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News & Updates from the Assets & Opportunity Network


NABC attends TANF hearing in CARSON CITY

Posted by mjohnson on 07/22/2014

Tags: Nevada, TANF, assets&opportunity

On June 18, 2014 Michele Johnson, Chair of the Nevada Asset Building Coalition and Nancy Brown, Chair of the Nevada Opportunity Alliance attended the Nevada Dept of Health & Human Services TANF asset limit hearing in Carson City.

The NDHHS recommended an increase of the TANF asset limit test from $2000 to $6000. Michele and Nancy formally requested that the asset limit test for TANF be totally removed. The NDHHS understood and theoretically agreed with the request but proceeded with the recommendation and approval of the $6000 limit increase. They did this knowing that they would be able to get the $6000 increase approved by the Governor - a step in the right direction.

Although this is not a total removal of the TANF asset limit test the door to the NDHHS was opened. The state Administrator asked Nancy and Michele to stay until after the entire hearing. He expressed his appreciation of their interest and sharing of data/research provided prior to the hearing. He requested a follow-up discussion that may lead to potential partnership in an effort to integrate Asset Development programs and best practices through out the Nevada State Welfare system. In addition a scholarship was offered to the welfare program administrator to attend the ALC in September. This invitation was accepted.

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Graduates of Asset Building Programs Honored

Posted by lmullany on 07/10/2014

In June dozens of participants in the Asset Building programs at Heartland Human Care Services (HHCS) were recognized for their achievements by program mentors and Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR).

"Today we are celebrating success,” Erika Singleton, a member of the HHCS Asset Building Team, said. “The milestones achieved, the goals accomplished, and every step taken toward success.”

According the CFED's Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, 1 in 4 families experience asset poverty, meaning they do not have enough assets or savings to meet basic needs for a period of 3 months in the event of unexpected occurrences like job loss or a medical emergency. For families of color, almost 1 in 2 families are experiencing asset poverty.

The programs offered by HHCS are geared at improving the financial security of families through financial education and savings. Manny Flores, Secretary of the IDFPR, noted that many of the complaints and cases his department sees could have been prevented through better consumer education.

Since 2006 the programs have educated over 9,000 people in Chicago. Collectively participants have saved $202,646 of their own money and an additional $117,944 in matching funds. Additionally, nearly 291 new bank accounts have been opened as a result of the programs.

“Research shows that families with assets tend to be more productive at work and earn more, save more, care for their property, are involved in their communities, and plan for education and retirement,” Singleton said.

Participants in seven Asset Building programs were honored, including: Family Self-Sufficiency, IDEA, Meet Your Match, One Million Degrees, GEAR UP, Supportive Services for Veteran Families, and Wealth and Wellness Financial Education.

For more information on the programs visit

Family Self-Sufficiency: is a 5-year program for residents in the public housing or HCV program of Chicago Housing Authority. Participants work with an Asset Development Coordinator to meet goals such as financial education, career development, and savings. Whenever the household experiences a rent increase as a result of increased wages, the family can accrue escrow deposits for each month of increased rent. Upon completion of their goals, the family receives the money accrued in escrow.

Wealth and Wellness: Participants complete 10 hours of financial education by attending a minimum of 5 workshops that are two hours each and certified by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulations. This financial literacy program includes instruction on budgeting, understanding credit, saving, and debt reduction.

Meet Your Match: is a matched savings program for residents living in supportive and subsidized housing. Participants complete 10 hours of the Wealth and Wellness financial education, meet for consultation with an Asset Development Coordinator, and have the opportunity to earn matched savings. For Matched Savings, participants make regular deposits into an account every month for 6-12 months. After saving for at least 6 months, participants receive a 2:1 match for every dollar saved, up to $200.

IDEA: is a matched savings program for working female heads-of-household. Like the Meet Your Match program, participants complete financial education, meet with their Asset Development Coordinator, and complete matched savings.

One Million Degrees: is a scholarship program providing low-income, highly motivated students the opportunity to pursue degrees in diverse fields including healthcare, education, medical technology, and computer sciences at community colleges. HHCS provides financial education to these scholars one Saturday per month.

GEAR UP: is a Department of Education partnership with Northeastern University’s Chicago Teachers Center and CPS. GEAR UP works with cohorts of students and parents from 7th grade to Seniors in high school to increase college success. GEAR UP partners with HHCS to provide the Wealth and Wellness education for parents at targeted schools such as Robeson High School, Spry Community Links High School, Madero Middle School, and Farragut Career Academy.

Supportive Services for Veteran Families: provides individual financial coaching and career development services to formerly homeless Veterans. HHCS has helped over 70 Veterans improve their credit report and score and obtain better employment.

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Guiding Lower-Income Families Along the Path to Financial Stability

Posted by slopez on 07/07/2014

Tags: financial stability, United Way THRIVE, United Way of Greater Houston

Anna BabinThe following article was written by Anna M. Babin, President and CEO of United Way of Greater Houston, and published in the Huffington Post on June 30, 2014.

Nearly one million, or close to one in three, Houston families live under the federal poverty level, according to a 2012 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. In many of these families at least one parent is working full time. The working poor, as they're called, live on the financial edge -- just one doctor's visit or major car repair away from a financial crisis.

United Way of Greater Houston recognizes financial stability has an impact on nearly all social issues, including education, health and community well being. In 2008, we launched an initiative called United Way THRIVE to help hardworking, lower-income families gain financial stability. Led by United Way, THRIVE is a collaborative of 21 nonprofit partners, community colleges and financial institutions that provide services focused on THRIVE's three key strategies: increasing income, building savings and acquiring assets.

United Way THRIVE served 21,000 families during its first year. Since then, the number of families touched by THRIVE has grown each year, with 52,000 families served in 2013. We know many more families need a hand up, so we anticipate those numbers will only continue to increase, especially as we expand THRIVE's scope and reach.

Now in its sixth year, United Way THRIVE has taught us several things that will help us grow the program and, hopefully, inspire similar efforts in other communities. First, we know that when families meet with a THRIVE counselor, they want assistance with finding a good job with good wages, an important step toward improving their lives. But the key is to keep them engaged in developing critical money management skills after they secure that better paying job. Families that continue to educate themselves on eliminating debt and establishing savings achieved greater outcomes than those who do not.

In addition to providing job assistance and job training services, United Way THRIVE provides financial education and coaching to teach clients how to budget their money, open a savings account and take advantage of a match-savings program. Studies show strengthening financial habits leads to reduced debt, improved credit, increased savings and, ultimately, attainment of assets such as buying a house or starting a business.

This holistic approach has made a huge difference in families' lives, giving them hope in a better future. Over a 16-month period, the average THRIVE families' net worth grows by $6,200, creating a path for financial stability and a more stable future. THRIVE also has made a positive impact on the community, achieving a 10:1 return on investment.

We made a bold move when we created United Way THRIVE six years ago. Our goal is to make a lasting impact on the lives of 100,000 hardworking, lower-income families by 2020. We plan to do this by deepening our collaborations to find the most efficient, effective ways to move families from crisis to stability. For example, the United Way of Greater Houston is providing leadership and resources to a task force led by the Greater Houston Partnership. The task force's mission is to create a pipeline of skilled workers to meet the growing demand for middle skilled jobs in our region.

During the next 10 years, we expect to do many great things for Houston's lower-income families. I encourage you to consider a United Way THRIVE model for your own community as I am sure that many families across the country are eager to start the path to financial stability. It doesn't happen overnight, and it certainly can't be done alone. Our five-year results show that taking the time to gain the community's trust and establish a network of community partners can make a lasting difference.

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Bank Deserts Prevalent Across Mississippi

Posted by esivak on 07/03/2014

People with a bank or credit union account are better positioned to participate in the economy and contribute to the nation’s recovery. Banks and credit unions allow people to save assets for future investments, as well as build the positive credit history needed to access affordable credit. However, a large number of Mississippi households do not have access to basic financial tools like checking and savings accounts. According to the 2014 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, which examines Americans’ financial security, 38.7 percent of Mississippi households are either unbanked or underbanked. The high number of unbanked households, coupled with Mississippi’s high poverty rate (22.3 percent), provides insight into some of the barriers that financially underserved Mississippians face.

Unbanked Mississippi

Accordingly, a recent report from the Office of Inspector General found that approximately 34 million households in the United States live at least partially outside the financial mainstream. These households use non-bank services, like payday loan providers—services that deplete rather than preserve income and wealth. As a result, households that live outside the financial mainstream spend nearly 10 percent of their annual income on interest and fees from non-bank services; the same amount that most Americans spend on food each year. They are also more likely to live in underserved communities known as “bank deserts.” Bank deserts are defined as ZIP Codes with zero or one bank branch. In Mississippi, 69 percent of ZIP Codes have zero or one bank branch – out of 533 ZIP Codes in the State, 369 have one bank or fewer (See Map). Further, experts from the banking industry predict that banks will continue to close branches across the country (approximately 2,300 branches closed in 2012), particularly impacting low-income and small, rural communities – where many of the underserved live.

The data underscore the importance of implementing policies that eliminate bank deserts and create opportunities for families, businesses and communities. Examples of such policies include expanding support for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and Community Development Credit Unions (CDCUs) that continually work to meet the needs of historically underserved populations.


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

Office of Inspector General: United States Postal Service. (2014, January 27). Providing non-bank financial services for the underserved. Retrieved from

U.S. Census Bureau: State and County Quick Facts. Retrieved from

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Is Mississippi Providing the Financial Resources for Traditional and Non-Traditional Students Alike?

Posted by esivak on 07/03/2014

Across the state, many Mississippians recognize the need for a post-secondary credential. They recognize the benefits of having a degree because it brings with it the skills and increase in pay that helps in raising a family. Mississippi benefits from a more educated workforce as well, with higher rates of employment and revenue for the state. The more Mississippians who pursue a college education and finish, the more we benefit as a state.

Financial aid is a pivotal factor as to whether a person decides to pursue a post-secondary credential and a major contributing factor towards whether or not a person is able to finish their college degree. With a high number of college enrollees coming from low-income families, in most cases students are unable to afford the expensive costs and subsequently have to drop out or take out significant amount of loan debt. Many of these students are making the grade, but can’t afford the expense of pursuing higher education. Mississippi simply cannot afford to keep losing these students.

Mississippi’s financial aid system does not do all it can to provide equitable access for both traditional and non-traditional students. Its problems revolve around the availability of need-based financial aid. A very low portion of our state-based financial aid is allocated on the basis of need when compared to other states. Mississippi only allocates 15 cents of every financial aid dollar on the basis of need, while other states designate 71 cents per financial aid dollar.

One in three children in Mississippi grows up in poverty, yet there is only one need-based state grant. The Higher Education Legislative Plan (HELP) supports academically high-performing, low-income students in paying for the cost of higher education. There are several administrative barriers in place that keeps students from applying, chief of which is an earlier deadline in March, while other state-based grants have a deadline in September. Most schools do not know about the HELP Grant and cannot communicate it to their students. By the time students find out about the grant, it is often too late. In addition to an earlier deadline, the HELP grant also only has one year of eligibility after high school, while the Mississippi Eminent Scholars Grant has three. HELP recipients are high performing students who have completed a college preparatory curriculum and have higher ACT scores. They also graduate college at a higher rate than the general college population. A later deadline date consistent with the state’s other financial aid programs would help ensure that all eligible students have a chance to apply for the grant.

Mississippi’s financial aid program is also failing to help most non-traditional older adult students. More than 36,000 community college students and 25,000 university students are of working age; yet these students are not eligible for most of Mississippi’s state-based grants. This is because most of Mississippi’s grants are for traditional students only. The only grant non-traditional students are eligible for, MTAG, does not allow for part-time enrollment. Older adults are also not eligible for the HELP grant. With often times a family to raise, these adult students often have more expenses than a traditional student and have to juggle a full-time school schedule with full-time work.

Making these changes, including extending the deadline for the HELP grant and including non-traditional and part-time students in state based financial aid programs will ensure that these programs (and our limited financial aid dollars) are not excluding the students with the most need.

-Deeneaus Polk, Policy Analyst

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TANF Reforms Could Have Big Impacts in Arkansas and Mississippi

Posted by tedwards on 06/30/2014

Last month, the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) presented a federal policy proposal offering ten opportunities to reform the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to better fulfill its purpose of moving families toward self-sufficiency. TANF helps families cover basic expenses like food and rent; however, they also need emergency savings and investments for long-term financial goals in order to break the cycle of poverty and become financially stable. To achieve those goals, the program needs to be adjusted.

Under TANF, the federal government provides a block grant to states, which means that Arkansas and Mississippi could use the funds to operate their own programs how they choose – as long as they align with the four goals established in the original 1996 federal law. [i] Based on analysis of both states’ legislative environment and laws, several TANF reform recommendations could greatly improve the financial security of Arkansas and Mississippi families.

At Southern, we believe that helping people meet their basic needs should only be a short term tool to build their economic independence and security rather than a permanent support. One of the reforms proposed below is based on our experience in Arkansas which has enabled over 1,000 people to improve their economic security and independence by acquiring assets like education, small businesses, or home equity.

Check out the proposed changes and let your lawmaker know that you support TANF reforms and a strong financial future for your state’s families! If you need help identifying your state lawmaker, click here.


Reasons to reform current TANF structure in Arkansas


Reasons to reform current TANF structure in Mississippi

To learn more about our efforts to improve the economic security of rural communities, we invite you to contact Meredith Covington, Policy & Communications Manager, at

[i] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (2012). Available at


[i] Southern Bancorp Community Partners. (2013). Available at

[ii] CFED. (2013). Available at

[iii] University of Kansas, School of Social Welfare, Assets and Education Initiative. (2013). Available at

[iv] Southern Bancorp Community Partners. (2014). Available at

[v] The Shriver Brief. (2013). Available at

[vi] FDIC. (2011). Available at

[1] CFED. (2014). Available at

[2] Center for Financial Security. (2013). Available at []


[i] CFED. (2013). Available at

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] University of Kansas, School of Social Welfare, Assets and Education Initiative. (2013). Available at

[iv] The Shriver Brief. (2013). Available at

[v] FDIC. (2011). Available at

[vi] CFED. (2014). Available at

[vii] Center for Financial Security. (2013). Available at

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Fast Food Workers Rise

Posted by dlevine on 06/26/2014

On May 15, protesters in Miami gathered around a local McDonald’s and Wendy’s to partake in a nationwide strike in support of higher pay and fairer working conditions for fast food workers. The one-day strike was part of a rapidly growing campaign that is gaining both national and international traction, with 150 U.S. cities and 30 countries having partaken in walkout according to Salon’s Josh Eidelson. Since the fast food industry saw its first significant worker strike in New York City in November of 2012, the demands of the campaign have been consistent and uncompromising, calling for an increase in the minimum pay to $15 per hour and the right to unionize without retaliation.

With a struggling economy and a highly competitive job market, more and more workers are turning towards the fast food industry for employment in order to support themselves and their families. As the demographic amongst fast food workers shifts, the industry must be able to accommodate and meet the changing needs of its workers. A report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research reveals that that the majority of fast food workers are in fact 25 years or older—not teenaged high school students as common misperception might hold. Furthermore, of the percentage of non-teenaged workers, about 85 percent of them hold at least a high school degree. The pay range for the large majority of these workers falls between the federal minimum wage of $7.15 per hour and $10.10 per hour. For a fast food worker working full-time, the lower end of this pay range puts them just above the poverty line of $11,670 as determined by the Office of the Assistant for Planning and Evaluation. However, one must keep in mind that this guideline is the standard for single person households while more than a third of workers over the age of 20 are raising at least one child. If the minimum pay increases to $15 per hour, a full-time employee would make about $30,000 per year. There is a great disparity between the current average wage being earned, the wage workers are advocating for, and the wage they should be earning—$22 an hour— had the minimum wage adjusted to meet inflation. This discrepancy underscores just how necessary a minimum wage increase is, and how it is still far from where it should be for it to fully meet the financial realities of today’s workers.

To the satisfaction of many supporters of raising the minimum wage, McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson appears to have heard his workers’ call for change. According to a report by the Chicago Tribune, Thompson recently announced during a talk at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management last month that he would support a bill backed by President Obama that would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10. This bold and promising statement by Thompson marks a huge victory for fast food workers, signifying that their voices are being heard. Though $10.10 is not quite the $15 being demanded by our fast food workers, it is certainly a step in the right direction towards promoting economic equality and financial sustainability for our workers.

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Let's Buddy Up: Joining the Lending Circle Network

Posted by tararobinson on 06/24/2014

MAF Collaborates with CABO to expand Lending Circles in Los Angeles

When the Assets & Opportunity Network convened in December, Andrew Chang and I had just met, but we ignited a friendship that compelled us to find a way for our two organizations, MAF and CABO, to expand Lending Circles in Los Angeles.

Fortunately, the JPMC technical assistance fund for A&O Members, along with support from Citi and key funders, enabled us to organize a “roadshow” presentation on the Lending Circle model with CABO network members, as well as lead an in-person training for MAOF and CCNP, MAF’s two newest Lending Circle providers.

The roadshow on June 4th and training on June 6th sandwiched well with the CFSI 2014 EMERGE Forum, where MAF CEO Jose Quinonez served as a panelist. Coming full, dare I say “lending circle”, just a couple years before, MAF received an award from CFSI to expand Lending Circles through the Bay Area. Since then, MAF had not only proven through an academic evaluation the success of individual participants including credit score increases and debt reduction, but the ability to replicate the model through non-profit organizations in other areas.

Now MAF is providing Lending Circles through partner non-profit organizations in 11 states, but MAF is looking to expand further, including New York, Texas, Florida, Chicago, the Mid-atlantic. MAF had been able to scale, and will continue to even more by employing innovative technology including online financial education and web-based trainings through a new “Lending Circle Communities” platform.

MAF’s roadshow took place at the United Way in Los Angeles. Over ten financial coaches within the CABO Network participated to learn about Lending Circles, a culturally relevant model of social lending and affordable, responsible product to build credit and realize larger financial goals.

Though the challenge of accessing affordable credit is not unique, there are certain ways of course this plays out for local communities, like the unbanked community in Los Angeles. Andrew shared for example, how Los Angelinos with thin credit files often borrow at a 25% interest rate for a used vehicle at “Buy Here, Pay Here” car dealership. GPS tracking devices and “kill switch” allow the vehicle to be easily repossessed in instances of default.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that makes installing these devices illegal without the consent of the borrower, but sub-prime borrowers often have few alternatives. They also end up paying more for less without a responsible alternative to establish credit before taking out a loan.

Since moving to Oakland four years ago from New York, I have gotten used to relying on public transportation, but I quickly learned during what felt like a family road trip to Universal Studies, that having access to a safe and reliable vehicle is not just a part of the car culture, but a necessity in Los Angeles. Better credit, not only means more saving, but more financial security and peace of mind, so that hard-working families can get to work and take care of their families.

I look forward to the next A&O convening to share our story of collaboration with other organizations in the asset-building field.

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Workforce Program Aims To Close Houston Area Skills Gap

Posted by slopez on 06/24/2014

The following article was written by Florian Martin and published in the Houston Public Media on June 23, 2014

The Houston economy is doing pretty well – better than in most other U.S. cities. Job growth is high, and at 5 percent, unemployment is relatively low here. But that doesn’t mean all is perfect.

“On one hand we have a large number of unfilled middle-skilled jobs and on the other hand too many underemployed or unemployed Houstonians,” said Gina Luna, vice chair of the GHP and head of JPMorgan Chase in Houston.

She co-chaired the Partnership’s Regional Workforce Development Task Force that created the UpSkill Houston program.

The initiative aims to close the skills gap by connecting industry leaders, educators and social service organizations in seven different “councils” dedicated to specific industry sectors.

“Each of the seven industry sector-councils will work with and collaborate with education,” Luna said. “For example, one of the jobs of the sector-councils is to define the critical occupations within that industry and define then the critical skills required to do those jobs, and then to communicate that to community colleges, to high schools.”

Those seven sectors are the industries that are most important to the Houston economy: advanced manufacturing, construction, healthcare, oil and gas, petrochemical, ports and maritime, and utilities.

Brenda Hellyer is the chancellor of San Jacinto College. Like other community colleges, San Jac offers workforce training to its students. She said the new initiative helps in that mission.

“The success of our programs is based on providing the right kind of skill sets that these employers need,” Hellyer said. “And it is to make sure that we are providing the skills they need from a hard skill set or also a soft skill set. And so being able to hear what are those real needs they have and then how do we change our curriculum to meet those needs. And also being able to know what are specific jobs that they are going to need.”

Also part of the plan is an awareness campaign that spreads the word about the availability of the many well-paying middle-skills jobs that are out there.

The GHP will also work with the United Way Thrive initiative, which can address basic skills and employability through the many social service agencies that are part of it. Luna said while other states and metros have similar initiatives, the Houston area program is unique in its cross-sector approach.

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Metropolitan Housing Corporation Advocating for Improved Processes for Redeveloping Foreclosed Properties

Posted by tlentz on 06/18/2014

Metropolitan Housing Corporation (MHC) in Louisville is working to pass updated Land Bank legislation in order for there to be an expedited process for Land Bank to obtain abandoned properties. MHC is also trying to pass a local ordinance that would require registration of properties going into foreclosure. It would also make the lender who brought action on the foreclosure responsible for upkeep if the house becomes vacant.

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