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News & Updates from the Assets & Opportunity Network


Tackling our Imagination Challenge: Takeaways from the CFED Assets Learning Conference

Posted by tedwards on 10/01/2014

Every two years, our partners at CFED (the Corporation for Enterprise Development) host a conference in Washington, D.C. for those who are passionate about expanding economic opportunity in the United States. This conference, the Assets Learning Conference (ALC), took place September 17-19, and brought together over 1,200 asset-building advocates from 48 states. As the Lead State Organization in Arkansas for CFED’s Assets and Opportunity Network, Southern was eager and proud to be in attendance.

In giving the State of the Field address at the ALC, Andrea Levere, President of CFED, stated “the financial and economic status of our country can be defined by three words: inequality, insecurity, and immobility.” She added the U.S. is ranked third from the bottom in economic mobility of developed nations – 65 percent of Americans born in the bottom income quintile stay there for the rest of their lives. Many sobering statistics by pioneers in the asset-building field followed Andrea’s first speech in the subsequent days. Yet, in spite of the many challenges lying ahead due to inequality, insecurity, and immobility, there was a great, palpable feeling of hope throughout conference because of the hundreds of people present passionate and committed to reversing the tide on the economic problems we face.

To illustrate some of the pressing issues of our time, and bring some encouragement on how to address them, below are several quotes taken from asset-building leaders during the ALC. Following the quotes are two notes: what Southern is doing to create economic opportunity, and what Arkansas and Mississippi can do to enable prosperity for their residents.

“Half of the people in the country do not have access to a 401(k) plan.” – Michael Sherraden, Professor at Center for Social Development, Washington University in St. Louis (founding father of IDAs)

  • How Southern is creating economic opportunity: Southern offers a variety of savings accounts, including Individual Development Accounts (IDAs). A matched 401(k) plan is also available to all Southern employees after one year of employment.
  • What Arkansas and Mississippi can do to enable prosperity: While neither state can mandate that every employer offer a 401(k) plan, they can advertise for increased savings through other means such as having emergency savings and/or opening a U.S. Department of the Treasury myRA to help with financial stability during retirement.

“Lack of income means you don’t get by; lack of assets means you don’t get ahead.” – Ray Boshara, Director of Center on Household Financial Stability, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

  • How Southern is creating economic opportunity: By offering IDAs, Southern helps low-to-moderate income individuals save for assets, such as starting a business, buying or fixing a home, and paying for post-secondary education.
  • What Arkansas and Mississippi can do to enable prosperity: For most low-to-moderate income folks, saving can be challenging due to limited resources. Arkansas and Mississippi can increase the overall median household income in their states by raising the minimum wage. Further, they can ensure asset-prevention policies, such as asset limits, and asset-stripping businesses, such as payday lenders, do not deter Arkansans and Mississippians from reaching financial stability.

“I saw child savings accounts (CSAs) as a way to expand economic opportunity because I’m a mom.” – Tishaura Jones, St. Louis Treasurer

  • How Southern is creating economic opportunity: Southern is one of the partners involved in the Mississippi College Savings Account Program, which was developed and administered by the Center for Community and Economic Development at Delta State University (CCED) and the Mississippi Community Financial Access Coalition (MCFAC). Presently, over 600 children’s savings accounts have been established through the program.[i] Further, Southern also participates in the Save for America program, opening savings accounts specifically for post-secondary education.
  • What Arkansas and Mississippi can do to enable prosperity: Both Arkansas and Mississippi currently offer 529 savings plans, yet less than 5 percent of Arkansas and Mississippi children are set-up as the beneficiary.[ii] By modeling after states such as Colorado, Maine, Hawaii, and Nevada, Arkansas and Mississippi could implement a statewide CSA program administered through a state agency to help increase each state’s rate of post-secondary educational attainment.

“The scarcity low-income people feel is not just a juggle of income; it’s a juggle of mental resources.” – Eldar Shafir, Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, author of Scarcity

  • How Southern is creating economic opportunity: Southern offers personalized credit counseling to help clients get and stay on a responsible financial path. Through counseling, clients are then able to make sound financial decisions for their families and attain economic security.
  • What Arkansas and Mississippi can do to enable prosperity: Both Arkansas and Mississippi should require financial education as a requirement for graduating high school. A growing body of research has revealed that financial education in schools can have a significant impact on encouraging healthy financial behaviors later in life.[iii]

“The first step to asset-building is access to responsible financial services.” – Nikki Foster, Program Officer at Northwest Area Foundation

  • How Southern is creating economic opportunity: As a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), Southern’s mission is to provide affordable and accessible capital through a variety of financial products, especially in rural and underserved markets.
  • What Arkansas and Mississippi can do to enable prosperity: Since many of the communities in Arkansas and Mississippi are classified as rural and underserved, both states should incentivize their CDFIs to ensure the availability of responsible financial services in those markets.

To learn more about our efforts to create economic opportunities for people in rural communities, we invite you to contact Meredith Covington, Policy & Communications Manager, at

[i] Covington, M., & Edwards, T. (2014). Evaluating college savings plans: A case study on Arkansas and Mississippi. Southern Bancorp Community Partners. Little Rock, AR. Available at

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Gutter, M. (2009). Financial capability of college students from states with varying financial education policies. National Endowment for Financial Education. Available at

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SB 896: A Special Policy Briefing

Posted by tararobinson on 09/24/2014

Tags: sb896, credit building, asset building, policy, california, law, mission asset fund

Mission Asset Fund warmly invites you to our SB 896 Policy Briefing webinar on Monday, September 29 at 10:00 AM PST. MAF’s CEO, Jose Quinonez, will lead the discussion on the historic passing of California’s SB 896 from its initial conception to finally becoming law on August 15th, 2014.

This event is open for all nonprofit staff, policy advocates, and anyone interested in advancing the financial advocacy and asset-building fields. With this law, credit-building becomes the next frontier for asset-based policy.

This is a momentous occasion for us, but an even bigger moment for the asset-building field

On August 15th, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 896 into law, making California the first state to regulate and recognize credit-building as a vehicle for good. We will be talking about how MAF and it’s supporters worked to get this new law written, supported, and signed into law.

We encourage you to check out our SB 896 fact sheet prior to the webinar and be ready with questions!

Our discussion will cover the barriers we faced in creating the law, the vital support we received from our partners and community leaders to create momentum for this significant legislation. Finally, we will dive into how SB 896 will pave the way for more hardworking people to access 0% credit-building loans.

Register now and join us!

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Building Platforms for Prosperity on Capitol Hill

Posted by dthomas on 09/22/2014

To increase asset acquisition for low-wealth Hoosier families and to strengthen our local economies in Indiana, the Institute (along with Indiana Association for Community and Economic Development and Local Initiative Support Coalition) co-leads the Indiana Asset & Opportunity Network (Indiana A&O Network).

This week, the Indiana A&O Network is participating in CFED's Asset Learning Conference in Washington D.C. where we've had the opportunity to learn more about "building platforms for prosperity".

During this conference, CFED also released - along with Community Development @ CITI - their Assets & Opportunity Local Data Center (a brand new tool to measure financial vulnerability in cities and counties across the nation). With this data, we now know that in Indy, for example, 30.8% are asset poor, 44.7% are liquid asset poor, 14.3% are unbanked and 25.6% are underbanked.

We're also thankful for the time Representative Todd Young, Senator Joe Donnelly and Senator Dan Coats have set aside for us to discuss A&O Network's federal policy agenda to complement our policy goals back home in Indiana.

We'll talk to all of them about the critical role federal tax policy plays in promoting financial security and economic opportunity, highlighting CFED's latest report: From Upside Down to Right Side Up - Redeploying $540 Billion in Federal Spending to Help All Americans Save, Invest, and Build Wealth.

The report highlights that while "the federal government spends $540 billion (in 2013 alone) on tax programs to boost savings, investments and wealth....most of these programs are Upside Down". According to the authors, this means that "households in the top 1% receive more than a quarter of all support from these programs - more than the entire bottom 80% combined." To turn this "upside-down spending right side-side up", the paper features policy proposals "so that all Americans can save, invest, and build wealth."

In addition, to complement positive wealth-building efforts in Indiana, we'll:

Ask Senator Donnelly and Senator Coats to support the Senate companion bill for the American Savings Promotion Act, which allows expansion of Prize Linked Savings. The Act passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support this week. When Governor Pence signed HEA-1235 in 2014, Indiana joined a handful of states that allow credit unions to offer this innovative savings tool. Senate passage would complement Indiana's efforts by expanding access to banks.

We'll also ask each of them to support the Protecting Consumers from Unreasonable Credit Rates Act of 2013 to reduce the costs for small-dollar credit to 36% APR. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, "payday lenders create a multi-billion dollar debt trap and aggressively market payday loans as a way to meet a one-time need but specifically designed to force borrowers to take out loan, after loan, after loan at an average interest rate of nearly 400%." Their research finds that: the typical borrower is stuck in 9 loans per year; 75% of payday loans come from borrowers with 10 or more loans per year, and; a typical borrower with 10 loans in a year paid $458 in interest alone to borrow $350.

Ask Representative Young to co-author bipartisan legislation to exempt college savings programs - such as 529's and Children's Savings Accounts - from asset tests. Research shows that students who have savings are four times more likely to graduate college. Yet, asset limits act as a disincentive to college savings program participation by forcing families "to choose between saving money for college and putting food on the table." This common-sense legislation would allow all families to save for higher education and complement Indiana's post-secondary completion efforts.

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Scorecard: College Attainment a Major Barrier in Mississippi

Posted by esivak on 09/03/2014

This month, the Mississippi Economic Policy Center (MEPC) explores the topic of education in the state – a topic that not only benefits individuals, but also their families and communities alike. For an individual, education is a fundamental asset that significantly impacts his or her earning potential and ability to advance economic opportunity in the state. However, access to post-secondary education remains a major barrier for thousands of working families and their children. According to the Corporation for Enterprise Development’s (CFED) 2014 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, a comprehensive assessment of household financial security in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Mississippi ranks last in education, and next to last, only behind West Virginia, in four-year college degree attainment.

In 2012, college attainment increased nationally and in 45 states, including Mississippi. However, Mississippi still ranks next to last in the percentage of adults with at least a 4-year degree; in Mississippi, 20.7% of adults have at least a 4-year degree compared to 29.1% of adults in the United States (See Chart). Additionally, individuals from low-income families are less likely to finish college than individuals from wealthier families. Four-year degrees are 7.3 times more prevalent among the highest-income households than among the lowest-income households (43.9% and 6.0%, respectively) in the state.

Four-Year College Degree

Unfortunately, states with increases in college attainment also had increases in both the percent of students graduating with debt and amount of debt, in addition to the percent of students who default on student loans. In Mississippi, 57.0% of college students graduate with student loan debt, with an average of $27,322 in student loans. Further, Mississippi has the fifth highest borrower default rate in the nation – 17.4% of Mississippi borrowers entering repayment defaulted on their student loans. High student debt burdens may limit the ability for some to build and save assets for future investments like homeownership or a small business. Likewise, high student loan default rates may provide insight into broader issues: that recent graduates have unmanageable debt burdens or are unable to secure jobs that pay a sufficient wage to cover these debt payments (Assets & Opportunity Scorecard).

Higher education creates economic prosperity for individuals and the economy as a whole. To enhance access to post-secondary education and make it more affordable in Mississippi, the state can strengthen its current financial aid programs and offer families incentives to save for college. For example, Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) are long-term, asset-building accounts established for children as early as birth and provide families with a tax-free way to build assets to finance higher education.

For recommendations on how to strengthen and update Mississippi’s financial aid programs, please see MEPC’s report, Investing In Our Future.

Source: Corporation for Enterprise Development. (2014). Assets and Opportunity Scorecard, 2014. Retrieved from

SAVE THE DATE: MEPC’s Policy Conference “Tackling Persistent Poverty: Why Here? Why Now?” on Thursday, October 30, 2014, at the Jackson Convention Complex

-Jessica Shappley, Policy Analyst

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Expanding the EITC to "Childless" Workers Would Boost Financial Security for many Arkansans and Mississippians

Posted by tedwards on 08/27/2014

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a federal tax credit for low- and moderate-income working people, recognized for its success in promoting work and alleviating poverty as well as offsetting payroll and income taxes.[i] Due to its success, federal policymakers over the last decade have made considerable progress in strengthening the EITC. The progress made at the federal level translates to nearly $2.5 million returned to 300,000 EITC recipients in Arkansas, and $2.75 million back in the pockets of 392,000 Mississippians in 2012.[ii]

Southern also recognizes the importance of the EITC. As part of our mission to create economic opportunity in the rural communities we serve, Southern has helped file more than 15,000 tax returns over the past decade through our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, resulting in over $15 million in refunds from the EITC alone. That’s money being directed back into the community, strengthening the local economy.

However, in spite of the great assistance the EITC has brought to many Arkansas and Mississippi families, low-income childless workers receive little to nothing from the EITC. For instance, a childless adult working full time at the minimum wage cannot qualify for the EITC because his earnings exceed the income limit for the very small credit for workers not raising minor children. Further, all childless workers under age 25 are ineligible for the EITC, so young people just starting out receive none of the EITC’s proven benefits.

In an effort to expand the poverty-reducing impact of EITC, the President’s 2015 budget and five recent congressional proposals would significantly improve the EITC for childless workers.[iii] Nearly all of the proposals would lower the eligibility age to 21, and all would raise the maximum credit and phase in the credit more rapidly as a worker’s income rises. If the President’s 2015 budget proposal passed:

  • The credit for a childless adult with wages at the poverty line would rise from $171 to $841;
  • the credit would jump from just $22 to $542 for a childless adult working full time at the minimum wage; and,
  • 122,000 childless workers in Arkansas and 129,000 childless workers in Mississippi would become eligible for the EITC or receive a larger EITC in 2015.[iv]

By making more childless workers eligible for the EITC — including those working full time at the minimum wage — and increasing the credit for workers currently eligible, the tax credit will provide more support for increasing employment and reducing poverty. In the communities Southern serves in Arkansas and Mississippi, the expansion of the EITC could be transformative as both states have high percentages of residents living below the poverty level. A substantial transfer of wealth, such as the EITC, can positively affect one’s net worth, thereby providing opportunity for upward economic mobility, which is why we encourage you to contact your elected officials and ask them to support these changes.

As a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), Southern is committed to improving the financial stability of rural communities, and supporting common sense measures like the EITC that provide proven incentives to work and earn wages rather than rely on public benefits. We invite you to learn more about our efforts to improve the economic security of rural communities and the people who live there at any time by contacting Meredith Covington, Policy & Communications Manager, at

i. Carsey Institute. (2014). Proposed EITC expansion would increase eligibility and dollars for rural and urban“childless” workers. Available at

ii. National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). (2012). Available at

iii. The Working Families Tax Relief Act of 2013 (S. 836), introduced by Senators Sherrod Brown and Richard Durbin; The Earned Income Tax Credit Improvement and Simplification Act of 2013 (H.R. 2116), introduced by Rep. Richard Neal; The EITC for Childless Workers Act of 2014 (H.R. 4117), introduced by Rep. Charles Rangel; The Julia Carson Responsible Fatherhood and Healthy Families Act of 2013, introduced by Rep. Danny Davis; and The 21st Century Worker Tax Cut Act (S. 2162), introduced by Senators Patty Murray, Jack Reed, and Sherrod Brown.

iv. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). (2014). Available at and

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Payroll Card Legislation Signed Into Law

Posted by lmullany on 08/27/2014

August 14, 2014

Last week, Governor Quinn signed into law legislation that protects the wages of Illinois workers from the unfair and deceptive fees associated with payroll cards. The legislation was sponsored by Representative Art Turner and Senator Kwame Raoul and championed by Illinois Attorney General, Lisa Madigan, and the Illinois Department of Labor. IABG worked closely with our partners to advocate for a law that protects consumers while ensuring that workers have a choice. Illinois now has the strongest payroll card law in the country.

Payroll cards have been growing in popularity among employers over the last few years. Rather than paying employees with a check or via direct deposit into a bank account, employers are loading wages onto a payroll card. Payroll cards are particularly being used for workers that are unbanked.

Last fall, we hosted discussions around the state on the racial wealth gap and associated barriers that prevent families from reaching financial security. In each community we heard about the impact of payroll cards.

One story is that of Ida King, a POWER-PAC parent leader with Community Organizing & Family Issues (COFI). While working at a company in Chicago, Ida showed up to work one day and, instead of receiving a paper check, she was handed a payroll card. She wasn’t given a choice to be paid a different way and she was not given the card’s disclosure form. After using the card she began to notice that some of her wages were missing. She was being charged monthly fees, point-of-transaction fees, and additional ATM fees. When she called customer service to ask about these fees, they charged her for that call.

Ida shared her story at the bill signing that took place at COFI last week. “They were charging me all these fees but I wasn’t making that much money,” said Ida. “I am so happy to see this bill signed into law.”

Under this new law, workers have the right to:

  • Opt Out of the Payroll Card and Choose another Payment Method: Your employer must receive your written or electronic consent to pay you via a payroll card (see other options listed on the right). They MUST offer you the option to be paid with a paper check and/or direct deposit if you choose those options.
  • View Card Disclosure Forms: Your employer must give you written disclosure that includes information that the program is voluntary, that there are other payment options, and the terms and conditions of the payroll card.
  • Access Wages: You must be given at least one method of withdrawing all of your wages from the payroll card once per pay period, at an accessible location, with NO FEES.
  • Access Account Information: You must have access to at least one paper or electronic transaction history per month. The history should include all deposits, withdrawals, deductions, or charges by any entity from or to your payroll card.
  • Check Account Balance by Phone: You must have unlimited telephone access to customer service for questions.
  • Make Two Declined Transactions per Month: You must be given two free declined transactions each month. If there are more than 2 declined transactions on your card within one month, you may have to pay a “commercially reasonable” fee.

Fees may NOT be charged for:

  • Point of sale transactions (i.e. using your payroll card to purchase goods or services)
  • Loading wages onto the card
  • Monthly fees
  • Overdraft fees or overdraft service fees

Workers should be warned that fees can be charged if your account is inactive for more than one year. Also, if you leave your job, the fees and features of your charge may change after 30 days.

The law goes into effect January 1, 2015. You can download a “Know Your Rights” fact sheet to share with workers in your community.

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How Kentucky Got it Right

Posted by tlentz on 08/22/2014

Time magazine's article by Steven Brill in August 2014 highlighted Kentucky's success of rolling out the Obamacare health-insurance exchange. The author relays how "Governor Steven Beshear and a team of smart, determined career civil servants, got it right -- by preparing exhaustively, by dealing frontally with the system’s challenges and by celebrating rather than soft- pedaling the reality that Obamacare is a social- welfare program intended to help the poor and the middle class get health care coverage."

Mr. Brill continues..."Of the 13 million enrolled nationally (spring 2014) for private insurance on the exchanges or for Medicaid, Kentucky has pulled in 521,000. That’s an astounding 78% of the state’s uninsured population, a percentage far above the national totals."

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Spent: Looking for Change (Documentary)

Posted by rlynch on 08/20/2014

Tags: documentary, film, spent, financial system, predatory practices, stories

A poignant film about the harsh realities millions of families face every day.

This film gives us an inside look into the lives of four families dealing with financial crisis. While trying to survive to meet their basic needs we see how families are left with limited options and seek solutions that keep them trapped in debt. The utilization of check cashing businesses, payday loans, and banks overdraft protection fees are an alternative millions seek in order to pay their bills. These practices are used out of necessity and cleverly disguised as a solution. However, for many, it will prove to be only a temporary solution. The result, an 89 billion dollar financial system that thrives due to the fees and interest families pay every year.

It is a problem that affects every aspect of our society, when we tell a nurse, she can’t take care of her dying mother, or a young entrepreneur, don’t go after your dream, or parents, don’t seek help for your autistic child, or a young couple, you can’t move beyond your past because you don’t have the money or adequate resources to do so.

Watch the short 40 minutes documentary by clicking on the video link below or to find out more about the film click HERE

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Next Stop: SB896 to the Governor's Desk

Posted by tararobinson on 08/07/2014

We are excited to announce that on Monday, August 4, the California Assembly voted unanimously to pass SB 896! The bill is now on its way to the Governor’s desk.

We are grateful to have your support of MAF’s credit-building programs. The passage of this bill will give us a historic level of recognition that will create major shifts in the nonprofit credit-building field and allow us to scale our work to more communities across the state.

Stay tuned for the next update!

Learn more here

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Wayne Metro Dollar$ and $en$e Expo

Posted by mlulion on 08/06/2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 15, 2014 Media Contact: Mia Cupp (313) 463-5472 office (734) 536-2006 cell

WYANDOTTE—Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency is collaborating with Fifth Third Bank to connect community members with valuable information and resources. The DOLLAR$ & $EN$E Expo is a family friendly event, featuring the Fifth Third eBus, a variety of classes, workshops and fun games for the whole family.

This event will include sessions on employability skills, financial literacy, and wellness. Free credit reports, tax preparation, homebuyer education, resume writing, foreclosure prevention and financial coaching will be featured at the DOLLAR$ & $EN$E Expo. Additionally, there will be legal workshops and health screenings available. An Individual Development Account (IDA) orientation is planned, which is a matched saving account to help individuals make a down payment on a first home, provide funds for a micro-business or pay college tuition.

The event will be held on two dates in August:

Thursday, August 7th from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at Wayne County Community College, 21000 Northline Road, Taylor Thursday, August 14th from 1:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. at Northwest Activities Center, 18100 Meyers Road, Detroit

Register for the DOLLAR$ & $EN$E Expo today to save your spot! or by calling (734)284-6999 or (313) 388-9799.

ABOUT WAYNE METRO Wayne Metro is the Community Action Agency serving all of Wayne County including the City of Detroit. Our mission is to empower low-income people and strengthen communities through diverse services, leadership, and collaboration. The agency has been serving needs of low-income individuals since 1971, delivering more than 50 integrated programs, including educational, housing, financial, healthcare and basic needs services to individuals, families, and children. We maintain a low administrative rate (6%) so that $.94 of every dollar can be utilized for direct client services. With administrative offices in Wyandotte and Detroit, Wayne Metro maintains over 20 service sites throughout Wayne County, including Detroit, Highland Park, Hamtramck, Harper Woods, Taylor and Westland.


About Fifth Third Bank Fifth Third Bank,( Eastern Michigan), is based in Southfield, Michigan and led by President David F. Girodat. Fifth Third Bank is metropolitan Detroit’s sixth largest bank and has $4.9 billion in assets. Fifth Third Bank serves customers in eight southeastern Michigan counties: Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, St. Clair, Shiawassee, Livingston, Genesee and Washtenaw. Fifth Third Bank currently operates 92 banking centers, and more than 150 ATMs throughout eastern Michigan. Fifth Third Bank is proud to be named as one of the “101 Best & Brightest Place to Work” by the Michigan Business and Professional Association and a Top Place to Work” by the Detroit Free Press.

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