpayer Opportunity Network leaders met with IRS representatives to advocate for improvements to the VITA program.
Other key takeaways from these meetings included:
- Expanding engagement. Both Networks committed to reassessing how it communicates its work, with the goal of expanding engagement among existing and potential new members.
- Deepening focus on racial wealth inequality. Both Networks will take steps to examine their work through the lens of racial wealth equity and to be more inclusive of populations that have traditionally been excluded from the financial mainstream.
- Building members’ capacity to advocate. The A&O Network in particular is committed to building member organizations’ advocacy capacity and to supporting emerging leaders from diverse backgrounds to engage more deeply in the Network’s efforts.
- Educating the public. Taxpayer Opportunity Network leaders voiced a commitment to educating the public on the role that taxes and tax-time savings can play in financial security and economic mobility.
Comments from members of both groups of leaders demonstrate their excitement and energy for addressing financial security issues, sparking thoughtful conversation and building strong partnerships that put economic opportunity within reach. If you aren’t already a member, signing up for the Assets & Opportunity Network or the Taxpayer Opportunity Network is fast and easy – please join us!
Asset-Building News Roundup - July 15, 2016
By Merrit Gillard on 07/15/2016 @ 10:00 AM
How can local and regional economies drive inclusive growth? To learn more, join the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia and cosponsors at Reinventing Our Communities: Transforming Our Economies, September 21–23, 2016 at the Hilton Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing, to explore leading-edge strategies and dialogue with top experts on ways to transform our economies by connecting people, place and capital. Register here.
Alton Sterling’s Death Highlights Economic Segregation In Baton Rouge: In the wake of the death of Alton Sterling, a black man recently killed by police in Baton Rouge, BuzzFeed News explored the long history of racial economic disparities in the Louisiana city. Reporter Jim Dalrymple II explains: "Baton Rouge...is rich in natural resources and has significant oil and manufacturing sectors. However, the wealth generated by those sectors...rarely trickles down to the predominately black north half of the city, where Sterling was shot. As a result, there’s a wide economic and racial chasm."
Poor at 20, Poor for Life: The Atlantic spotlighted a paper by two economists at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, who found that, between 1981 and 2008, economic mobility became much less common in the US. According to Michael D. Carr, one of the researchers: “No matter what your educational background is, where you start has become increasingly important for where you end."
Jamie Dimon: Why We’re Giving Our Employees a Raise: In a New York Times op-ed, JPMorgan Chase announced a plan to raise the minimum pay for 18,000 of its employees from a current baseline of $10.15 an hour to between $12 and $16.50. Chairman and chief executive Jamie Dimon explains the move as part of an effort to combat wage stagnation and economic inequality: "[T]oo many people are not getting a fair opportunity to get ahead. We must find ways to help them move up the economic ladder, and everyone — business, government and nonprofits — needs to play a role."
Fairness and The Financial System: HOPE CEO and CFED Board member Bill Bynum wrote in Rooflines about the need to regulate the small-dollar lending industry and the rules recently proposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that would do just that. He described the impact of predatory lending on low-income families and households of color in the South, where borrowers without access to mainstream financial products or affordable credit turn to payday loans and other alternative credit products, often becoming trapped in a cycle of expensive debt.
This week, Citi announced the formation of the Citi ATM Community Network, a new pilot program providing more than 300,000 customers of participating minority-owned banks and credit unions with the ability to withdraw cash with no surcharge fee at Citibank branch ATMs, including those in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco and Washington D.C. This comes on the heels of the Banking in Color report, which showed the importance of ATMs for underbanked individuals, and the importance of low- or no-cost ATM access for African American and Latino survey respondents.
Want to read more from about efforts to expand financial security and opportunity? Sign up for the Inclusive Economy Weekly to get every post delivered straight to your inbox in a convenient weekly digest.
Asset-Building News Roundup - July 8, 2016
By Merrit Gillard on 07/08/2016 @ 02:00 PM
How we invest in communities and neighborhoods — in housing, health, education and economic development — influences outcomes for individuals and families. On Monday, July 25, 2016 from 10 am-4:30 pm in Chicago, join the Urban Institute in collaboration with the Metropolitan Planning Council to explore strategies to promote economic mobility for low-income families, enabling them to move up the economic ladder through housing and other “place-conscious” policies. Register here.
In LA, A New Resource to Pull Families Back From the Financial Brink: In a piece in Rooflines, Citi’s Bob Annibale discusses the financial fragility of liquid asset poverty and one step being taken to address it in Los Angeles County: the creation of a Center for Financial Empowerment.
True Financial Capability Requires Expanding the Definition of Wealth: Brent Kakesako, executive director of the Hawai'i Alliance for Community-Based Economic Development (HACBED) and member of the Assets & Opportunity Network Steering Committee, reflected in Rooflines about the many ways wealth is explored and discussed in the book What It's Worth, released last year by CFED and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. "What is productive agricultural land and clean water worth? What are strong communal relationships worth? What is a clear connection to heritage, to culture, to past, to future, and self, worth?" he asks. He goes on to underscore that wealth is about much more than just money.
Income Inequality in the US by State, Metropolitan Area and County: A report out from the Economic Policy Institute finds that income inequality is on the rise across the country. The report points out that, rather than just being concentrated in the financial industry in New York City, the impact of income inequality is widespread. "In fact," the report's authors note, "the unequal income growth since the late 1970s has pushed the top 1%’s share of all income above 24% (the 1928 national peak share) in five states, 22 metro areas and 75 counties."
We're hiring! CFED is always looking for new talent to join our asset-building team. Find out more and apply here.
Want to read more from about efforts to expand financial security and opportunity? Sign up for the Inclusive Economy Weekly to get every post delivered straight to your inbox in a convenient weekly digest.
Asset-Building News Roundup - June 24, 2016
By Merrit Gillard on 06/24/2016 @ 02:00 PM
TODAY, Friday, June 24 is the last day you can take advantage of early bird registration for the 2016 Assets Learning Conference, taking place September 28-30 in Washington, DC. Register now to save $100!
The CFPB’s long-awaited proposed regulations aimed at curbing the most abusive practices of the small-dollar lending industry were released earlier this month. Join CFED and the Center for Responsible Lending on Thursday, June 30 from 2-3 pm EDT for a webinar to explain how the regulation works, the potential implications for state-level rule-making and what you can do during the comment period. Register here.
Gov't to Open Savings Accounts for Every Child in 2017: Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon announced this week that Israel would be opening children's savings accounts for all children born in the country starting in January 2017. This will be the first universal saving account program providing monthly deposits from the government until account holders reach age 21.
Strengthening VITA to Boost Financial Security at Tax Time & Beyond: CFED released a whitepaper this week focusing on the development, growth and maturation of the VITA program, which has grown over the past 45 years into a nationwide network serving over 2 million lower-income taxpayers annually. But with the IRS reducing taxpayer support and community tax sites across the country experiencing high demand for services, VITA is at a critical moment. This paper explores concerns about the ability of the VITA program to meet the needs of lower-income taxpayers and recommends policy solutions to ensure the program's success well into the future, including Congressional authorization so that the program is not funded on a year-by-year basis, which increases the risk and uncertainty.
The 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book: Generation Z Breaks Records in Education and Health: The Annie E. Casey Foundation's 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book finds today's youth — Generation Z — are healthier and completing high school on time despite mounting economic inequality and increasingly unaffordable college tuition. Aided by smart policies and investments in prevention, a record number of teens are making positive choices. This year, the annual report focuses on key trends in child well-being in the post-recession years and offers recommendations for how policymakers can ensure all children are prepared for the future, based on the country’s shared values of opportunity, responsibility and security.
We're hiring! CFED is always looking for new talent to join our asset-building team. Find out more and apply here.
Capital Area Asset Builders (CAAB) is looking for a Matched Savings Program Director to oversee all matched savings programs that the organization implements. Find out more here.
Want to read more from about efforts to expand financial security and opportunity? Sign up for the Inclusive Economy Weekly to get every post delivered straight to your inbox in a convenient weekly digest.
Florida Asset Builders Convene in Orlando to Dream Impossible Things
By Cameron Parsons on 06/21/2016 @ 03:00 PM
Earlier this month, the Florida Prosperity Partnership (FPP) convened more than 200 individuals in Orlando, FL for their 8th annual statewide training conference, Dream the Impossible. At a time in Central Florida where the picture of financial security is bleak — according to Scott Maxwell of The Orlando Sentinel, the host city is the only community in America where the majority of jobs paid less than $30,000 a year — FPP conference organizers turned to the cast of characters from Alice in Wonderland to provide inspiration. Bill Mills, CEO of FPP, wrote that “the conference theme was based on going from dreaming the impossible to believing the impossible in the asset-building work that we all do.” In light of the recent tragedy in Orlando, this work to "dream the impossible" for the community is more important than ever.
Behavioral change was the common thread that linked discussions led by local, state and national experts. Let’s take a look at a few of the conference panels featuring A&O Network members:
- Mission Possible: Credit Building and Savings Tools and Best Practices – Led by Network Steering Committee member Mohan Kanungo (Mission Asset Fund) and Network Leader Darren Liddel (Catalyst Miami), this session provided an overview of Lending Circles and Ways to Wealth, two programs for helping clients build savings and credit. To learn more about this award-winning and socially responsible financial product innovation, watch this A&O Network Virtual Interview featuring MAF or download the slides from the FPP session.
- Legislative Issues in Financial Stability – Day Two opened with a panel discussion that included Network Leader Jason Roth (United Way of Northeast Florida, RealSense) mapping the route to a major victory for tax preparation assistance programs in Florida: an additional $500,000 in state funding. Key to securing the new appropriation was the eye-opening fact that Florida’s taxpayers leave more than $1.1 billion in unclaimed Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) funds on the table each year. Click here to view the Florida United Ways Consensus Legislative Agenda.
- VITA: Attracting and Retaining Is Not Impossible – Presenters Stacy Opitz (Prepare + Prosper) and Taxpayer Opportunity Network Steering Committee member Rebecca Thompson (United Way Northeast Florida) presented the latest research on marketing and promoting free tax services, as well as best practices on recruiting and retaining volunteers.
Were you unable to attend the conference in person? Most conference materials are available on the FPP Conference website. Congratulations to all involved in planning and designing the program!
Asset-Building News Roundup - June 17, 2016
By Merrit Gillard on 06/17/2016 @ 02:00 PM
The CFPB recently issued a long-awaited proposed rule to rein in the worst abuses of payday and auto-title lending. Join the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the Center for American Progress for "Beating Back the Debt Trap: An Advocate's Briefing on the Proposed Payday Lending Rule" on Thursday, June 23 from 2:30-4 pm EDT. The briefing will take place at CAP’s offices at 1333 H Street NW, Washington, DC. Click here to RSVP by Tuesday, June 21.
OpportunityTexas’ recent pilot programs have aimed to expand the use of college saving accounts among Texas school children. Join CPPP's Policy Analyst and OpportunityTexas Coordinator Laura Rosen for a webinar on Thursday, June 23 from 2:30-3:30 pm CDT to learn about the results of the pilots, next steps and how you can get involved. OpportunityTexas is a joint initiative between CPPP and RAISE Texas to expand household savings in Texas. Register here.
On Wednesday, June 29 from 9:30 am-2 pm at the R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center in Washington, DC, Capital Area Asset Builders (CAAB), CFED and a number of other partners will come together for the sixth in a series of conversations about economic issues affecting DC's individuals, families and communities and critical tools that can measurably improve financial well-being. The event will focus on various types of lending sources and assistance for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Register here.
How Inequality Made the Recession Worse: The Washington Post's Wonkblog reported on a new study out by economists who found that, during the Great Recession, Americans with the least wealth increased the share of their income they saved the most. This, in turn, drove down consumer demand and worsened the economic downturn. The solution the researchers suggested? Extended unemployment insurance, which one of the researchers characterized as "an effective tool for stabilizing aggregate consumption.”
Make Bad Jobs Better: Forging a “Better Jobs Strategy”: Steven L. Dawson, writing for the Pinkerton Foundation, recently released a paper for the foundation's Job Quality Series conceiving of a strategy to support the creation of employment opportunities that lead to more security and stability for low-income families. Ideas include: redesigning scheduling procedures to make workers' hours more consistent and predictable, providing access to financial capability services in the workplace, offering employer-sponsored emergency loan funds to help cover employees' unforeseen emergency expenses and help employees' avoid dangerous payday loans, and much more.
We're hiring! CFED is always looking for new talent to join our asset-building team. Find out more and apply here.
The National Manufactured Home Owners Association (NMHOA) is looking for a new executive director. Find out more here.
How Centuries of Discrimination Keep African Americans Out of the Housing Market
By Lebaron Sims on 06/17/2016 @ 10:00 AM
In 2002, President George W. Bush proclaimed June National Homeownership Month. This year, the nineteenth day of that month also marks the 150th anniversary of the first Juneteenth celebration. The holiday commemorates the total emancipation of slaves in Texas, and the United States more generally, following the end of the Civil War, and celebrates the common heritage of and progress made by African Americans over the past century and a half. But it’s also a day of painful reflection, given the social and economic inequality that persists in our country and the failure to create an opportunity economy that works for African Americans. This failure is readily apparent in the housing market, as the 2016 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard clearly illustrates.
Home equity makes up a greater share of household wealth for African Americans than it does for the majority of other racial or ethnic groups, yet homeownership rates among African Americans lag behind not only white households, but every other racial or ethnic group. Nationally, only 41% of African-American households are homeowners, compared to 71% of white households. In only four states — Mississippi, Delaware, South Carolina and Wyoming — do more than half of all African-American households own their homes; for comparison, only in the District of Columbia do less than half (48%) of white households own homes. In fact, data from the Scorecard reveal that only two additional states — Alabama and Maryland — have African-American homeownership rates that are higher than the nation’s lowest white homeownership rate. For comparison, there are 21 such states for Latino households, and 42 such states for Asian households.
Even for the African-American households that do own their residences, homeownership is not enough to erase the racial wealth gap and this country’s legacy of discrimination. Not only is the average African American-owned home worth only two-thirds the value of the average white-owned home, but four in 10 African-American homeowners are cost-burdened, meaning that they pay more than 30% of their income on their mortgage and associated housing costs. Only 28% of white homeowners are similarly burdened. The relatively high rate of housing cost burdens among African-American homeowners is partly attributable to discrimination in the credit and lending markets. African-American homebuyers are steered toward high-cost mortgages at rates far exceeding those of comparable white homebuyers. The housing crisis that precipitated the Great Recession left a greater share of African-American homeowners at every income level underwater or foreclosed upon, compared to white homeowners. Moreover, the housing market recovery, slow as it has been in coming, has failed to reach the African-American households that the crisis hit hardest.
As a result — and a symptom — of this inequity, median household net worth varies from nearly $111,000 for white households and $95,000 for Asians, to barely over $7,000 for African-Americans, a divide that has only widened as the recovery has taken effect. African Americans are less likely their white peers to receive intergenerational transfers and gifts that can be used for a down payment on a home; plus, with lower average incomes than their white counterparts, African-American renters hoping to make the move to homeownership are subject to greater relative housing costs, making it even harder for them to save to reach that milestone. As a result, African-American households purchase homes on average eight years later than white households. African-American households, irrespective of income, are regularly targeted for predatory lending products, including high-cost and subprime mortgage loans and contract for deed lending, a practice with roots in the discriminatory lending climate of the early 20th-century and redlining of the mid-20th century, which has seen a resurgence in the post-recession housing market.
These shortfalls in access and outcomes not only limit the amount of wealth and credit available to African-American families, but also restrict access to safe and affordable health care, gainful employment and quality K-12 education, all of which are closely tied to property value and location. Continued racial discrimination has effectively closed off the foundational elements of opportunity to many of America’s racial and ethnic minority groups, African Americans foremost among them.
Yet, this cultural moment, more than perhaps any in the past 20 years, has stripped the thin veneer of deniability from the façade. The disparate impact of federal, state and local policy on the outcomes of African-Americans has been widely known for years. But more data than ever have now become available to serve as testimony, as have the collective activist movements given life in communities across the country, from Baltimore and Chicago to Ferguson and Oakland, and amplified through social media. This discrimination continues to pervade every American economic and social system, however, suggesting that there is no silver bullet to eliminating the homeownership gap, let alone the entire racial wealth divide.
This is why CFED, through its Racial Wealth Divide Initiative, recommends that the next presidential administration conduct a comprehensive racial wealth audit, in order to more fully understand both the breadth of the problem and the policy change required to reverse it. State and local governments can facilitate greater access to the pathways to homeownership by targeting first-time homebuyer legislation directly to its communities of color. They can also help to protect the wealth gains made by African-American homeowners by instituting strong legislative restrictions against predatory mortgage lending and foreclosure servicers.
Until the racial disparity in economic outcomes is addressed openly and deliberately, at every level of government and by every citizen and stakeholder, and until redress is made a priority, our country will continue to leave its dual promise of opportunity and freedom — made explicit in our annual celebrations of emancipation and independence — unfulfilled.
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Asset-Building News Roundup - June 10, 2016
By Merrit Gillard on 06/10/2016 @ 12:00 PM
Join the Coalition on Human Needs for an evidence-based discussion of the relative efficacy of various anti-poverty programs — and how the recently released Ryan poverty plan measures up. This event will take place on Thursday, June 16 from 1-3 pm EDT in the Capitol Visitors Center, Gabe Zimmerman Room (HVC 215); it will also be livestreamed. Find out more and register here.
Next week, CFSI and American Banker will bring together more than 700 financial services leaders in New Orleans for the 11th annual EMERGE Forum on consumer financial health. Join banks, credit unions, other financial services providers and FinTech innovators from June 15-17 to explore new financial services strategies that have the potential to improve consumer financial health. Register here.
Save the Date! The Center for Financial Inclusion announced this week that the second annual Financial Inclusion Week will take place during the week of October 17-21, 2016. Learn more here.
In Pursuit of Financial Well-Being: A Conversation on Fairness, Accessibility, and Empowerment: Shelterforce convened a group of the leading voices on economic empowerment to discuss strategies for combatting financial well-being and changing the systems that perpetuate financial insecurity. Participants included Shelterforce editor Miriam Axel-Lute; National Housing Institute (NHI) executive director Harold Simon; Holly Frindell, senior program manager, National Association of Latino Community Asset Builders; Andrea Levere, president, CFED; Andrea Luquetta-Kern, director of policy and research, California Reinvestment Coalition; Ann Solomon, strategic initiatives manager, Federation of Community Development Credit Unions; and Woody Widrow, executive director, RAISE Texas and NHI board member.
Latinos Increasingly Confident in Personal Finances, See Better Economic Times Ahead: Pew Research Center reported that a newly released national survey reveals that Latinos are optimistic about their and their children's financial futures, even though economic indicators on Latino employment, income, wealth and poverty lag behind the U.S. population as a whole.
Set Up for Success: Supporting Parents in Low-Wage Jobs and Their Children: The National Women’s Law Center recently released an action agenda focused on the policies, practices and strategies that can help low-wage working parents in the struggle to support their families and promote their children’s growth and development. (Want to learn more about the agenda? Join the webinar on Tuesday, July 19 at 2 pm; click here to register.)
Action Alert: Tell Congress to Reject Policy Riders that Weaken Housing & Financial Consumer Protections
By Emanuel Nieves on 06/10/2016 @ 11:00 AM
Yesterday — as part of the Fiscal Year 2017 Financial Services and General Government Bill — members of the House Appropriations Committee approved a number of harmful policy riders designed to undermine the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the work it has done, and continues to do, on behalf of consumers everywhere.
Among the long-list of bad policy riders that were approved were two that would impact consumers of payday lending and manufactured housing:
- PAYDAY LENDING RIDER: Proposed by Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-MS) would delay the CFPB from promulgating rules to protect consumers against predatory small dollar lending. As you know, consumers have waited long enough for the CFPB to act — which it just did last week — and they’ve lost billions of their hard-earned cash in the process. Congress should not make them wait any longer and should let the CFPB finish the job it started.
- MANUFACTURED HOUSING RIDER: Proposed by Rep. Fleischmann (R-TN), mirrors text found in the “Preserving Access to Manufactured Housing Act,” as it would roll back vital Dodd-Frank consumer protections, and would be especially harmful to low- and moderate-income families who own or seek to purchase manufactured homes. As we have said in the past, this particularly harmful language is not needed as current CFPB rules already recognize the differences between manufactured housing and other housing types.
Contrary to claims by supporters of these two amendment, these riders would not expand access to responsible credit and would not serve the interests of homeowners and communities. Instead, they would harm already vulnerable individuals and families by stripping away needed protections.
It’s expected that bill will move to the House Floor within the next few weeks for a final vote, so now is the time to make your voice heard.
Call your U.S. Representative and urge them to pass a clean Financial Services and General Government bill without harmful policy riders!
- Call 202.224.3121 and ask to be connected to your Representative's office. If you don't know who your Representative is, find out here.
- Once you're connected, here's what to say:
Thank you for everything that you do on behalf of consumers everywhere. If you have any questions or need any additional information, please let us know.
Want to find out first about even more advocacy opportunities? Join the Assets & Opportunity Network today to connect with thousands of advocates and leaders across the country who are working to expand economic opportunity.
Asset-Building News Roundup - June 3, 2016
By Merrit Gillard on 06/03/2016 @ 05:00 PM
Join the Asset Building program at New America on Tuesday, June 7 at 12:15 pm EDT for a discussion of foreclosure fraud in the wake of the Great Recession and how it led to new policy tools through the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Find out more and register here.
Now that the hustle and bustle of the tax filing season has subsided, join CFED, the National Women’s Law Center and the Get It Back Campaign to connect with tax credit outreach leaders across the country on Thursday, June 16 at 3 pm EDT for a phone chat to identify tax season road blocks and ways to address them, explore off-season tax credit outreach and marketing strategies, share updates on ITIN revalidation and TaxSlayer software, and much more! Register for the chat here.
On Thursday, June 23, the IRS and the Tax Policy Center will host their sixth annual conference focused exclusively on tax administration research. Researchers from the IRS, other government agencies, academia and private organizations will discuss some of the latest analyses seeking to make tax administration as effective as possible. Find out more here.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released proposed rules on Thursday to regulate predatory, small-dollar credit products — including payday, auto-title and many high-cost installment loans. Many major outlets covered — and opined about — the proposal:
- Payday Loans’ Debt Spiral to Be Curtailed, New York Times
- Payday Loans Are Often a Last Resort for the Poor. That Doesn't Mean They Should Be Exploitative, Los Angeles Times
- Payday-Lending Curbs: Thumbs Down From Banks, Thumbs Up From Fintech, Wall Street Journal
- Payday Loan Rule: Progress, but Still a Long Way to Go, The Atlantic
You can also read CFED's initial take on the rules — plus find out how you can get involved to further strengthen the proposal — here.
Unsustainable and Unaffordable: The New Business Lending on Main Street: Last week, Opportunity Fund released a new research report about predatory alternative small business lending. The report uncovers punishing loan terms from short-term, high-cost lenders, including an average annual percentage rate (APR) of 94% and an average monthly loan payment that is nearly double the owners’ net incomes.
The CFPB Just Proposed Payday Lending Rules!
Great news! The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) just released proposed rules today to regulate predatory, small-dollar credit products — including payday, auto-title and many high-cost installment loans. This marks an important milestone towards protecting financially vulnerable consumers from the most abusive payday lending practices.
We applaud the Bureau for thoughtfully and deliberately developing these much-needed regulations, which have the potential to significantly rein in an industry that has thrived by trapping vulnerable borrowers in debt and compromising the financial well-being of millions of low- and moderate-income consumers.
The proposed rule requires that lenders ensure a borrower’s ability to repay before extending a loan to a consumer — a standard practice in nearly all other forms of lending, except the small-dollar lending industry. However, the rule also provides an alternative to this standard that limits loan size and prevents borrowers from rolling over the same loan multiple times. The rule also restricts lenders from having unfettered access to a borrower’s bank account, which currently exacerbates the debt trap perpetuated by small-dollar lending.
Now that the Bureau has done its part by proposing a rule, it’s time for advocates to strengthen the rules and show how badly needed these rules really are. The clock starts now: we have until September 14 to make a difference. Here’s how:
- Tune in today at 11 am EDT for the livestream of the CFPB's small-dollar lending field hearing in Kansas City, MO, and join the conversation online to show your support for strong rules.
- Download the updated toolkit to show your support for strong consumer protections.
- Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks about signing onto a comment letter to the CFPB.
- Contact us if you want support to write your own comment letter.
This is a critical opportunity to protect vulnerable consumers, and we need your help to make sure that the final rules are as strong as possible. Thank you for all your support on this important effort!
The A&O Network and Consumers Can’t Wait teams
Asset-Building News Roundup - May 20, 2016
By Merrit Gillard on 05/20/2016 @ 10:00 AM
Attention Chicago! Join the Federal Reserve Banks of Chicago and San Francisco, CFED and the Citi Foundation on Monday, June 7 for a lively discussion highlighting challenges and opportunities for promoting the financial well-being of families and communities. What It’s Worth for Chicago is a regionally-focused event bringing together local leaders representing the community and economic development, community college, credit union, academic and philanthropic sectors devoted to expanding economic opportunity. Register here.
Attention New York! You can join the conversation about financial well-being, too, on Monday, June 20. Join the Federal Reserve Banks of New York and San Francisco and CFED to discuss household financial well-being as a catalyst for strong communities, create linkages between key stakeholders engaged in financial well-being and share emerging trends. Register here.
Why is the Racial Wealth Gap Widening? And What Should Be Done to Reverse It? [VIDEO] Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich put out a whiteboard video illustrating America's deep racial wealth divide and laying out a handful of policy solutions to tackle the growing wealth inequality, including tax reform, funding a savings account for every child at birth and eliminating asset limits for public benefits.
To Buy a House, Go to College: The Atlantic explored the increasingly close connection between educational attainent and homeownership — and the widening homeownership gap between those with bachelor's degrees and those without.
Overtime Pay: What You Need to Know about the New Rule: The Department of Labor moved to boost incomes for low- and moderate-income workers this week, finalizing a new rule to make 4.2 million more salaried workers eligible for overtime pay. The rule is slated to take effect on December 1.
Financial Coaching Census 2015: Insights from the Financial Coaching Field: Financial coaching has gained recognition as a strategy that can improve financial capability and security. Yet within this advancing field of practice, many questions remain. To begin addressing these questions and support the growth of the financial coaching field, the Center for Financial Security (CFS) and Asset Funders Network (AFN) developed the first-ever Financial Coaching Census to better understand the financial coaching field, identifying both challenges and opportunities. The census report explains the methodology, summarizes the key findings and baseline insights, discusses areas for reflection and identifies actionable steps to move the field forward. The objective moving forward is to deliver the Coaching Census on a yearly basis, allowing us to track trends as the field continues to grow.
Research Finds One in Five Auto Title Loan Borrowers Have Their Vehicle Seized: A new research report out from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which analyzed nearly 3.5 million auto title loan records from 2010 through 2013, found that auto title loans have similar predatory characteristics to those of payday loans and can create crushing debt traps.
Asset-Building News Roundup - May 13, 2016
By Merrit Gillard on 05/13/2016 @ 10:00 AM
To help mark National Foster Care Awareness Month, the Jim Casey Initiative is hosting a Twitter chat on Wednesday, May 18 at 1 pm EDT to help spotlight efforts to build strong foundations for young people in their transition from foster care to adulthood. Join the chat and follow the conversation using hashtag #rocksolid.
Have you ever wondered what is needed to successfully launch and operate a statewide Children’s Savings Account (CSA) program? What types of stakeholders should you engage in the planning process? What are some key program considerations? Join CFED for the next webinar in our learning series on Friday, May 20 at 1 pm EDT to hear from representatives from two leading statewide CSA programs, the Alfond Scholarship Foundation in Maine and the CollegeBoundfund and CollegeBoundbaby programs in Rhode Island. Register here.
Nearly 1 in 5 children are living in families with incomes below the poverty line. Poverty is a particularly serious problem for children, who suffer negative effects for the rest of their lives after living in poverty for even a short time. There is no national strategy or dialogue to address child poverty, but in states such as West Virginia and Utah, there are unique strategies taking place to reduce child poverty. Join First Focus for a Capitol Hill briefing on Friday, May 20 at 2:30 pm in Senate Dirksen Room GD-11 to learn more about child poverty in the U.S. and the activity occurring in states that can inform national policy. Register here.
Join EARN's Director of Research & Innovation on Wednesday, May 25 at 10:30 am PDT (1:30 pm EDT) for a presentation on EARN's 13 years of Children's Education Savings Accounts. On this webinar, EARN will review the program design, demographics of their Savers, deposit activity and program outcomes, as well as discuss where EARN is heading next. Register here.
The Circles of American Financial Hell: The Atlantic kept up the drum beat on Americans' financial insecurity this week, with Rebecca Rosen digging into the implications of Neal Gabler's May cover story. Rosen contextualizes Americans' outsize spending on housing and education, not as a lamentable symptom of a consumerist culture, but as a response to what she describes as a "winner-take-all" economic system, in which wealth and opportunity largely follow graduates of elite -- and expensive -- educational institutions.
Google to Ban Payday Loan Advertisements: In response to concerns from consumer protection advocates who warn against the dangers of high-cost, small-dollar loans, tech giant Google announced this week that it would ban all advertisements for payday lenders from its site. The decision marks the first time the company has made such a blanket ban on ads from a category of financial products.
The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) is seeking an energetic and entrepreneurial leader to be the Executive Director of the newest LISC office in San Antonio. Find out more and apply here.
Asset-Building News Roundup - May 6, 2016
By Merrit Gillard on 05/06/2016 @ 05:00 PM
Money management tools and good savings products can help savers achieve their goals. What would it take for banks to effectively offer and promote savings? Join America Saves at the 2016 National Savings Forum on Wednesday, May 18 from 8 am-3 pm to find out. Register here.
Why Financial Literacy Will Not Save America's Finances: The Atlantic's Marianne Cooper takes the financial industry to task for the proliferation of complex financial products that make saving stressful and confusing for many American families. "While Americans are not expected to manage their own legal cases or medical conditions, they are expected to manage their own finances," Cooper writes. "To be sure, the rise of the independent and empowered consumer rests on the belief that they have the requisite knowledge to be up to the task. But is it reasonable in such a system to expect people to succeed? Economists examining financial literacy would say no."
A Year After Baltimore Protests, Racial Wealth Gap Remains at the Core of Economic Frustration: CFED President Andrea Levere and Edsel Brown, State Economic Chair of the Maryland NAACP, marked the one-year anniversary of the arrest and death of Baltimore's Freddie Gray with a piece in the Huffington Post that reflected on the persistence of the racial wealth divide and the lack of economic opportunity for black youth in Baltimore.
Financial Insecurity May Be Taking a Toll on Health: WHYY in Philadelphia featured a day-long conversation at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia about the nexus of financial health and public health. The articles digs into the idea of the "ecosystem" that shapes individuals' health and financial outcomes, as well as opportunities to couple healthcare and financial capability services to provide more comprehensive services to support individuals' well-being.
Love Your Tax Refund? Here’s a Bipartisan Proposal to Make It Even Better. TalkPoverty.org spotlighted a recent bipartisan proposal to leverage the tax-time moment to empower low-income workers to build emergency savings and combat financial stress during the rest of the year — after the annual cash infusion from the refund is a distant memory.
The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law released their 2016 Poverty Scorecard this week, which grades members of Congress based on their voting record on anti-poverty legislation. Find out how your representatives measure up and check out specific policy initiatives in the areas of budget and tax, higher education, housing and more.
Neighborhood Change for a City's Youngest: The Early Development Instrument is a new data tool that’s helping communities come together, across sectors, to improve neighborhoods for vulnerable children. A new essay from the Build Healthy Places Network examines how one community in west Texas has harnessed the EDI and how others across the country are seeing its potential for catalyzing change.
As Family Assets Count Draws to a Close, Municipal Advocates Have Much to Celebrate
By Solana Rice on 05/05/2016 @ 11:00 AM
In 2014, we launched Family Assets Count in partnership with Citi Community Development. The goal of this project was to influence local policymakers to invest in financial security strategies, build relationships with funders, and raise public awareness about financial insecurity in order to create more effective partnerships and solutions to household financial vulnerability in the United States. To achieve this ambitious goal, we developed a user-friendly website that offers data on key measures of financial security, produced tailored data profiles in select cities, provided capacity-building coaching and technical assistance to Assets & Opportunity Network Leaders and conducted outreach to local and national media outlets. As Family Assets Count draws to a close, we’re taking a look back at the many accomplishments of this unique partnership.
Family Assets Count supported partners in 10 cities to raise the visibility of financial security challenges and solutions with local elected officials, funders and the public. Here are just a few of the highlights:
- Engaging Elected Officials: In all 10 cities, CFED and local partners used the Assets & Opportunity Local Data Center to develop in-depth data profiles to engage mayoral, county and local agency staff in conversations about solutions to help city residents build financial security. Through presentations and individual conversations, we shared Family Assets Count data with approximately 700 local stakeholders, 30 municipal leaders and dozens of Congressional staff.
- Sharing with Funders: In Sacramento, Chicago, Los Angeles, Oakland and Washington, DC, CFED partnered with the Asset Funders Network to organize funder briefings. We engaged more than 40 private and family foundations, showcasing provocative data and making recommendations about how their grantmaking could better promote financial security.
- Gaining Media Attention: During the 2014 Assets Learning Conference, we launched the national mapping tool, which allows users to drill down on four measures of financial security at the local level. This online resource was covered by The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Marketplace and CBS News, enabling us to reach millions of potential new advocates. Nearly a dozen local outlets across the country also profiled their localities, and we garnered substantial media attention in several of the cities where we launched in-depth data profiles. As a result, many of our Assets & Opportunity Network partners have new relationships with their local media outlets. To read this coverage and more, please visit FamilyAssetsCount.org.
- Building Local Capacity: In many cities, the release of local data profiles raised the visibility and credibility of our Assets & Opportunity Network partners. The data allowed our local partners to initiate a dialogue with community organizations about next steps to improve the financial capability of their constituents. As a result, our local partners are now better positioned to influence local policies that affect household financial security.
Although the Family Assets Count project is drawing to a close, the resources it launched will continue to be available. To access these resources or learn more, visit FamilyAssetsCount.org.
Informing, Vetting and Sharing Standards: The Importance of Peer Connections
By Fran Rosebush on 05/04/2016 @ 12:00 PM
Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on the CFE Fund site here.
In the past several years, CFED has witnessed the growth of the financial coaching field. From our vantage point as the backbone organization for the Assets & Opportunity Network, service providers have an increased interest in making financial coaching services available to more people in their communities. For these organizations—which range from community-based organizations to local government agencies to statewide coalitions—thoughtful standardization of the financial coaching field, especially clarifying coaching definitions and identifying common outcomes for tracking, is a clear long-term goal. Network members say it will allow for greater partner collaboration, creation of referral networks and the design of new programs. Those working on financial coaching have already learned invaluable lessons that can and should inform the development of standards for the field. Any standardization discourse should build on the deep bench of knowledge in the field by incorporating the sharing of lessons learned, frank discussion of challenges, and robust debate of the types of standards that would enhance or hinder the work of practitioners.
To drive the uptake of field-tested financial coaching best practices, the Assets & Opportunity Network has focused on Network member-driven peer learning to explore common challenges and promising solutions.
Earlier this year, we facilitated a virtual learning event on financial coaching with the Center for Financial Security and the Financial Clinic, for which more than 280 members signed up. At the end of the event, every single attendee who completed an evaluation said they wanted more learning events on financial coaching – specifically on coaching frameworks, tracking outcomes, effective delivery models and accessing quality and affordable trainings. In another Network learning event, attendees called for more opportunities to connect with their peers to discuss how they are running their programs, training their staff, selecting and tracking outcomes and more. Participants asked to exchange contact information to be able to continue learning from each other. These events confirm the demand for trusted peer connections to share hands-on, practical tools and resources.
The Assets & Opportunity Network connects peers through webinars, working groups to tackle issues, learning groups to build capacity, informal group calls to solve pressing problems and simple peer-to-peer connections to share ideas and practice. Effective peer learning provides a platform for organizations to share relevant experiences, ask timely questions, and discuss issues that influence and inform each other’s work. We also believe that effective peer learning involves tracking what is shared to make resources available to a broader audience and inform a national conversation. For example, at the Network Leadership Convening in 2015, we held a brainstorming workshop with Network Leaders to discuss standardization of the financial coaching field. We assumed that the major concerns around standardization would be around common definitions and outcomes. While these were large concerns, we also learned that the timing of developing and adopting standards was a major concern, as the field does not want to stifle program innovation at this point in the field’s development. We also saw emerging learning about financial coaching’s place on the financial capability service spectrum, and how that translated into customer experiences – an area the group wanted to continue exploring as practical experience expands.
We have seen great demand for peer learning opportunities as we conduct one-on-one technical assistance with organizations and then share what we learn with a broader audience. Through in-depth technical assistance projects, we have explored members’ pain points more deeply and used peer connections to help find solutions. For example, CFED is providing technical assistance to a group of service providers in Miami that want to develop a financial coaching referral network. Before they could start building a referral system and tracking common metrics, they realized that they first needed a common definition of coaching and shared agreement on delivery standards. This experience, as well as others from the field, affirmed the desire for peer learning: the organizations asked us whether others had navigated similar processes before and whether there were models and experts they could learn from. Learning from similarly situated organizations enables service providers to avoid pitfalls and more quickly and successfully adopt new systems.
Across the country, Network members are taking initiative to coordinate, streamline and scale financial coaching in their communities. At the city and county level, service providers like those in Miami are streamlining service delivery by creating community-wide referral networks. Others are integrating financial coaching into other social service delivery systems, such as workforce development, emergency assistance and housing programs. Statewide asset-building coalitions, like the Midas Collaborative, are curating and sharing lessons learned by member organizations. RAISE Texas, another statewide coalition, is facilitating conversations with its members on common definitions and setting standards across their state. These efforts underscore not only the resourcefulness of the field, but also the high level of interest in establishing shared standards for the financial coaching field.
Our experience coordinating peer learning with Network members on financial coaching has demonstrated to us the power of a professional community to effect change locally and statewide, and ultimately inform a conversation nationally. Going forward, the organizations experimenting and driving this work in their communities must be provided with opportunities to connect with each other and be part of national efforts to standardize and professionalize the financial coaching field. To that end, funders, government agencies and national intermediaries need to sit at the same table with these local and statewide leaders to design shared solutions that draw upon their experiences. As consensus emerges, the Assets & Opportunity Network and other national intermediaries provide vehicles for field-wide adoption of best practices through ongoing peer learning opportunities and technical assistance that incorporates peer connections.
There are many parts to play in defining, setting standards, funding, piloting and training the field. That is why it is so important for experts on the ground to connect with and learn from each other. Fundamentally changing the way the field helps individuals take control of their financial lives and build their financial capability is no small task and will require the intelligence, experience and resources from a broad range of stakeholders.
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