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Groups Release Information to Help Immigrant Students Take Advantage of New College Tuition Law

Posted by dlevine on 06/12/2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 10, 2014
Contact: Apreill Hartsfield, Southern Poverty Law Center, (334) 782-6624; apreill.hartsfield@splcenter.org
Natalia Jaramillo, Florida Immigrant Coalition, (786) 317-3524; Natalia@floridaimmigrant.org

Groups Release Information to Help Immigrant StudentsTake Advantage of New College Tuition Law

MIAMI – The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Florida Immigrant Coalition released information today that will help immigrant students take full advantage of a new state law that makes them eligible for in-state college tuition rates even if they were brought to the United States without papers.

Earlier this week, Gov. Rick Scott signed H.B. 851 into law, making the dream of a college education closer to reality for these rising entrepreneurs, innovators, and leaders. Students who believe they may benefit from the law are urged to find more information about the requirements by visiting the websites of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) or the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC).

“Rather than punish them for something beyond their control, Florida has chosen to help these students become integrated members of our communities and better contribute to our state’s thriving economy,” said Manoj Govindaiah, an SPLC staff attorney. “We want to be sure these students have the tools they need to take full advantage of the law’s benefits.”

The information includes guidance about how and when the law applies, along with answers to other frequently asked questions.

“Expanding access to college is a win-win for Florida’s families and our economy. Young people can now, not only dream about what they can become, but actually have a chance at achieving it. After spending years fighting anti-immigrant bills, we welcome this change. It is good to see leadership recognize the value of our current and potential contributions as immigrants in Florida” said Maria Rodriguez, of Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC).

The SPLC has long championed the rights of immigrant students across the Deep South by challenging policies that needlessly punish them for being brought to the United States as children.

In Florida, an SPLC lawsuit blocked a policy that forced the children of undocumented immigrants to pay out-of-state tuition rates even when they were U.S. citizens born and raised in the state. A federal judge found in 2012 that the policy violated the U.S. Constitution, clearing the way for these students to attend college at affordable rates. H.B. 851 further expands meaningful access to Florida’s colleges and universities to immigrant students, allowing them to reach their full potential, and allowing Florida to benefit from these students’ ingenuity and creativity. The SPLC also helped students in other states and blocked policies targeting children of undocumented immigrants in Alabama and South Carolina.

The Florida Immigrant Coalition has been instrumental in investing and emboldening young immigrants known as Dreamers. FLIC began its fight for tuition equity over a decade ago. As recently as 2011, FLIC successfully pushed back against anti-immigrant legislation. After supporting the implementation of the bill to insure its full utilization, the organization will set its sights on ensuring that all Floridians have equal access to driver’s licenses, regardless of status.

The groups plan to reach out to students across the state who may be eligible for in-state tuition rates. A copy of the materials can be viewed at http://sp.lc/1hBu1SE.

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Thought Leader Series - Interview with Mission Asset Fund

Posted by vramirez on 06/09/2014

As my favorite robot startup dinosaur FAKEGRIMLOCK says, BE SHOES .

It is important to deliver a product or service that people want. Mission Asset Fund took an existing community practice and improved it by allowing payment activity to be reported to credit bureaus. Since its founding six years ago, MAF has been helping individuals obtain access to capital and improve their financial situation through their lending circles program.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Mohan Kanungo, an Accounts Manager at MAF to learn more about their innovative program. Mohan helps identify and onboard new providers of lending circles and also leads the local lending circles for DREAMers.

What are lending circles?
How do they work?
How can they benefit my community?

Get these questions and more answered below!

What are lending circles?

Lending circles are a time honored tradition of folks coming together to borrow and lend money to each other. At a basic level it is a social loan where members from the community help each other access capital for things like starting a business, immigrating to a new country, or offsetting the cost of a funeral. People all over the world have been using this method for quite some time. Before there were banks or financial institutions, there were lending circles.

Lending circles are not an alternative to banking. MAF uses the banking infrastructure to get people more familiar and comfortable with navigating financial products and building their credit. Then when it comes to realizing other financial goals, like saving for a child’s education or buying a home, those goals are less costly and individuals feel more empowered to realize them.

How do lending circles work?

MAF utilizes a unique process where everyone who participates is both a borrower and a lender. Each person puts in the same amount a communal fund, receives the loan in intervals, and pays back a fixed amount. For example, the average loan amount is $1,000 with 10 participants and a monthly payment of $100. Each participant would receive the $1,000 loan and pay back $100 until each person has had access to the capital.

The best part about lending circles is that individuals are able to build their credit on a 0% interest basis. The loans are formalized with a promissory note and program agreement. Payments are reported to the credit bureaus, giving each participant to ability to build their credit.

Who does Mission Asset Fund serve?

The target market is really low-income families, hardworking individuals that have an income. People actually have to have some income to join this program. MAF is trying to address the needs of folks that are unbanked, do not have a credit score, or have a credit history but it is damaged. People who, for very valid reasons, have a distrust of financial institutions either because of past experience or culture.

Regardless of whether people have heard about lending circles before or have had direct experience with them, this method intuitively makes sense to people. It makes sense at a very communal, basic level where people are supporting each other. It is really about building on the sense of community and social capital.

What are the barriers to lending circles?

A general distrust of formal institutions and products or a lack of understanding are large barriers. That is where local government initiatives have been really important for bringing financial institutions in line with the community needs in order to serve them better.

What has contributed to your success?

A key part of success is partnering with community based organizations to roll out the lending circles program. These organizations understand the community need and serve as advocates to help people through the process. MAF works with each organization to complement and enhance what folks are already doing. Oftentimes, MAF helps partner with the first year’s expenses to ensure costs are as low as possible.

Additionally, MAF leverages a lot of technology to automate processes, scale, lower costs, and make it easier for partners. Sometimes this means using technology when it’s uncomfortable for a community due to low digital literacy. Nevertheless, once the community conquers this learning curve, the impact is much greater.

Another element of success is the online financial education that helps participants understand financial products and institutions, what goes into a credit report, and what goes into a credit score. Financial education has really increased success in the program. MAF has found that coupling education with a financial product paves the road to financial capability.

What has been the impact of lending circles?

An independent evaluation of the lending circles program was published by the Cesar Chavez Institute at SFSU. These results are from across the organization and include data collected about local participants, as well as five partner providers of Lending Circles in the San Francisco Bay Area. Here are some highlights from the report:

Lending Circles is proven to establish credit scores – with a 69% success rate. Social loans are a successful vehicle to get the unbanked and underbanked into the financial mainstream. Nearly one third of the treatment group (29%) started with no credit score. After just 10 months in the program, this went down to 9% – a 69% success rate. The control group (who did not participate in Lending Circles) showed only subtle improvement, from 31% to 27% – with just a 13% success rate.

Lending Circles has a dramatic impact on credit scores – by an increase of 168 points. The average credit score improvement for the treatment group was 168 points. The average credit score of participants in the treatment group rose to 603 by the end of the Lending Circle. In comparison, the control group showed only a small increase to overall credit scores – a 41 point increase.

Social loans decrease debt levels – by over $1,000. From 2011 to 2012, following a severe recession that devastated the housing market and raised the unemployment rate, the average person in the control group increased their outstanding debt from $9,000 to $12,000 – adding $3,000 in their level of debt. With access to social loans, participants in Lending Circles had a very different result: the average person in the treatment group decreased their outstanding debt by over $1,000 for a total difference of over $4,000.

Participating in financial education increases credit scores – by an additional 27 points. Financial education matters for those without credit scores; participants who started without a credit score and received financial education increased their scores by an additional 27 points.

Where to next?

Various communities across the nation would greatly benefit from the lending circles program. Communities in need are defined by the presence of a large unbanked community, folks without credit, large immigrant communities, low-income families, and a strong network of nonprofit organizations. As mentioned before, partnering with local organizations is vital because of their knowledge and reach. The goal is to double the number of partners next year, especially in the context of immigration reform. MAF is hoping to expand into the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, the Pacific Northwest, Florida and Texas.

How can you become a partner?

The first step is to attend a monthly webinar that explains the requirements and process of becoming a partner provider. Following the webinar, each potential partner is assigned an account manager to serve as a contact for any questions or concerns. If both parties wish to pursue a partnership, the nonprofit organization would need to apply and be accepted to become a partner.

Special thanks to Mohan for sharing his time! We’re excited to continue following MAF’s great work.

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Houston Community College Adult Education Partnership Awarded $250K

Posted by slopez on 06/09/2014

The Houston Community College Adult Education Program in partnership with United Way THRIVE has been awarded a $250,000 Texas Innovation Adult Career Education (TIACE) Grant.

The grant will provide the opportunity to expand the program's Integrated Contextualized Education and Training (ICE-T) model whereby adult learners complete their GED or improve their basic skills proficiencies while they simultaneously receive technical career training. United Way THRIVE provides financial literacy and other services designed to make struggling families more economically viable and secure.

Training will take place at the locations of a number nonprofit organizations as well as selected HCC campuses. In addition to the TIACE award, the United Way THRIVE will contribute another $120,000 of training funds to the project.

The TIACE Grant was established by HB 437 of the 83rd Texas Legislature, regular session. More than 200 adult learners will be served by the project.

Published on MAY 14, 2014 by HCC

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Money Management - Spending Plan

Posted by vramirez on 06/04/2014

We’ve now identified sources of income, tracked expenses, determined whether we were living within our means, and learned how to make better financial choices.

Now it’s time to put it all together! Follow these simple steps and use the worksheets below to keep your finances on track.

Step 1: Enter the amount of Total Income that you expect to earn for the month.

Step 2: Transfer the Actual Spending and/or New Spending Goals from your Tracking Worksheet to your new spending plan – put these numbers in the Spending Goal column. These are the goals you will try to live within for the month.

Step 3: Enter any new Savings or Debt Expenses that you want to aim for this month.

Find the Spending Plan Worksheet here

Congratulations! You have built your spending plan. Now you have to be conscious and consistent in using it. The next post will show you how to properly use your spending plan and provide some useful tips for successful money management.

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Celebrate 5-29 Day with a downpayment on kids' futures!

Posted by klawton on 05/29/2014

As May 29, also known as 5-29 Day, is upon us, families, educators, and financial planners across the country are raising awareness of 529 plans.

529 plans are state-sponsored, tax-preferred savings plans for qualified post-secondary education expenses. These plans allow families to prepare early for college costs down the road. One of their greatest advantages is that earnings are not subject to federal tax, and often, state tax, so long as withdrawals are used for post-secondary educational purposes such as tuition and room and board. Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia operate a program. 529s are generally structured as either college savings plans similar to a 401(k) retirement account or prepaid tuition plans.

Twenty-seven states are running special promotions to commemorate the day by offering scholarships to nest accounts or matching contributions. A full list of giveaways and contests is available here.

Unfortunately, 529 plans are not as widely known or utilized as they should be. According to a recent Washington Post article, only 30% of respondents in a 2012 poll were familiar with the savings plan. This lack of familiarity and participation is particularly pronounced in certain regions of the country. A recent report from Southern Bancorp Community Partners, the Assets & Opportunity Lead Organization in Arkansas, found that only 4% of children in Arkansas and Mississippi were enrolled in a 529 plan, well below the national average of 12%.

Even more concerning, the same 2012 poll by the Washington Post found that low-income individuals who stand to gain substantially from a 529 plan are often the least familiar with the tax-advantaged vehicle. Families in low-income counties in Arkansas and Mississippi, for example, save much less frequently in 529 plans as compared to their counterparts in higher-income counties.

This lack of uptake has prompted innovative policy solutions at the state level. Just this year, the Harold Alfond College Challenge announced a program to automatically enroll all Maine newborns in college savings accounts with a starting balance of $500. These funds are invested in a restricted portfolio via Maine’s NextGen 529 plan and parents who open a separate NextGen 529 account are eligible for the state’s NextStep Matching Grant.

Also, Nevada’s College Kick Start program initiated a pilot college savings account seeding campaign for the 2013-14 school year, depositing $50 in an SSgA Upromise 529 plan for each public school kindergartener statewide. The importance of these programs cannot be understated, as current research from Washington University’s Center for Social Development suggests children are up to seven times more likely to attend college with an educational savings account versus similar children without an account.

On Thursday, May 29th, promote savings in your state via Twitter using #529day, share the giveaway and promotional information on your organization’s social media outlet, and spread the word amongst friends, family, and coworkers!

For more information on how your state compares on incentivizing college savings, check out the 2014 Assets and Opportunity Scorecard. For examples of successful policy change strategies, state precedents, as well as advice on policy campaigns and where to find additional resources, review the Scorecard’s College Savings Resource Guide.

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May 2014 Ohio CASH E-News

Posted by kwilliams on 05/27/2014

Ohio CASH webinar

“Discrediting Employment Credit Checks,” Tuesday, June 10, from 2 p.m. to 3:30 pm, will describe how credit checks discriminate against qualified workers and exclude them from the job market. Presenters will be Amy Traub, senior policy analyst at Demos, and Melissa Broome, senior policy advocate at the Job Opportunities Task Force. Amy will present findings from her national research on how this issue impacts workers. Melissa will share how advocates organized to get this practice outlawed in Maryland. Register for this webinar at http://bit.ly/SkuBsC.

Ohio CASH 2nd quarter meeting

Mark your calendars! The next Ohio CASH meeting will be held by webinar on Thursday, June 19, at 10 a.m. On the agenda: a presentation on the Cuyahoga County College Savings Program from Ken Surratt, special assistant to Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, and an update on payday lending from Linda Cook of the Ohio Poverty Law Center. There will be an opportunity for local organizations to share program updates. Please register for the meeting at http://bit.ly/1h9p7Xn.

Annual foreclosure report

Policy Matters Ohio’s 2013 foreclosure report, released earlier this month, found that foreclosures in Ohio decreased by 25 percent, but were still more than double the average from the 1990s. It also highlights that the state is no longer accepting applications to its main program that helps families avoid foreclosure. Recommendations include sustained funding to prevent foreclosure and funding to demolish or rehabilitate vacant and abandoned properties. Read the full report at http://bit.ly/RVhT2Z.

Payroll debit card survey

Payroll debit cards can help unbanked workers by allowing them to avoid check cashing fees, providing more security than carrying cash, and giving card holders the ability to make phone and online purchases. Employers may also save money by not printing paper checks. In 2012, employers loaded more than $34 billion onto 4.6 million payroll debit cards.

But problems exist with the cards. Some employers around the country are breaking the law by making it difficult for workers to choose other options. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has released a bulletin reminding employers of the law, and will be releasing rules this summer.

Ohio lawmakers are considering legislation to prohibit this practice and to give enforcement authority to state regulators. Kalitha recently testified in support of this legislation and made additional recommendations to protect consumers. Read her testimony at http://bit.ly/1jVIIKI.

The National Consumer Law Center, the leading advocate for consumers on this issue, is asking anyone that has been offered a payroll debit card by an employer to complete this brief survey: http://svy.mk/QZZdyb. Please forward this to other organizations in your community.

Earned Income Tax Credit Overypayments

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman recently claimed that the EITC overpayment rate has topped 20 percent, citing a report by the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities analyzed Treasury’s findings and challenged its methodology in a report available at http://bit.ly/1gQCAsL.

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Money Management - Comparing Income & Expenses

Posted by vramirez on 05/27/2014

Are you living within your means?

Living within your means allows you to pay for your needs without taking on more debt than you can handle. You should try to spend less money than you make each month.

Now that you have identified your income and tracked your expenses, lets compare these amounts to determine your financial goals. The amount of money coming in (income) must be less than or equal to the amount of money going out (expenses).

Check out the numbers you came up with from the tracking worksheet found in the prior post: Tracking Expenses. Enter your totals on the worksheet below to determine whether this number is positive or negative.

If you have a positive number, it means you spend LESS than what you earn each month. Great job! Now you have some options. Either put more money away for savings goals or pay of your outstanding debt more quickly.

If you have a negative number, it means you spend MORE than you earn each month. Uh-oh. You need to take control of this so you don’t keep accumulating debt. You need to either decrease your monthly expenses or increase your monthly income.

Be sure to keep your eyes out for our next post! It will help you determine ways to decrease your spending and identify additional income.

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United Way THRIVE Receives Common Good Award

Posted by slopez on 05/22/2014

United Way of Greater Houston is honored to have received a Common Good Award from United Way Worldwide for our life-changing family financial stability initiative, United Way THRIVE.

Led by United Way of Greater Houston, United Way THRIVE is a collaborative of 21 partner agencies and organizations from the business, education, nonprofit and public sectors, working to give families the tools they need to do more than just survive from paycheck to paycheck. As a result, they are obtaining good jobs with good wages and building responsible financial habits to produce long-lasting change in their lives.

In 2013, United Way THRIVE celebrated its fifth year of helping families achieve their dreams of financial stability. In Year Five alone, United Way THRIVE achieved a 10:1 return on investment and put 52,000 families on the path to financial stability, a 147 percent increase in those served since Year One. Also in Year Five, more than 37,500 families had their taxes prepared for free, with more than $48 million in refunds returned to the local economy.

"The recipients of these awards embody the core purpose of United Way," said Brian A. Gallagher, United Way Worldwide president and CEO. "Through hands-on efforts at the community level, these United Ways are bringing together individuals and resources in a common effort to build lasting change.”

The United Way Common Good Awards recognize strong collaboration across a variety of sectors, and efforts to engage stakeholders to develop outcome-focused strategies that are rooted in the community's agenda. The winners exhibit effective use of data to inform their strategies, and show successful engagement of volunteers and advocates.

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United Way Initiative Wins Common Good Award

Posted by jwinkler on 05/16/2014

Tags: free tax preparation, realsense prosperity campaign, united way of northeast florida, realsense, free financial education, realsense prosperity place

RealSense Returns More Than $26 Million to Taxpayers in Northeast Florida

United Way of Northeast Florida’s RealSense initiative won the coveted United Way Worldwide Common Good Award during an international conference May 13. More than 1,800 community-based United Ways in 41 countries and territories had the opportunity to compete for the awards presented in the three categories of education, income and health – the building blocks to a good life.

Only presented to four domestic and international United Ways every other year, RealSense was specifically recognized for advancing the financial stability of families through strong collaborative efforts, effective use of data and successfully engaging volunteers and advocates.

"The recipients of these awards embody the core purpose of United Way," said Brian A. Gallagher, United Way Worldwide president and CEO. "Through hands-on efforts at the community level, United Way of Northeast Florida is bringing together individuals and resources in a common effort to build lasting change in income outcomes."

Along with financial education and counseling services, RealSense offers free tax preparation for qualifying individuals and small business owners through its partnership with the IRS and AARP Tax-Aide. During the 2014 tax season, RealSense helped 19,500 low- and moderate-income taxpayers claim $26 million dollars in tax refunds and assisted eligible taxpayers in claiming more than $8.1 million in Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC). With an eight percent increase in tax returns filed and an 11 percent increase in EITC dollars returned, this year’s results mark the 11th year of increased service to the community. The organization generated a community economic impact of $13.1 million.

“Each tax return represents an individual, a family, a household, an address, a child, a struggling adult, maybe a senior,” said Debbie Pierson, community market manager at Bank of America and RealSense steering committee chair. “With these dollars returned, hardworking families are better able to achieve their financial goals.”

This year, hardworking families saved an estimated $4.6 million in preparation fees. More than 400 RealSense volunteers, who prepare taxpayer returns at no charge, provided 31,000 hours of service at 58 free tax sites in Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam, and St. Johns counties.

“We are proud to serve a role in helping more than 19,500 families a year through free tax preparation, year-round financial education and counseling,” said Jeff Winkler, director of RealSense. “Eleven years of continuous growth speaks volumes about the caliber and commitment that our coalition partners and volunteers possess.”

The United Way Common Good Award winners demonstrate strong collaboration across a variety of sectors and are engaging stakeholders to develop outcome-focused strategies.

“Since its inception, RealSense continuously exhibited effective use of data to inform their strategies,” said Connie Hodges, president and CEO of United Way of Northeast Florida. “The team earned this award through their dedication and outstanding service to the community, and I am honored to bring home United Way of Northeast Florida’s second highly-esteemed Common Good Award.”

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Assembly Focused on Improving Financial Health for Kentuckians with Disabilities

Posted by tlentz on 05/15/2014

Louisville Metro Government Joins with National Disability Institute's LEAD Center to Improve Financial Health for Kentuckians with Disabilities

Assembly brings disability advocates, community and thought leaders together to discuss activities and opportunities to build the financial capability of people with disabilities throughout the Louisville Area.

At a time when nearly one in three Americans with disabilities live in poverty, the National Center on Leadership for the Employment and Economic Advancement of People with Disabilities (LEAD Center), Louisville Metro Government Community Services and Revitalization and Bank On Louisville organized a city-wide Economic Advancement Assembly on May 13th to help people in the local disability community improve their financial capability and capacity.

Funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), and led by National Disability Institute, the LEAD Center seeks to improve the employment outcomes and the economic self-sufficiency of all people with disabilities. In that spirit, LEAD Center’s Economic Advancement Assembly will bring together individuals and service providers in the disability, employment, financial services, workforce and asset development communities to identify ways to work together to build a brighter economic future for people with disabilities in the Louisville Area.

Read more

Pictures from the May 13th event.

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