A&O Network Blog

News & Updates from the Assets & Opportunity Network


CFPB Field Hearing in Louisville

Posted by tlentz on 01/21/2016 @ 01:11 PM

Louisville is proud to host the CFPB for a field hearing next week about access to checking accounts. The hearing will take place on Wednesday, January 27 at 11 a.m. EST.

The hearing will feature remarks from CFPB Director Richard Cordray as well as testimony from consumer groups, industry representatives, and members of the public. This event is open to the public and requires an RSVP.

Learn more


Find Out How You Can Engage in the Assets & Opportunity National Week of Action

Posted by klawton on 12/17/2015 @ 04:28 PM

The first-ever Assets & Opportunity National Week of Action (January 25-29, 2016) is fast approaching! The goal for the Week is to create sustained national, state and local attention by media, policymakers, funders and community stakeholders to the financial insecurity facing families and the successful strategies to increase financial stability, financial capability and asset ownership.

The Week of Action will kick off on Monday, January 25, with the release of the 2015 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, which will describe the problem we’re trying to solve: millions of families are financially insecure, with little savings and poor credit, forced into the predatory market and unable to get a foothold. Then, January 26-29 we will highlight four solutions that can change these outcomes: credit-building (Tuesday), reining in predatory lending (Wednesday), children’s savings (Thursday) and EITC and VITA (Friday).

With your participation, we can engage many more local stakeholders and increase the alignment of our messages. There are a number ways that you can engage in this National Week of Action:

  • Engage key partners through social media
  • Reach out to reporters and editors at news outlets
  • Host an event
  • Write and pitch an op-ed
  • Invite policymakers or funders to visit your program
  • Tie the release of your own reports or other announcements to the Week of Action
  • Participate in, or encourage your Networks to participate in, the national virtual events: the Scorecard release webinar on January 25 and the virtual event on children’s savings on January 28
  • Encourage your Networks to join one of the day-specific campaigns: #ConsumersCantWait and the Campaign for Every Kids’ Future

You may have additional ideas. For example, if predatory lending is a policy priority for you in the coming year, you may want to consider using the Day of Action to draw attention to this issue as it impacts your region, clients/members and the local economy. You might consider using the social media tool kit to tell your story on this day of action. You might want to join our #ConsumersCantWait campaign, and encourage other partners to do the same. Or you might want to consider placing an op-ed in your local media about the issue.

Are you interested in participating in the National Week of Action to shine a light on the challenges of financial insecurity and several promising solutions? If so, contact Arohi Pathak or Dara Duratinsky to share your plans with us!


White House Fact Sheet: Council of Economic Advisers Releases Report Highlighting New Research on SNAP’s Effectiveness and the Importance of Adequate Food Assistance

Posted by rstoller on 12/14/2015 @ 09:05 AM

Office of the Press Secretary
December 8, 2015

FACT SHEET: Council of Economic Advisers Releases Report Highlighting New Research on SNAP’s Effectiveness and the Importance of Adequate Food Assistance

A new report released today from the White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) finds that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, is highly effective at reducing food insecurity—the government’s measure for whether households lack the resources for consistent and dependable access to food. The report highlights a growing body of research that finds that children who receive food assistance see improvements in health and academic performance and that these benefits are mirrored by long-run improvements in health, educational attainment, and economic self-sufficiency. The report also features new research that shows benefit levels are often inadequate to sustain families through the end of the month—resulting in high-cost consequences, such as a 27 percent increase in the rate of hospital admissions due to low blood sugar for low-income adults between the first and last week of the month, as well as diminished performance on standardized tests among school age children.

Each month, SNAP helps about 46 million low-income Americans put food on the table. The large majority of households receiving SNAP include children, senior citizens, individuals with disabilities, and working adults. Two-thirds of SNAP benefits go to households with children.

Today’s CEA report draws on a growing body of high-quality research about food insecurity and SNAP, finding that:

SNAP plays an important role in reducing both poverty and food insecurity in the United States—especially among children.

  • SNAP benefits lifted at least 4.7 million people out of poverty in 2014—including 2.1 million children. SNAP also lifted more than 1.3 million children out of deep poverty, or above half of the poverty line (for example, $11,925 for a family of four).
  • The temporary expansion of SNAP benefits under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) lifted roughly 530,000 households out of food insecurity.

SNAP benefits support vulnerable populations including children, individuals with disabilities, and the elderly, as well as an increasing number of working families.

  • Nearly one in two households receiving SNAP benefits have children, and three-quarters of recipient households have a child, an elderly member, or a member with a disability. Fully 67 percent of the total value of SNAP benefits go to households with children as these households on average get larger benefits than households without children.
  • Over the past 20 years, the overall share of SNAP recipient households with earned income rose by 50 percent. Among recipient households with children, the share with a working adult has doubled since 1990.

SNAP’s impact on children lasts well beyond their childhood years, providing long-run benefits for health, education, and economic self-sufficiency.

  • Among adults who grew up in disadvantaged households when the Food Stamp Program was first being introduced, access to Food Stamps before birth and in early childhood led to significant reductions in the likelihood of obesity and significant increases in the likelihood of completing high school.
  • Early exposure to food stamps also led to reductions in metabolic syndrome (a cluster of conditions associated with heart disease and diabetes) and increased economic self-sufficiency among disadvantaged women.

SNAP has particularly large benefits for women and their families.

  • Maternal receipt of Food Stamps during pregnancy reduces the incidence of low birth-weight by between 5 and 23 percent.
  • Exposure to food assistance in utero and through early childhood has large overall health and economic self-sufficiency impacts for disadvantaged women.

The majority of working-age SNAP recipients already participate in the labor market, and the program includes important supports to help more recipients successfully find and keep work.

  • Fifty-seven percent of working-age adults receiving SNAP are either working or looking for work, while 22 percent do not work due to a disability. Many recipients are also the primary caregivers of young children or family members with disabilities.
  • SNAP also supports work through the Employment and Training program, which directly helps SNAP beneficiaries gain the skills they need to succeed in the labor market in order to find and retain work. During fiscal year 2014, this program served about 600,000 SNAP recipients.

Even with SNAP’s positive impact, nearly one in seven American households experienced food insecurity in 2014.

  • These households—which included 15 million children—lacked the resources necessary for consistent and dependable access to food.
  • In 2014, 40 percent of all food-insecure households—and nearly 6 percent of US households overall—were considered to have very low food security. This means that, in nearly seven million households, at least one person in the household missed meals and experienced disruptions in food intake due to insufficient resources for food.

While SNAP benefits allow families to put more food on the table, current benefit levels are often insufficient to sustain them through the end of the month, with substantial consequences.

  • More than half of SNAP households currently report experiencing food insecurity, and the fraction reporting very low food security has risen since the end of the temporary benefits expansion under ARRA.
  • New research has linked diminished food budgets at the end of each month to high-cost consequences, including:
  • A drop-off in caloric intake, with estimates of this decline ranging from 10 to 25 percent over the course of the month;
  • A 27 percent increase in the rate of hospital admissions due to low blood sugar for low-income adults between the first and last week of the month;
  • An 11 percent increase in the rate of disciplinary actions among school children in SNAP households between the first and last week of the month;
  • Diminished student performance on standardized tests, with performance improving only gradually again after the next month’s benefits are received.

Administration Efforts to Build on Progress

To reduce hunger and improve family well-being, the Obama administration has been and remains dedicated to providing American children and families with better access to the nutrition they need to thrive. These investments make a real and measurable difference in the lives of children and their families, and ensure a brighter, healthier future for the entire country.

Through the Recovery Act, the Administration temporarily increased SNAP benefits by 14 percent during the Great Recession to help families put food on the table. Reports indicate that food security among low-income households improved from 2008 to 2009 amidst a severe recession and increased unemployment; a significant part of that improvement is likely attributable to SNAP.

The Administration has also developed several initiatives to improve food security and nutrition for vulnerable children. Through the Community Eligibility Provision, schools in high-poverty areas are now able to offer free breakfast and lunch to all students with significantly less administrative burden. Recent revisions to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) added a cash benefit to allow participants to purchase fruits and vegetables, a change that substantially increased the value of the package. The Administration also has expanded access for low-income children to nutritious food during the summer months when school meals are unavailable and the risk of food insecurity is heightened. The results of these efforts have been promising. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) delivered 23 million more summer meals than in 2009. And the Administration has successfully implemented Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children (SEBTC) pilots, which provide additional food assistance to low-income families with children during the summer months. These pilots were found to reduce very low food security among children by 26 percent. The President’s 2016 Budget proposed a significant expansion of this effort.

Finally, this Administration has provided select states waivers to test ways of reducing the administrative burdens of SNAP for elderly households, a population that continues to be underserved. After seeing positive results in participating states, including an increase of elderly participation by more than 50 percent in Alabama, the President’s 2016 Budget included a proposal to create a state option that would expand upon these efforts to improve access to SNAP benefits for the elderly.


MI-BEST Secures Better Economic Outcomes for Mississippi’s Working Poor Mothers

Posted by esivak on 12/07/2015 @ 09:37 AM

In continuing my series exploring the implementation of MI-BEST in Mississippi, it is important to ensure that participation in the MI-BEST program is inclusive. It is especially important that women, particularly single moms, are able to participate in MI-BEST to support Mississippi families.

Nearly two-fifths of Mississippi jobs are low-wage, making it increasingly hard for upward economic mobility and self-sufficiency for families. Access to and the ability to qualify for higher paying jobs is especially pertinent for Mississippi women who occupy 72% of low-wage jobs, head more than a third of families with children under 18 and are overrepresented among the working poor.

Low-wage Jobs

In my previous blog, I detailed how MI-BEST, the Mississippi Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training program, helps adults build literacy and workforce skills. Ensuring MI-BEST, and other adult education programs are purposeful in their inclusion of women, is crucial in helping to eliminate Mississippi’s gender wage gap.

In 2014, Mississippi women in the workforce earned just $0.76 for every dollar men earned across all levels of employment in both public and private sectors.[i] Inclusivity in developing workforce skills and getting a higher paying job also means working poor mothers can more easily afford the things that help make families secure (i.e. health care services, quality housing, and healthy food), improving outcomes and their families’ futures.

Strategies to ensure a diverse group of MI-BEST participants with a particular focus on both women and communities of color include:

  • Purposely seeking out diverse applicants, specifically women
  • Reaching potential students where they frequent, i.e. advertise MI-BEST and its benefits for working mothers at childcare centers
  • Creating an assessment team to annually evaluate both the level of and impact of inclusion in MI-BEST.

These are just a few possible steps to ensuring women are able to benefit from the training and opportunity MI-BEST offers. Continuing education can mean earning a better, more stable living for working poor mothers and their children, but only when they are included.

Workforce development programs can provide a roadmap out of poverty for those with limited education. The most vulnerable include the working poor who earn less than the Federal Poverty Level annually ($24,250 for a family of four) and the working low-income who earn 200% or less of the Federal Poverty Level annually ($48,500 for a family of four) and thus have fewer resources to devote to education.[ii] According to the Working Poor Families Project, 49.6% of parents in working poor families (26,500 families) in Mississippi lack a postsecondary degree and 24.8% (13,000 families) are without a high school equivalency.

Mississippi Families Without High School and/or Postsecondary Degrees

Without these degrees, economic advancement is very difficult and parents are more likely to occupy low-wage jobs with few (if any) benefits—jobs that are overwhelmingly staffed by women in Mississippi. Recognizing the disproportionate economic strains on women in the workforce is crucial to tailoring a program for their advancement. MI-BEST can potentially place working poor and low-income women on the road to economic security, but only with conscientious application and administration of the program.

[i] 2014 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Table ID S2408: Class of Worker by Sex

[ii] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, 2015 Poverty Guidelines.


Mark's Story: Owing $15,000 for $2,500 in Loans

Posted by lmullany on 12/07/2015 @ 09:28 AM

Mark has lived and worked in Chicago his entire life. For more than 42 years, he supported his family by working for the U.S. Postal Service. Since retiring, he spends time with his four children and 11 grandchildren and serves as an Ordained Senior Elder at his church.

Now that Mark is retired, he lives on a fixed income. A couple of years ago, Mark had a financial emergency. Rather than miss a rent payment for the first time in his life, he turned to an auto title loan to try to make ends meet. His $1,000 loan had an annual interest rate of 304.17 percent. Given the high interest rate, Mark worked to pay off the loan as quickly as possible.

Wanting to avoid relying on such a costly loan in the future, Mark began working hard to build up his savings. Unfortunately, before he could meet his savings goal, his car broke down. To stay afloat, he took out a second auto title loan for $1,500. When he finishes paying off this loan, he will have paid $381.90 per month for 24 months – an astounding total of $9,165.60 – on an original loan of just $1500.

Mark’s total price tag for taking out $2,500 in title loans to cover common financial emergencies will exceed $15,000. Instead of making ends meet, Mark is caught in a cycle of debt.

Learn More

This story is part of No Right Turn: Illinois' Auto Title Loan Industry and its Impact on Consumers, a report we released with Woodstock Institute recently. Download the report to learn more about auto title lending in Illinois, and how it affects people like Mark.

You can use these tweets to spread the word:

$2500 in title loans can cost more than $15000. http://bit.ly/autotitleIL #StoptheDebtTrap @ILAssetBuilding @WoodstockInst

Mark's Story: 2 auto title loans, 304% APR, 2 year loan terms via new report: http://bit.ly/autotitleIL @ILAssetBuilding @WoodstockInst


Building Financial Security in Newark, NJ

Posted by klawton on 11/09/2015 @ 02:04 PM

Seventy percent of all Newark, NJ households—the highest of any major city in the nation—do not have enough savings to live above the poverty level for more than three months should they lose their income. Households of color, those led by a single parent, or those led by someone without a college degree fare even worse. For too many of these families, an income disruption due to job loss, a medical emergency, or something even relatively minor as car repairs, can be devastating.

Advancing families out of a cycle of poverty and toward financial security is an important goal for communities like Newark. On October 29, 2015, Family Assets Count, in partnership with the City of Newark, Citi Community Development and United Way of Essex and West Hudson, hosted a successful Financial Empowerment Day, drawing attention to the sobering needs of Newark’s hard-working families, and highlighting municipal and community-based efforts to help these families build financial security.

The Financial Empowerment Day started with CFED and Citi Community Development presenting sobering data about financial insecurity in Newark. For example:

  • 70 percent of households in Newark do not have enough savings to live above the poverty line for more than three months
  • Communities of color fare worse--71 percent of African-American and 77 percent of Hispanic households do not have enough savings to live above the poverty line for more than three months
  • 75 percent of households with an income of between $25,000 and $50,000 don’t have enough savings to live above the poverty level for three months if they suffer an income disruption due to a medical emergency or losing their job
  • 60 percent of families with an income between $50,000 and $75,000 don’t have enough savings to live above the poverty level for three months
  • Just 38 percent of Newark resident receive the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), far less than those who are likely eligible
  • And less than four percent use free tax preparation services to access the EITC and other tax credits
  • A quarter of Newark households are identified as unbanked or underbanked

Newark’s Deputy Mayor for Economic and Housing Development, Baye Adofo-Wilson, and City Council President Mildred Crump talked about how financial empowerment in Newark can help transform the city, giving families the tools they need to build their own financial security, while also strengthening local communities. United Way of Essex and West Hudson announced the formation of an asset building coalition in Newark, in partnership with LISC, New Community Corporation, Ironbound Community Corporation and the Urban League of Essex County, which will continue to focus on policy and programmatic solutions that address financial insecurity.

At the press conference, Deputy Mayor Adofo-Wilson and Council President Crump announced a series of Financial Empowerment Days that provide residents with information on a range of financial services, including free tax preparation, credit counseling, budgeting, and support on filing for student aid. The first Financial Empowerment Day was held at City Hall, with four additional days planned over the next year to be held at Centers of Hope and LISC Financial Opportunity Centers around Newark.


College Savings Pilot Program Launches in Dallas Area

Posted by lgates on 10/28/2015 @ 03:24 PM

Kindergartners love money. And this is definitely an advantage in Texas since state law requires financial education to be taught to all Texas students starting in Kindergarten. I have a kindergartner this year that is constantly jumping off the bus singing loudly “a penny is worth 1, a nickel is worth 5, a dime is worth 10 and a quarter 25!” It is amazing how excited kids get when they begin learning about money.

But what about their parents? As kindergarten students learn at two Dallas area elementary schools about earning income, saving money for college, reasons to open a savings account for college and how to keep track of savings as part of the state mandated financial education requirement, how do we excite and encourage the parents to help these kindergartners put their learnings into practice and start a college savings for their child? OpportunityTexas is currently trying to figure that out in our Dollars for College program.

OpportunityTexas, a joint initiative between RAISE Texas and Center for Public Policy Priorities, is piloting Dollars for College, a new college savings program that teaches kindergarten students about college savings as part of the Texas mandated financial education curriculum, and offers kindergarten parents at two elementary schools the opportunity to open a college savings account.

Our overall goal is to develop a platform that will allow us to expand college savings and access to college in Texas. This pilot will allow us to evaluate whether or not kindergarten parents are interested in opening a free school-based savings account, and the most effective ways to increase participation in college savings programs by testing different account incentives and marketing strategies during the evaluation period.

We are very excited about this opportunity to grow college savings in Texas, and we would like to thank our partners the Richardson Independent School District, First Convenience Bank a division of First National Bank Texas, the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, and the Texas Council on Economic Education. We would also like to thank The Child and Family Research Partnership at the University of Texas at Austin for evaluating this pilot.

We are happy to share more information so send your questions to Lgates@raisetexas.org. Or, for more information and specific details of the Dollars for College Program, visit the program website.

Dollars for College Bank


3 Things I Learned About CSAs Last Week

Posted by lmullany on 10/19/2015 @ 10:51 AM

Last week, the IABG team was in St. Louis participating in a conference about the 529 program and Children's Savings Accounts. The conference was hosted by the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, and the Center for Social Development at Washington University.

There was great energy, great ideas, and great partners in the room. Here are 3 things I learned.

  1. Tangible Hope. William Elliott, Director of the Center on Assets, Education, and Inclusion described how assets, and particularly Children's Savings Accounts, can give children and families "tangible hope." This hope can change people's behaviors and lead to brighter futures.
  2. $1.4 Million in San Francisco CSAs. In the Kindergarten to College (K2C) program, they have opened 23,000 Children's Savings Accounts, and families have saved a total of $1.4 million so far.
  3. Nearly 99,000 CSAs in Nevada - and a Tortoise. The Nevada College Kickstart program has opened nearly 99,000 accounts for children across the state. Their universal, automatic program opens a CSA for every kindergartner, and provides an initial $50 deposit. What's more - Nevada has an enthusiastic college savings mascot. Meet Sage the Tortoise!

Finally, our favorite quote from the conference:

"Children's Savings Accounts are needed to provide a trajectory for economic mobility."

-Kilolo Kijakazi, Urban Institute

Want to learn more about our efforts to create a universal CSA program in Illinois? Visit our new CSA website and spread the word using #brighterfuturesil!

You can find us @ILAssetBuilding and on Facebook.


Too Many Mississippi Children Live in Families Struggling to Make Ends Meet

Posted by charris on 10/05/2015 @ 04:55 PM

Tags: depower, mississippi

Too many Mississippians struggled to make ends meet in 2014, according to new data released today from the U.S. Census Bureau, highlighting the need to invest in education at all levels so that Mississippians can build a secure future.

Our success as a state depends on opportunity for everyone. If schools aren’t given enough funding to help all children succeed, we could put opportunity out of reach, not only for the 243,000 children living in poverty, but for all Mississippians.

One in five Mississippians struggled to afford basic necessities in 2014, living on less than $24,000 a year for a family of four. This is higher than in any other state. About 29 percent (or 243,000) of children in Mississippi grow up in families that can’t give them a good start to life because they make this little. See graphic.

In order to succeed, all children need schools that will prepare them to meet the challenges of the future. Children who grow up in poverty, however, face greater challenges in getting the education they need to escape poverty, and, in many cases, require more resources to meet the achievement levels of children in wealthier families.

Find the full article here: http://mepconline.org/category/blog/page/2

Sara Miller Senior Policy Analyst


First Stop on the CSA Campaign: East St. Louis

Posted by lmullany on 10/05/2015 @ 03:19 PM

Earlier this month, we took the campaign for universal Children's Savings Accounts in Illinois on the road, and our first stop was East St. Louis. It was the first of many CSA Learning Summits around the state that we're hosting with Community Organizing and Family Issues (COFI).

At the summit, we shared dreams for our children. Many of us hope that our children have bright, successful, and financially secure futures.

While higher education could help our kids reach many of these dreams, there are many barriers that stand in our way, including the cost of college. Children's Savings Accounts (CSAs) can inspire kids to dream big and help make college more accessible to families:

  • Low- and moderate-income children with $500 or more in savings are [three times more likely to enroll in college than children with no savings], and four times more likely to graduate.
  • Children given a CSA at birth tend to have stronger development, both socially and emotionally.
  • Children with a CSA were twice as likely to expect to go to college than kids without one.

We want to spread the word about the CSA programs in other states, and advocate for something similar in Illinois. Together, we can make universal CSAs a reality!

To learn more about our CSA Campaign, please visit www.brighterfuturesil.org.

Want to Attend a CSA Learning Summit?

We hope you can join us at future summits. We'll be hosting a CSA Learning Summit in Chicago on Friday, November 6, from 9:00am-1:30pm at Gary Comer Youth Center. Please be sure to RSVP online. If you have any questions, you can contact Jody at jblaylock@heartlandalliance.org. Please help us spread the word by sharing this flyer!

Look out for additional Summits in Aurora and Champaign. More information to come soon!

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