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News & Updates from the Assets & Opportunity Network


House Passes Bill Protecting Workers From Payroll Card Fees

Posted by lmullany on 04/18/2014

Last week, the Illinois House passed legislation (HB5622) that would protect workers from the hidden and abusive fees of many payroll cards. The bill was sponsored by Representative Turner and supported by the Illinois Attorney General.

Payroll cards are growing in popularity in Illinois. Some Illinois employers are no longer paying their employees with a check or via a direct deposit into a bank account. Rather they are loading wages onto a payroll card. Payroll cards are particularly being used for workers that are unbanked.

Large employers like Sears, U-Haul, UPS, and McDonalds are using this method to pay many of their workers. At first glance this may seem like a great idea and offer a convenience for people who don’t already have a traditional bank account. The problems arise as soon as the worker swipes the card, and in some cases even before that.

Payroll cards are not regulated at the federal or state levels. Currently, businesses are not required to fully disclose the terms of the payroll card program or ensure that workers can access their hard earned wages without incurring fees.

At a recent Stepping Out of Poverty forum, hosted by Community Organizing & Family Issues (COFI), workers shared their stories on how these fees have repeatedly drained their budgets. Often times workers would use their cards only to find surprisingly low balances because of abusive and hidden fees that ate away at their balance.

HB5622 would provide consumer protections from many of these fees, including: + Monthly Fees + Point of transaction fees + Fees to check your balance + Customer service fees + Overdraft fees

The bill also requires employers to give employees notice of the terms of the card and obtain their voluntary consent before enrolling them in a payroll card program. It also guarantees that employees can access their full wages at least once every two weeks without incurring a fee.

HB5622 now moves to the Senate where it is being sponsored by Senator Raoul. If you or someone you know has a story about payroll cards we need your voice! Find your State Senator and urge them to support HB5622. To share your payroll card story and be part of the movement contact IABG.

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Why United Way THRIVE?

Posted by slopez on 04/14/2014

Stronger, more financially stable families mean a stronger, more financially stable community for us all.

In 2008, compelled by research pointing to the importance of family financial stability and its impact on nearly all other social issues, including education, health, and community well-being, United Way of Greater Houston launched United Way THRIVE.

Through United Way THRIVE, families achieve financial stability by focusing on three key strategies: increasing income, building savings and acquiring assets.

These strategies have proved successful.

Since launching in 2008, United Way THRIVE has established a path to financial stability for more than 52,000 Houston-area families.

As THRIVE has grown, more partners have joined, and the initiative has built a five-year solid record of creating real change for lower-income families. Read more about our five year summary of impact: click here

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Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity

Posted by gwendy on 04/14/2014

Tags: economic summit, new majority, communities of color, Innovation

Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the acts of human beings.” – Nelson Mandela

Justice rather than charity; solutions instead of complaints. This was the tone of Greenlining Institute’s Economic Summit that I had the pleasure of attending last week in Oakland, CA. Focused on ensuring that communities of color are able to participate and thrive in the new economy, the event covered everything from financial services to health to energy policy. It was a refreshingly holistic approach to what are deep and persistent problems facing minorities in our state and across the nation. Among the more compelling ideas I heard were:

- Modernizing California’s Lifeline Phone service (subsidized phone lines for low-income Californians) to include mobile phones and SMS texting.

- A hackathon for Black Male achievement – with a long term goal of “an empathy spillover”

- Developing apps for gaming consoles (X-Box, Playstation) to connect young people who are absent from school to their homework – no email required.

- Installing solar panels on schools in low-income neighborhoods to reduce electricity use among the most under-resourced schools.

- Embedding internet cable in the high speed rail lines to provide quality internet access for rural communities –to facilitate technology that allows plants to communicate when they need to be watered.

Technological change is moving quickly and all too often people get left behind. Here’s to all the innovators working hard to make sure our state lives up to its promise of opportunity for all.

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Silicon Valley Index

Posted by gwendy on 04/14/2014

Tags: silicon valley, income inequality, shrinking middle class

Whether you’re involved in a tech start-up or are just trying to find an apartment, it’s easy to see that Silicon Valley is booming. And while we’re proud of our region’s success and innovation, not everyone is benefiting from this growth. According to new data from the Silicon Valley Index, the region is facing growing income inequality and a shrinking middle class.

We have more families than ever before earning over $100,000 per year, but the number of families earning less than $35,000 a year is also growing. While per capita income went up for whites and Asians (5.6% and 2.4% respectively) between 2010 and 2012, it declined by 2.0% for Latinos and 5.0% for African Americans. Given that cost of housing in region keeps rising, declining real income means more families are struggling just to keep their families housed and fed. In fact, the income decline for Latinos is higher in Silicon Valley (-2.0%) than for California overall (-1.6%). We need to ask the tough questions to understand why our region’s rising prosperity is not accessible to all our neighbors.

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Senate Passes the Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program

Posted by lmullany on 04/11/2014

On a vote of 31-22-2, the Illinois Secure Choice Program (SB2758) passed out of the Illinois Senate today. The bill will give millions of private sector workers the opportunity to save their own money for retirement by expanding access to employment-based retirement savings account.

More than 2.5 million workers do not have access to a retirement savings account through their employer, according to a report from Woodstock Institute. The report found lack of access is most serious for low-wage workers, of whom 60 percent lack access, but even for workers making $40,000 or more, 49 percent do not have access to an employment-based retirement savings plan. In every Senate district in Illinois, over half of private-sector workers do not have access to this type of plan.

SB2758, sponsored by Senator Daniel Biss, will automatically enroll workers without access to an employer-based retirement plan into the Secure Choice program. While workers can opt-out of the program, those that do participate will be able to build savings in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) through a payroll deduction.

“We're facing a looming retirement security crisis: 2.5 million Illinois workers lack access to employer-sponsored retirement plans. Unless we act now to help give Illinois residents the tools to save, the number of retirees living in poverty will continue to grow,” said Senator Biss. “The Secure Choice program will have a minimal impact on the state and participating businesses, but the effect for workers will be the difference between a retirement in dignity and a retirement in poverty.”

The bill will now move to the House where Representative Barbara Flynn Currie will be the Chief Sponsor. She is the current sponsor of the companion bill, HB4595.

“The Secure Choice Savings Program makes it easy for Illinois workers to save without burdening employers or the state,” Representative Currie said. “This is a bill that every legislator who cares about the retirement security of Illinois workers should vote for.”

The Illinois Asset Building Group (IABG) is advocating, along with its partners, for the passage of the Illinois Secure Choice Program. “Secure Choice provides workers an easy way to save their own money for retirement,” said Lucy Mullany, Coordinator of IABG and a Senior Policy Associate with Heartland Alliance. “We thank the Senate for taking a big step towards stronger retirement security for Illinois workers and look forward to working with Members of the House to pass this legislation out of the General Assembly.”

The Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program is supported by IABG, Heartland Alliance, Woodstock Institute, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, SEIU Healthcare, AARP Illinois, and over 45 organizations and businesses across the state.

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Louisville Celebrates First Graduating Class of Community Financial Empowerment Certification Program

Posted by tlentz on 04/10/2014

The first graduating class to complete Louisville's new Community Financial Empowerment Certification (CFEC) program was recognized at an event on Thursday, March 27. This pilot group contained 15 social services providers.

Louisville Metro Department of Community Services and Revitalization has worked with a variety of partners to create the Community Financial Empowerment Certification (CFEC) in response to a growing need among clients to obtain assistance creating budgets, developing financial goals and building assets. The CFEC provides a financial empowerment framework for Louisville's service providers, equipping them with tools and knowledge to move clients out of the crisis-to-crisis cycle and toward a more stable future. Read more

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Problems with Ohio EITC: It’s not refundable, it has a cap, and it’s too low

Posted by kwilliams on 04/09/2014

Founded in 1975, the federal earned income tax credit (EITC) is our nation’s most effective antipoverty program. Annually, it lifts over 6 million families out of poverty, half of whom are children. The program has traditionally had bipartisan support and rewards work, because only families with earned income can claim the credit. Last tax season, over 950,000 Ohio families claimed the federal EITC – that’s 18 percent of all Ohio tax filings – and received an average refund of about $2,300. Those credits brought over $2 billion into our local communities to help working poor families take care of their basic needs.

Despite the benefits, 1 in 5, or 20 percent, of families do not claim the federal credit. We’re grateful to the members of Ohio CASH, the state’s asset building coalition, including the Ohio Benefit Bank and local United Ways, for providing free tax preparation services all over our state. Last year, free tax-prep organizations filed more than 36,000 tax returns.

It’s not too late to take advantage of these services. We encourage anyone seeking assistance filing their taxes to visit the 2014 Free Tax Services Map at, which includes over 160 sites throughout Ohio, or to call 211 to find out where they can get their taxes filed at no charge.

This is the first tax season that Ohioans will be able to claim a state EITC. Gov. Kasich and the state legislature did the right thing in creating the state EITC in the last budget cycle. The Mid-Biennium Review tax proposal to expand the credit from 5 percent to 15 percent is a step in the right direction, but more must be done to ensure the credit benefits Ohio’s poorest working families.

We have three concerns with Ohio’s EITC. First, it’s nonrefundable. The federal credit and most state EITCs are refundable, which ensures that working poor families are rewarded for work and the refund helps them meet their basic needs. Poor Ohioans pay more of their income in state and local taxes than more affluent Ohioans do, especially in sales tax, and a refundable state EITC would boost tax fairness. Without refundability, the poorest Ohioans will receive only extremely modest benefits from a higher EITC. Second, Ohio’s EITC has a cap, which is limited to 50 percent for qualifying filers with incomes over $20,000. Ohio is the only state with a cap on its EITC. Third, our credit is low. Only four other states have a 5 percent credit or lower.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that the current state credit will only reach about 440,000 Ohio families, which is less than half the households that currently claim the federal EITC. Unfortunately, the credit does not impact most of the poorest working Ohioans and the average tax cut for those who get one is estimated to be only $74. As we continue to discuss and evaluate state tax policy, we need to ensure fairness in our tax system across all income levels. The MBR proposed income-tax rate cuts, according to the administration, amount to $909 million in FY2017, more than 22 times the value of the proposed EITC expansion. We propose a higher, refundable EITC with no cap. A 10 percent refundable credit with no cap would help over 855,000 families with an average refund of $226. Working poor Ohioans deserve a state EITC that is large enough to make a difference in their lives.

Prepared by Kalitha Williams for presentation at a press conference on April 3, 2014

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The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation with a gift of 1.8 million launched the West Coast's first Financial Empowerment Center

Posted by acoday on 04/08/2014

Tags: Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, Financial Empowerment Center, City of Seattle

The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation in partnership with Neighborhood House and the City of Seattle will be holding a ribbon cutting celebration for the Seattle's Financial Empowerment Center on Monday, April 14th from noon to 1:00 p.m. at Rainier Vista, 4431 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S. in Seattle.

In November 2013, a $1.8 million gift from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation launched the West Coast's first Financial Empowerment Center program in Seattle.

Six new Financial Empowerment Centers have now opened their doors and begun helping vulnerable Seatteites gain fundamental financial skills such as paying down debt, increasing savings and improving credit.

To learn more go to

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The Financial Empowerment Network | Seattle-King County has a new website!

Posted by acoday on 04/08/2014

Tags: website, new name, resources, tools

We are thrilled to announce the launch of the Financial Empowerment Network | Seattle-King County (formerly known as the Seattle-King County Asset Building Collaborative) new website.

With the generous support from United Way of King County, we have officially transformed (and ‘merged’) our Bank on Seattle-King County and Seattle-King County Asset Building Collaborative (SKCABC) websites. The new look features pages/sections devoted to tools and resources for consumers, case managers and financial counselors. In addition, it features an appointment link to the new Seattle Financial Empowerment Center. The new site can now be accessed at

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Charles Schwab Donates $10,000 to Nevada College Kick Start Program

Posted by mjohnson on 04/08/2014

Charles Schwab

Charles Schwab has made a $10,000 matching grant donation to the Nevada College Kick Start Program. Matching contributions will help Nevada families save that much more for their children ‘s college education.

Click this link Schwab Bank Nevada Kick Start to read the press release in its entirety.

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