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News & Updates from the Assets & Opportunity Network


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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Judge upholds local minimum wage ordinance

Posted by tlentz on 06/30/2015

Statement from Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer:

"I'm pleased the court has upheld my right to enact a minimum wage, as well as other local governments. The Metro Council and I took this step last summer to provide working families a higher minimum wage because we know that many struggle to pay for housing, food, clothing and medical care. Today's favorable ruling will have a real impact on many Louisville families."

Courier-Journal article - Minimum wage ordinance upheld by judge

A Jefferson County Circuit judge on Monday upheld an ordinance raising the city’s minimum wage to $9 an hour over the next three years.

Packaging Unlimited, the Kentucky Restaurant Association and the Kentucky Retail Federation filed the civil suit this year, arguing the Metro Council did not have the legal authority to raise the wage for workers. The Jefferson County Attorney’s Office said the council has been given broad powers by Kentucky General Assembly

Democrats, who hold a solid majority on the council, spearheaded the minimum wage increase with a party line vote last December. Local wages are set to increase to $7.75 an hour this year, to $8.25 by July 2016 and $9 by July 2017. The Democrats also tied future worker pay hikes to the U.S. Department of Labor's Consumer Price Index for cities in the region.

Proponents argued that increasing the wage at the local level was necessary because of gridlock in Congress and failure to move a similar measure forward in the state legislature. According to the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, a $9 wage rate would directly affect an estimated 45,000 workers.

Those opposing the ordinance argued the increase would result in job losses and discourage employers from relocating to the city. Many business owners who testified before the council said a local minimum wage law would force them not to hire new employees and put them at a disadvantage with competitors in Southern Indiana and collar counties in the rest of the state.

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Seattle-King County affordable housing options panel discussion

Posted by acoday on 06/29/2015

Tags: housing, technology, hackathons

The conversation around access to affordable housing and housing options available is becoming more and more a topic of discussion. The Financial Empowerment Network | Seattle-King County is proud to host a panel discussion focusing on Seattle-King County affordable housing options.

Date: Wednesday, July 1, 2015 (first Wednesday of every month) Time: 1:35 p.m. - 3:35 p.m. Location: YWCA at Greenbridge, 9720 8th Ave SW, Seattle

Panelists will focus on: 1. Current programs and services designed to help people who are most impacted by rising rents and lack affordable housing. 2. How to advocate for clients, policy changes that are happening and those that need to change. 3. Individual and cultural specific strategies. 4. Creative immediate solutions for clients.

There will also be an opportunity to learn more about the recent Seattle Housing Hackathon and hear City of Seattle Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim’s (Seattle Housing Hackathon judge) perspective on how technology may provide help for finding affordable homes.

Panelists: •Panel Moderators – Joy Scott and Kira Zylstra, Solid Ground •Ben Miksch, Washington Low Income Housing Alliance •Rizwan Rizwi, Muslim Housing •Liz Etta, Tenants Union •Mona Tschurwald, YWCA – Landlord Liaison Project •Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim, City of Seattle

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Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition, Inc. (ONAC) to Offer Children’s Savings Accounts and Mini Grants for Family Emergency Savings Accounts with Tribes and Native Nonprofits in Oklahoma

Posted by cfinsel on 06/29/2015

News Release

Contact: Christy Finsel, (405) 401-7873

June 23, 2015

Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition, Inc. (ONAC) to Offer Children’s Savings Accounts and Mini Grants for Family Emergency Savings Accounts with Tribes and Native Nonprofits in Oklahoma

Oklahoma City, OK - The Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition, Inc. (ONAC), a statewide coalition in Oklahoma, has begun a project to promote family financial security and opportunity for American Indian families in Oklahoma through pilot Children’s Savings Accounts and family emergency savings accounts.

The project is funded by a $200,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation of Battle Creek, Michigan.

“Children’s Savings Accounts, or “CSAs,” provide a nest egg of savings and can positively affect children’s educational development. Building from the groundwork that ONAC has laid with CSAs over the last few years, this project will launch the largest pilot of a Native Children’s Savings Account project in Oklahoma,” said Christy Finsel (Osage), Executive Director of the Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition Inc. “This project will also help our constituents to provide family emergency savings accounts. With the varied project designs of our partners, we will be able to help Native youth and their families save for their future, have access to flexible savings, and connect to other asset building services. These resources from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation will allow the Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition, and our Native partners, to address intergenerational poverty and to continue to positively impact a number of American Indian citizens in Oklahoma.”

Efforts will focus on offering financial education, opening accounts and providing the initial opening deposit funds. The project will also continue to build the capacity of ONAC constituents to provide similar programs in the future.

With this project, ONAC will work with our constituents to open a total of 270 Children’s Savings Accounts for American Indian children, ages birth to eight, in Oklahoma over the next three years. The partners include the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes (Anadarko), Osage Financial Resources, Inc. (Pawhuska), Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation (Shawnee), Cherokee Nation Child Support Program (Tahlequah), Mvskoke Loan Fund (Okmulgee), and the Ponca Tribe Head Start (Ponca City). Additionally, ONAC will offer a Request For Proposals (RFP) to fund six constituents (tribes and Native nonprofits in Oklahoma) as they provide family emergency savings accounts to tribal citizens. The family emergency savings accounts may be linked to other asset building programs the constituents already administer such as financial education, entrepreneurship development, foreclosure prevention and homeownership preparation, Native language, matched savings account, credit builder/credit repair, and free tax preparation assistance.

“This project will help Native families, with lower incomes, to open flexible savings accounts to buffer them in times of emergency, income fluctuation, or irregular expenses,” Finsel said. “Such accounts will promote financial inclusion by providing a mechanism for Native families to connect to mainstream financial services that are safe and affordable. With this funding, we will provide the initial opening account deposit and then the families can grow the accounts over time with their own deposits. Emergency savings accounts, for any family, can be a step along the way towards family financial stability and economic mobility.” Finsel added, “We are very excited about the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s investment in Oklahoma Native communities and our Native-led asset building coalition.”

About the Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition Inc.: The Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition Inc. (ONAC), first organized in 2007 and now a nonprofit, is a Native asset building coalition that works with Oklahoma tribes and partners interested in establishing asset-building initiatives and programs in Native communities, for the purpose of creating greater opportunities for economic self-sufficiency of tribal citizens.

The mission of ONAC is to build and support a network of Oklahoma Native people who are dedicated to increasing self-sufficiency and prosperity in their communities through the establishment of comprehensive financial education initiatives, Individual Development Accounts, and other asset-building strategies. For more information about the coalition, go to

About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation: The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer, Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life.

The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti. For more information, visit

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