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News & Updates from the Assets & Opportunity Network


Prosperity Miami initiative kicks off in Overtown

Posted by dlevine on 09/18/2015

Local organizations launch effort to provide direct services and to increase civic engagement in Miami-Dade County neighborhoods

The effort, funded by Allegany Franciscan Ministries, aims to provide residents with direct services while engaging them in a dialogue about policy issues impacting their communities and how they can become involved in creating change

MIAMI, Florida – On September 14, 2015, Catalyst Miami, a nonprofit organization helping families become prosperous and civically engaged, officially kicked off “Prosperity Miami,” an initiative to offer direct services and to increase civic engagement in Miami-Dade County. Catalyst Miami has partnered with South Florida Voices for Working Families and New Florida Majority Education Fund to canvass ten neighborhoods and to engage 8,000 families. The goal is two-fold: to provide families with essential services and to connect them with opportunities to become civically active. The civic engagement opportunities include voter registration, U.S. citizenship application, participation in leadership development programs, participation in community organizing trainings, and more.

For many low-income families, accessing direct services is a challenge. The family caretaker has to worry about making an appointment, getting permission to miss work, accessing transportation, figuring out childcare, and, most importantly, losing income. These challenges make it hard for families to access social services that can improve their quality of life. It’s also a challenge to engage in civic activities when there are so many other pressing issues of concern.

To mitigate these challenges, Catalyst Miami will offer on-the-spot enrollment services at weekly Prosperity Miami neighborhood fairs, as well as community health fairs, churches, job sites, school open houses, and back-to-school events in ten neighborhoods, including Coconut Grove, Downtown, Florida City, Hialeah, Homestead, Liberty City, Little Haiti, Little Havana, Overtown, and Sweetwater. According to U.S. Census data, these ten neighborhoods have the highest numbers of uninsured and underinsured children and families, families at risk of becoming uninsured, families medically underserved due to low-income/asset-limited status, and individuals and families impacted by the five-year ban on permanent residents.

“Catalyst Miami is eager to begin this pilot and reboot our Prosperity Campaign. We are ready to bring our services to our clients, meeting them as close to home as possible. We are also grateful for our partners in this endeavor. New Florida Majority Education Fund and South Florida Voices for Working Families bring community connections and civic engagement opportunities to Prosperity Miami, helping us fulfill our mission,” said Gretchen Beesing, Chief Executive Officer of Catalyst Miami.

Prosperity Miami kicked off in Overtown at the YWCA of Greater Miami, located on 351 NW 5th Street, on Monday, September 14th. Dozens of canvassers knocked on doors from 3:00-5:00pm to inform families about the services and opportunities being offered.


Catalyst Miami is a nonprofit organization committed to supporting families and community organizations by improving health, education, and economic outcomes in South Florida.

New Florida Majority Education Fund is a statewide organization working to increase the voting power and influence of African Americans, Latinos, new immigrants, and working families towards a more inclusive, equitable Florida.

South Florida Voices for Working Families is a coalition of community, union and faith-based organizations working together to win improvements in the quality of life for working people in the South Florida area.

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The 5th Annual Resource Day

Posted by acoday on 09/11/2015

On Saturday, August 29, 2015 an estimated 1,500 Seattle-King County residents attended the 5th Annual Resource Day & Back to School Event (formerly known as Financial Resource Day and Bridging the Gap) at the Rainier Community Center.

This one day event provided a connection to 77 financial and community service providers and 38 employers all in one location—brought to you this year by the King County Housing Authority and the Seattle Housing Authority with support from the Financial Empowerment Network | Seattle-King County and WorkSource Seattle-King County.

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CFPB Releases Thousands of Consumer Complaints

Posted by lmullany on 07/27/2015

This week marks the 5th anniversary of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency committed to protecting consumers from abusive financial products and practices. Over the past four years, we have seen the CFPB return over $10 billion to more than 17 million consumers tricked by deceptive financial practices, consider new regulations on payday lenders and prepaid cards, and successfully sue for-profit colleges for abusive lending practices.

The CFPB's successes are thanks, in large part, to real stories shared by residents across the country. CFPB receives thousands of complaints every week about issues with banks, debt collection, paydays loans, student loans, prepaid cards, and many other areas. Take, for instance, Christine, a Chicago resident who shared her experience with payday loans in a recent video created by the Woodstock Institute:

The CFPB has been receiving complaints on issues such as those faced by Christine for years. Just recently, the CFPB made its Consumer Complaint Database public. To date, it has 421,413 complaints. For the first time, consumers' concerns with financial products and services are easily accessible to the public. You can now read consumer narratives and analyze consumer complaint data from around the country.

Here are just a few short examples of consumer narratives from the 558 complaints filed in Illinois:

Penn Credit Collection called my job requesting payment on a bill I do not even owe. The company keeps changing their number and calls my job and cell phone constantly. I do not owe the debt they are trying to collect.

I received a call from a company, XXXX XXXX, stating that I owed a payday loan that I never took. I did look into one years ago, but the fees were outrageous and I didn't finalize anything. They stated that it was my responsibilty to prove I didn't take it and that the fact that they had my information was enough for them to prove I did. All I have is a phone number for them, XXXX and after searching online, I found that they are doing this to alot of consumers.

Used XXXX to load money on my prepaid PayPower XXXX card but it was not added to my account. Have a confirmation receipt from XXXX, have the actual hard copy of the receipt that I have emailed XXXX times to the company and called close to a dozen times, spoke with several supervisors but yet over and over again they pass the buck and can not offer a resolution. It has been almost a month and still they have not credited my money.

How does this help consumers?

Consumers can use this as a source when researching financial products and services. You can view complaints filed against different companies. Consumers can also see what issues others are having, and can learn what practices are a red flag.

Also, by making the complaints public, it may encourage others to come forward and report their concerns. The ability to record a complaint is an important tool for consumers, with 98% of people getting timely responses from companies when they file a complaint with the CFPB.

How does this help advocates?

Advocates can download and analyze the data to support local and state campaigns to strengthen consumer protections. For a more nuanced picture of what’s happening in communities, advocates can also access consumer narratives by zip code or by state. With a better understanding the challenges facing residents and the companies most at fault, this data can help us create real policy solutions in Illinois.

Take a look at CFPB’s Consumer Complaint Database, and spread the word to consumers and advocates about this great tool!

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Bank On Chicago Community Partners Press for Safe & Affordable Prepaid Cards

Posted by lmullany on 07/24/2015

More and more people are using prepaid cards, yet it is a highly unregulated industry. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ 2014 report Why Americans Use Prepaid Cards, about $65 billions was loaded onto prepaid cards in 2012 - more than double the amount loaded in 2009.

Widely used by un/underbanked populations, prepaid cards are often used as an alternative to checking accounts. Most people who use prepaid cards are trying to gain control over their finances. The Pew Charitable Trusts’ report found that three of the top reasons people use prepaid cards are to:

  • Avoid credit card debt
  • Avoid spending more money than they have
  • Avoid overdrafts

However, the majority of prepaid cards - specifically GPR, or “General Purpose Reloadable” cards – are not meeting the needs of the people who use them. Many prepaid cards have the wrong ingredients: a long list of predatory fees, barriers to accessing account information, and credit features, which many people are specifically trying to avoid when they buy a prepaid card. Instead of being a tool that helps families become financially secure, prepaid cards are often a costly trap that strips wealth from communities.

According to data from the Family Assets Count, 16% of Chicago families do not have a savings or checking account – twice the national rate. With so many Chicago households not using traditional bank accounts, it is critical for prepaid cards to be a safe and affordable alternative. Because of the high prevalence of un/underbanked families in Chicago and the high usage of prepaid cards in this population, Bank On Chicago decided to create recommendations for what a safe prepaid card would look like.

This spring, IABG worked with Bank On Chicago community partners to collect feedback about prepaid cards. We hosted discussions with partners and collected nearly 100 surveys from Chicagoans who use these products. Based on this feedback, we developed a list of the right ingredients for prepaid cards. IABG sent a letter to City Treasurer Kurt Summers today with those recommendations, which include:

Create an affordable, transparent and safe prepaid card by providing:

  • Free ATM withdrawals
  • No overdraft or credit features
  • No point of transaction fees, monthly maintenance fees, or inactivity fees
  • Standard, accessible, and easy to understand disclosures

Provide convenient and free access to account information by offering:

  • Free customer service
  • Free access to account balances
  • Free paper statements
  • Free online & mobile transactions

Help people become financially stable by offering a linked savings account. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, 2 in 3 prepaid card users would welcome a savings feature. Savings are critical, as they can help people weather financial emergencies like a car repair, medical emergencies, or job loss.

See the full letter with our recommendations.

Bank On Chicago is a local coalition of government agencies, financial institutions and community organizations dedicated to improving the financial futures of unbanked and underbanked families in Chicago.

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Sen. Brown, advocates call for strong payday lending reforms

Posted by kwilliams on 07/23/2015

Five years after creation of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, rules are still needed to curb payday lending abuses.

Contact: Kalitha Williams, 614.221.4505

Five years after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, consumer activists are encouraging the federal agency to curb abuses of the payday lending industry.

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, Policy Matters Ohio, Ohio Poverty Law Center and Neighborhood Housing Services of Cleveland are celebrating this important milestone and the work of the CFPB, but called for stronger efforts to protect consumers.

“Until Congress established the CFPB, there was no federal watchdog responsible for supervising lenders and enforcing regulations in the payday loan market,” said Senator Brown. “Since its creation, the CFPB has returned $10.1 billion to the pockets of 17 million wronged consumers. But too many Ohioans are still trapped with a lifetime of debt after taking out payday loans. And for too long, the payday lending industry has dodged rules that would protect consumers. I will continue pushing the CFPB to develop the strongest rules possible to crack down on payday lenders who prey on Ohio families when they are at their most vulnerable.”

Senator Brown is one of 101 congressional signers (68 House members and 33 Senators) of letters urging the CFPB to move forward with rules strong and broad enough to end the abusive practices of payday, car-title and other high-cost consumer lenders. Strong rules will keep Americans from getting trapped in the cycle of debt that is too often the result of these triple-digit-interest loans and unaffordable balloon payments.

“Ohioans have been under the thumb of payday lenders for far too long,” said Kalitha Williams, Policy Liaison of Policy Matters Ohio. “One in 10 Ohioans has taken out a payday loan. With interest rates of 600 percent or more, it’s no wonder we have the third-highest number of consumer complaints to the CFPB on payday loans. Ohioans need the CFPB to break through with a strong rule that will protect them from the debt trap.”

Ohio has a muddled history in trying to regulate payday lenders. In 2008, the Ohio General Assembly and Ohio voters, through legislation and a statewide ballot initiative, decided to curb payday lending by creating the Ohio Short-Term Loan Act. Last year, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld a loophole in state law allowing payday lenders to operate outside the limits established by the General Assembly and backed by the state’s voters. The CFPB has an opportunity to step in where state policymakers have been unsuccessful.

“The booming payday industry in Ohio has opened the door to car title lending,” said Linda Cook of the Ohio Poverty Law Center. “These loans put vulnerable consumers even more at risk because one late payment means a family losing their only transportation to work, school and medical appointments.”

She said Ohio and the nation need reform and regulation of the lenders who use Ohio to profit from short-term, small-dollar loans. “Low-income Ohioans deserve access to credit that is affordable and doesn’t take advantage of their difficult financial position and Ohio’s challenging economic times. We applaud the CFPB for the work it has done so far to help make the marketplace fair for consumers, and we look forward to strong rules for payday.”

Payday lenders claim to be offering a one-time financial quick fix. In truth, their business model is to make loans they know cannot be paid back in full and on time – without requiring the borrower to take out another loan. Research shows that 80 percent of these loans are renewed within 2 weeks and a typical payday loan takes one-third of the borrower’s paycheck, leaving little for the borrower to live on. These loans ensure that a borrower is financially vulnerable for months and months.

“As a lender ourselves, ability to repay is a fundamental element of responsible lending,” said David Rothstein of Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland. “The CFPB is establishing a high floor for lending – by making loans borrowers can afford and still cover basic necessities like housing and food.”

Under the terms of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law of 2010, the CFPB has the authority to regulate small-dollar consumer loans. In March, the agency released a broad outline of its plans and is expected to come out with a formal proposal this fall. The payday lending industry is expected to resist a strong a rule and to fight back by attacking both the rule and the bureau.

A recent poll, found that many Americans support payday lending reforms. Ninety-one percent support regulating financial services and products to ensure they are fair for consumers. Eighty-eight percent agree that payday loans should require lenders to verify a borrower’s ability to repay. The poll underlines public concern about payday abuses, and strong support for regulation.


Policy Matters Ohio is a nonprofit, nonpartisan state policy research institute with offices in Cleveland and Columbus.

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Protect the Federal EITC and the Child Tax Credit

Posted by lmullany on 07/23/2015

In 2013, 1,012,292 households in Illinois claimed the federal EITC. According to new data released by the Brookings Institution, 867,541 households claimed the Child Tax Credit that same year.

These credits total over 3.5 billion dollars, which went directly to low-income families in Illinois. The lump sum received by these households at tax time, enable workers to plan for their financial future. The credits help working families make ends meet, spend down debt, save for the future, and stimulate economic growth in local communities.

The federal EITC lifts millions out of poverty each year. Unfortunately, 50 million Americans, including 25 million children, will lose part or all of their tax credits if Congress does not take action. We need you to be part of the fight to help save the EITC and CTC.

Many IABG partners help prepare taxes for Illinois residents each year. As tax preparers, please join our partners at the Taxpayer Opportunity Network by signing on to a letter urging Congress to take action this year. You can read the letter and add your organization here.

To find data on tax returns in your local community visit Brookings Interactive Resources.

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A New Horizon on Economic Opportunity

Posted by rlynch on 07/21/2015

Tags: Economic mobility, poverty, economic opportunity

Charlotte-Mecklenburg often referred to as the second largest financial center in the United States, has gained national attention under a different light. A recent study conducted by Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley ranked Charlotte at 50th out of the 50 largest US cities in upward economic mobility for children living in large metropolitan areas. This alarming study brought Charlotte leaders and philanthropic foundations to take immediate action to secure the economic opportunity of children and families.

Within a few weeks of the report a motivated group of government, local foundations, and community leaders began to brainstorm and bring about the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Economic Opportunity Task Force. The Task Force which is composed of a diverse group of 21 volunteers, will be working together from now until late 2016 to devise “actionable recommendations that can broaden access to economic opportunity for all residents of Charlotte-Mecklenburg”. The Task Force will take a direct approach into finding long-term lasting solutions and recommendations that would be implemented in phases for the next ten years based on the needs of the people.

The objective of the Task Force is to provide the community an opportunity to collaborate and address the perennial challenges affecting its continuous growth as a city. Click here to sign up for their updates. The initiative has already begun to advance the conversation on poverty, asset building and civic engagement. Long-term it hopes to offer opportunities for every person within Charlotte-Mecklenburg area to better themselves financially and create a more stable future for all children and families.

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Bank on Houston Launches Web App to Help Unbanked Houstonians get Accounts

Posted by slopez on 07/06/2015

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Denise Carpenter (832) 393-3523

It is estimated that over 16% of Houston residents do not have an account or direct relationship with a bank or credit union: they are “unbanked”.Instead, they use check cashing services and other alternative consumer financial services. They pay exorbitant fees off the top of their paycheck, and they are not participating in credit-building activities. For someone looking to gain financial stability, this cycle is quicksand. Bank on Houston wants to change that with their online Product/Branch Locator that finds financial institutions and products specifically designed for the unbanked and people seeking a second chance.

“We collaborate with 27 financial institution partners (banks and credit unions), and several non-profit organizations that provide free financial education and coaching everyday to help them address the needs of the unbanked population,” said Denise Carpenter, program coordinator for Bank on Houston. “The “banking” products include no or low monthly service charge checking accounts, second chance accounts, bank accounts that do not require a government ID, and other services. But with so many different financial institutions and products, the right products can be a little hard to find for a person not familiar with having an account or a relationship with a financial institution.”

In an ongoing effort to make these products easier to navigate, Bank on Houston maintained a Financial Institution Directory listing the financial institutions and products for many years. “Until recently, this directory information was also summarized in a Product Matrix spreadsheet,” Carpenter said. “Consumers liked it, but it could be a bit overwhelming for someone to use. That is why we built an online Product/Branch Locator. Now a consumer can answer a few basic questions online, and it will serve up our partner banks and credit unions that match their needs. It is more intuitive than digging through a directory or a spreadsheet.”

The Bank on Houston initiative was founded in 2008 and is housed in the Office of the Houston City Controller. There are nearly 100 cities in the United State with Bank On initiatives. “There is no reason to pay 1% or more off the top of your paycheck to cash it and pay to buy money orders to pay bills,” Carpenter said. “For an individual or family struggling to make ends meet, these fees add up quickly. Beyond our goal to help provide access to quality no or low service charge “banking” products and to free financial education, our goal is to help people become financially stable and over time build assets.

The Bank on Houston Product/Branch Locator is available for free at

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Warren Buffett: Stop Blaming The Rich For Income Inequality. If You Really Want To Help, Do This

Posted by dbrown on 07/06/2015

Tags: EITC, Wealth, assets, income, Inequality

The world’s third-richest man weighed in on the national debate over rising levels of income disparity in the United States yesterday, saying that while the gaps between the country’s haves and have nots are definitely increasing, it is not the fault of those at the top. Nor will it be solved by traditional methods, like improving education or hiking the minimum wage. His solution: Increase access to the Earned Income Tax Credit.

“No conspiracy lies behind this depressing fact: The poor are most definitely not poor because the rich are rich,” Buffett, whose net worth we clock in at $71.3 billion, wrote in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece published late yesterday. “Nor are the rich undeserving. Most of them have contributed brilliant innovations or managerial expertise to America’s well-being. We all live far better because of Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Sam Walton and the like. Instead, this widening gap is an inevitable consequence of an advanced market-based economy.”

That’s not to say the gap isn’t growing. Citing data from The Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans, he said that the total net worth of those on the list in 1982, the first year the list was compiled, was $93 billion. In 2014, that number was $2.3 trillion, up 2,400%. At the same time, median household income in the United States rose only about 180%, he said.

Improving education, won’t work fast enough, or go far enough, he said. And fighting to raise the minimum wage—currently in vogue among many on the left—won’t bridge the gap either, he says, and may actually backfire by hurting employment. “The better answer,” he said, is an expansion of the earned income tax credit, a federal tax credit targeted at working class Americans which gives them a credit starting with the first dollar they earn and rises until it hits a ceiling, then phases out from there.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, more than 27 million taxpayers got the ETIC in 2013 and in the 2012 tax year, the average EITC was $2,982 for a family with children.

“There is no disincentive effect: A gain in wages always produces a gain in overall income,” writes Buffett. “The process is simple: You file a tax return, and the government sends you a check. In essence, the EITC rewards work and provides an incentive for workers to improve their skills. Equally important, it does not distort market forces, thereby maximizing employment.

That distortion is the main criticism of opponents of raising the minimum wage. Arbitrarily increasing the amount employers are required to pay workers, as cities like Seattle, and most recently Los Angeles have done, is a disincentive to hiring or retaining workers, especially those at the lower end of the economic ladder who most need a job.

“I may wish to have all jobs pay at least $15 an hour,” writes Buffett. “But that minimum would almost certainly reduce employment in a major way, crushing many workers possessing only basic skills. Smaller increases, though obviously welcome, will still leave many hardworking Americans mired in poverty.”

Before you agree, its worth noting that not everyone is a fan of the plan. My colleague Kelly Phillips Erb, who knows a fair amount about the tax code, cautions that the EITC is filled with errors and fraud. She cites two government studies which find an “improper payment error rate” of somewhere around 25 percent–that’s one in four filings–amounting to more than $13 billion “paid out in error,” she says.

Beyond that, she says, it is simply another attempt to use taxes to shape behavior. And that’s not what taxes are for. “If folks need a hand up, we should make help available,” she wrote earlier this month when Buffett floated the idea. “I just don’t think that our Tax Code is the right mechanism for doing it (anymore than I think we should use taxes to encourage home ownership or discourage drinking big sodas).”

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Family Assets Count: Chicago

Posted by lmullany on 07/01/2015

In Chicago 20% of families live in poverty, but far more (49%) are financially vulnerable. These “liquid asset poor”families do not have enough savings to live above the poverty level for just three months if they lose a job, face a medical crisis or suffer another income disruption. Communities of color fair even worse: 67% of African American households and 71% of Hispanic households in Chicago are liquid asset poor.

These households live in a state of persistent financial insecurity – one emergency away from falling into debt or even losing a home. The inability to bounce back from financial pitfalls not only hurts Chicago families, it stifles the city’s long-term economic growth.

The findings are part of a new data analysis from Family Assets Count, a project of CFED (the Corporation for Enterprise Development) and the Assets & Opportunity Initiative in partnership with Citi Community Development and the Illinois Asset Building Group. The analysis spotlights a range of challenges confronting Chicago’s vulnerable families:

  • Although the city has a 45% homeownership rate, one in three families are “asset poor,” meaning they lack sufficient net worth (what they own minus what they owe) to subsist at the poverty level for three months in the absence of income.
  • 16% of Chicago families do not have a savings or checking account – twice the national rate.
  • One in four families has a bank account but still relied on alternative financial services such as check cashing or payday loans in the past year, which means they are paying far too much for accessing their hard-earned money.

Families across the state are struggling to stay above water. A total of 1.8 million Illinois households (38%) are liquid asset poor. IABG and its partners are working to promote policy solutions at the state and local level including:

  • Passing land use ordinances to limit the prevalence of predatory lenders like payday, auto title and rent-to-own stores that entrap families in a cycle of debt.
  • Investing in citywide initiatives that help families build and maintain good credit scores through credit builder loans and credit counseling.
  • Creating an Illinois Children Savings Account Program that provides a savings account for every child.
  • Expanding access to the Illinois Bright Start program, making it easier for families to save for children’s’ college education.
  • Ensuring all Illinois workers have the opportunity to save for retirement through the Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program.

Through cutting edge data, tools and resources Family Assets Count leverages the power of cities to improve financial stability for families and advances programs and policies that reduce barriers and encourage families to save and build assets. For more information and data visit

Download the Full Report

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