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News & Updates from the Assets & Opportunity Network



Posted by lmullany on 01/09/2015

December 2014

This past fall, IABG partners advocated for the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act during a day on the Hill at the CFED Assets Learning Conference. Last week, Congress passed the ABLE Act and, in doing so, allowed individuals with disabilities and their families to build much-needed savings.

Millions of individuals with disabilities rely on public benefits for health care, food, housing, and income. Currently a means or asset test on Social Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and other programs prohibits benefits recipients from building savings over $2000. Essentially, to remain eligible for much needed benefits programs, an individual must remain poor and financially insecure.

The ABLE Act eases financial strains faced by young individuals with disabilities by allowing them to create tax-free savings accounts. Expected to be signed into law by President Obama shortly, the bill allow families to open accounts similar to 529 savings plans for college-bound kids. Money saved in these ABLE Accounts will not be counted against them when applying for federal benefits programs.

Who is Eligible for and ABLE Account?

ABLE Accounts are limited to individuals with an age of onset of disability before turning 26 years of age. If you meet this criteria and are also receiving benefits already under SSI and/or SSDI, you are automatically eligible to establish an ABLE account. If you are not a recipient of SSI and/or SSDI, but still meet the age of onset disability requirement, you would still be eligible to open an ABLE account if you meet SSI criteria regarding significant functional limitations.

How Much Money Can be Saved in an ABLE Account?

The total annual contributions by all participating individuals, including family and friends, are $14,000. The accounts can grow to up to $100,000 before they begin impacting an individual’s eligibility for SSI. Finally, the limits will be adjusted annually for inflation.

How Can the Funds be Used?

The funds in an ABLE Account can be used for any "qualified disability expense,” which means any expense required of the individual as a result of living a life with a disability. This includes education, housing, transportation, employment training and support, assistive technology, personal support services, health care expenses, financial management and administrative services. Other eligible expenses will be further described in regulations to be developed in 2015 by the Treasury Department.

What are the Next Steps?

Each state is responsible for establishing and operating an ABLE program. After President Obama signs the ABLE Act into law, the Department of Treasury will begin to develop regulations that will guide the states. No accounts can be established until the regulations are finalized following a public comment period on proposed rules for program implementation. States will begin to accept applications to establish ABLE accounts before the end of 2015.

Questions about the ABLE Act: email Lucy Mullany, IABG Coordinator

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Nevada A&O Monthly Learning Call

Posted by mjohnson on 01/08/2015

Tags: monthly call in, learn, Nevada, assets&opportunities


Learning conversation - Nevada Volunteers' Service Enterprise Project with Janet Wright and FredaMae Voorhies

Announcements and Information Sharing

For call-in info email

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Nevada Financial Security Day!

Posted by mjohnson on 01/08/2015

Tags: Reno, Nevada, Financial Security, Legislature

Please Volunteer for the Opportunity Alliance Nevada 2nd Biennial Financial Security Day at the Nevada State Legislature


February 6, 2015 7:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Nevada State Legislative Building – Room 3100 401 S. Carson Street, Carson City, Nevada




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Minimum wage in Louisville upped to $9

Posted by tlentz on 12/19/2014

The Metro Council and Mayor Greg Fischer, who were at odds over increasing the minimum wage, reached an agreement Thursday night with the council voting to increase the minimum wage in Jefferson County to $9 an hour gradually over three years.

Mayor Fischer released the following statement on the vote. "I'm pleased with the council's vote, appreciate their hard work on this important issue, and look forward to signing this ordinance into law. I will support $9 over three years because it is a balanced compromise solution that gives hardworking families a raise while minimizing the risks of job losses in our city."

Read more from the Courier-Journal...

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Metro Council committee (Louisville) approves minimum wage increase

Posted by tlentz on 12/16/2014

Mayor Greg Fischer provided the following statement on minimum wage, "I support raising the minimum wage on a state and national level. However, increasing the wage locally must be considered in the context of job losses since our surrounding counties will not be increasing their minimum wages.

“I am most concerned about manufacturing businesses that have a high cost of labor as part of their total business expenses -- and I do not want to see the wage increase lead to a loss of jobs for the very people we want to help.

“Increasing the wage in the range of $8.50 to $8.75 an hour appears to be an area where local job loss would be minimized and many people would still benefit from the increase.

“Due to my extreme concern about job losses in our city, I am not prepared to support an increase to $10.10 per hour and will veto such an ordinance if passed by Metro Council. “I reiterate my support for a statewide and nationwide increase in the minimum wage and ask all advocates to work with me and others on this issue.”

Read more from Louisville's Business First

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Nearly 60% of Households in Miami-Dade County Are One Financial Emergency Away from Falling into Poverty

Posted by dlevine on 12/16/2014

For Immediate Release
December 16, 2014

Kristin Lawton/Amy Saltzman, CFED: 202-207-0137/301-656-0348
Carla Moreira Strickland, Catalyst Miami: 786-414-1292

Nearly 60% of Households in Miami-Dade County Are One Financial Emergency Away from Falling into Poverty

New Data Analysis also finds the number of households without a bank account in the city of Miami is more than three times the national average

Miami – Nearly 60% of Miami-Dade County households (and 67% of Miami households) do not have enough savings to live at the poverty level for just three months if they lose a job, face a medical crisis or suffer another emergency that leaves them without a steady income, according to data released today by Family Assets Count, a project of the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), in partnership with Citi Community Development and Catalyst Miami.

These families live in a state of persistent financial insecurity – known as “liquid asset poverty.” In Miami and Miami-Dade County, fully 54% of households with incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 (well above the median household incomes in both places) are liquid asset poor. Communities of color fair even worse in both the city and county: 69% of African American households and 67% of Hispanic households are liquid asset poor in Miami-Dade County. This is compared to 79% and 74% for the respective communities in the city of Miami.

The full report including city and county data was presented today at the Imagine Miami conference at Temple Israel. The community effort, hosted by Catalyst Miami, connects individuals, organizations and businesses to improve quality of life in Miami-Dade County and build hope through the use of true stories of people making a difference.

“This data redefines poverty for our community, underscoring the financial stress so many of our families face,” said Gretchen Beesing, CEO of Catalyst Miami. “The inability to bounce back from financial pitfalls not only hurts Miami families, it stifles the region’s long-term economic growth.”

“We hope these data ring as a clarion call to action for policymakers who have an important role to play in improving financial security for families in Miami and region-wide,” said Solana Rice, Senior Program Manager at CFED.

Additionally, the data points to a range of other challenges confronting the Miami area’s vulnerable families: + Although the county has a 56% 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. + 28% of city residents are “unbanked” with no savings or checking account – more than double the rate for Miami-Dade County (11%) and over three times the national rate (8.2%). + 17% of households in the county and 26% of those in the city are “underbanked,” which means they have a bank account, but still relied on alternative financial services such as costly check cashing or payday loans in the past year.

The findings were compiled as part of the national Family Assets Count initiative, which uses cutting edge data, tools and resources to leverage the power of cities to improve financial stability for families and advance programs and policies that encourage and enable families to save and build assets.

For more data on Miami families visit You can create reports of household wealth and financial access for cities and counties across Florida by clicking here.


CFED empowers low- and moderate-income households to build and preserve assets by advancing policies and programs that help them achieve the American Dream, including buying a home, pursuing higher education, starting a business and saving for the future. As a leading source for data about household financial security and policy solutions, CFED understands what families need to succeed. We promote programs on the ground and invest in social enterprises that create pathways to financial security and opportunity for millions of people. Established in 1979 as the Corporation for Enterprise Development, CFED works nationally and internationally through its offices in Washington, D.C.; Durham, North Carolina, and San Francisco, California.

Catalyst Miami Founded in 1995 as a Miami-based nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, Catalyst Miami, formerly the Human Services Coalition (HSC), identifies and launches innovative strategies to help people and communities thrive and to create a more equitable and caring society. We work through a network of partner organizations, linking people with financial education, healthcare information, public benefits and educational and economic opportunities. Our programs promote economic self-sufficiency, participation in civic life, organizational strength, and respect across many divides. We inspire people to get involved and prepare them to step up to leadership roles that lead to long-term community transformation.

Citi Community Development (CCD) is leading Citi’s commitment to achieve economic empowerment and growth for underserved individuals, families and communities by expanding access to financial products and services, and building sustainable business solutions and innovative partnerships. Our focus areas include: commercial and philanthropic funding; innovative financial products and services; and collaborations with institutions that expand access to financial products and services for low-income and underserved communities. For more information, please visit

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Strengthening the Case for Removing Asset Limits on SNAP & TANF: Results of DHS Asset Limits Study

Posted by tedwards on 12/15/2014

In support of Southern’s mission to create economic opportunity and promote financial security, our policy team worked to pass legislation (Act 535 of 2013) during Arkansas’s 89th General Assembly that required the Department of Human Services (DHS) to conduct a study on current asset limits for the SNAP and TANF programs. While ample national research showed the negative effects of asset limits, there was insufficient data specific to Arkansas. In summer 2014, DHS released the study to determine the effectiveness, consistency, and efficiency of program administration and to understand the potential implications of changing the current asset limits.

The study’s results confirmed our 2013 research findings, presented in our paper “Making the Case for Eliminating Asset Limits: Why Asset Limits Undermine Financial Security for Arkansans”: less than 1 percent of Arkansas SNAP and TANF applications are denied because of excessive assets. The reason for such a low number of denied applicants is because the great majority of Arkansans receiving and needing income supports are in fact poor. The average Arkansas household receiving SNAP has only $57 remaining at the end of the month after paying for necessary expenses. Hence, SNAP recipients do not have the funds saved, or to save, to reach the asset limit, making the asset limit irrelevant for them. Further, in addition to asset tests, income tests are also in place to ensure a household has an income below 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.

While the intention of asset testing is to ensure accurate allocation of benefits to those most in need, the eligibility criteria can have negative impacts on the effectiveness of the program as a conduit to self-sufficiency. Asset limits were enacted to prevent wealthy people with considerable savings from receiving funds from anti-poverty programs, yet this scenario is extremely rare, largely due to income tests. Rather, asset limits often have an adverse effect, deterring people from transitioning from government dependence to self-sufficiency and keeping them on public benefit programs. Asset limits discourage savings, disincentivize maintaining a bank account, and theoretically increase the duration of time a family is financially unstable and stays on public benefits.

In addition to negatively impacting a household’s economic stability, asset limits also create problems within public benefit administration. Due to the great complexity of rules and exceptions attached to asset limits, the application evaluation process of asset confirmation can be extremely taxing and time-consuming for both the caseworker and the applicant. Regarding the convolutions of eligibility requirements, over two-thirds of payment errors in SNAP are made by the caseworker rather than the applicant. A 2012 study found that doing away with asset tests for SNAP in both Illinois and Ohio simplified the work, reduced the amount of verifications for applicants, and allowed workers more time to process other information regarding the assistance program.

The results of the DHS study show asset limits are futile, yet discourage economic independence. If Arkansas wants to reduce the number of people on SNAP and TANF, the state cannot perpetuate a cycle where those services become the norm – families need to be able to save to become financially independent. Further, removing asset limits in Arkansas would result in less government spending, and more administrative efficiency.

To learn more about our efforts to improve household economic stability for people in rural communities, please contact Meredith Covington, Policy & Communications Manager, at

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Mississippi Has Highest Rates of Unbanked and Underbanked – 2013 FDIC Survey

Posted by esivak on 12/08/2014

People who have an account with a bank or credit union are better positioned to participate in the economy and contribute to the nation’s recovery. However, a large number of American households do not have access to basic financial tools like checking and savings accounts. According to the 2013 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, more than one in four households (27.7%) are either unbanked or underbanked. Unfortunately, Mississippi leads the nation in the number of unbanked and underbanked households. A relationship with a financial institution enables individuals to more securely plan for future investments as they work their way toward financial stability. Banks and credit unions allow people to save their income to purchase a home, start a business, or further their education.

The Unbanked – have no checking or savings account.

In the United States, one in thirteen households is unbanked. Mississippi has the highest percentage of unbanked households in the country, followed by Louisiana and Arizona. Approximately 14.5% of households in Mississippi are unbanked.

The Underbanked – have an account but continue to depend on costly alternative financial services for basic transactions and credit needs, like check cashers, payday loan providers, pawn shops, auto title lenders and rent-to-own stores. These businesses charge high fees for their services – services that deplete rather than preserve income and wealth. In the U.S., one in five households is underbanked. Mississippi also has the highest percentage of underbanked households in the country – 32.8% of households in Mississippi are underbanked (a nearly 10 percentage point increase from 2011). Compared to the rest of the nation, Texas and Georgia have the second and third highest rate of underbanked residents in the country (approximately 26% and 27%, respectively).

Unbanked and underbanked households typically operate in a cash-based system, and, as a result, do not have the same financial security and opportunities as those who bank with traditional financial institutions. The unbanked and underbanked are more likely to spend a percentage of their net income on unnecessary fees. They are also more likely to be victims of crime, because they often carry their cash or keep cash in their homes.

The new data continue to underscore the importance of implementing policies that promote financial inclusion. When households are attached to the financial mainstream, they have the tools available to save and build wealth, as well as the opportunity to pass good financial habits onto children.

Interestingly, the states with the highest rates of unbanked populations are those states with large immigrant and African American populations. For example, one out of three African American households in Mississippi is unbanked – approximately 10 percentage points higher than the national average for African Americans. Given the shifting demographics of the country, pursuing policies that support successful models of connecting households of color to the financial mainstream remains essential to maximizing opportunity in America. Examples of such policies include expanding support for Community Development Financial Institutions and Community Development Credit Unions to continue the work of meeting the needs of historically underserved populations.

Source: FDIC, 2013 FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households, 2014.

-Jessica Shappley
Policy Analyst

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Posted by lmullany on 12/04/2014

Chicago, IL — On a vote of 30-25-2 in the Senate and 67-45 in the House, the Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program (SB2758) was approved by the Illinois General Assembly today. The bill will give millions of private sector workers in our state the opportunity to save their own money for retirement by expanding access to employment-based retirement savings accounts.

SB2758, sponsored by Senator Daniel Biss and Representative Barbara Flynn Currie, will automatically enroll workers without access to an employment-based retirement plan into the Secure Choice program. While workers can opt-out of the program, those that do participate will be able to build savings in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) through a payroll deduction. All accounts are pooled together and professionally managed; ensuring that fees are low and investment performance is competitive.

“Illinois has taken a huge step forward in addressing a growing retirement crisis by giving Illinois residents the tools to save,” said Senator Biss. “The Secure Choice program will have a minimal impact on the state and participating businesses, but the effect for workers will be the difference between retiring with dignity and a retiring into poverty.”

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

“The Secure Choice Savings Program will make it easy for Illinois workers to save without burdening employers or the state,” Representative Currie said. “This program can make a secure retirement a reality for hard working Illinoisans.”

The Illinois Asset Building Group (IABG), a project of Heartland Alliance, has been advocating with its partners for the passage of the Illinois Secure Choice Program. “Secure Choice is an innovative, simple program that makes saving for retirement easy for Illinois workers,” said Lucy Mullany, Coordinator of IABG and a Senior Project Manager with Heartland Alliance. “We thank the General Assembly for taking a big step towards stronger retirement security for Illinois workers and look forward to working with leaders to implement this new program.”

The Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program was supported by IABG, Heartland Alliance, Woodstock Institute, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, SEIU Healthcare, AARP Illinois, and over 60 organizations and businesses across the state.


The Illinois Asset Building Group (IABG) is a statewide coalition committed to increasing access to the tools people need to build financially secure futures for themselves and their children. IABG's work across issue areas includes examining barriers and solutions to the persistent racial wealth gap. IABG a project of Heartland Alliance. For more information, visit

Heartland Alliance - the leading anti-poverty organization in the Midwest - believes that all of us deserve the opportunity to improve our lives. Each year, we help ensure this opportunity for nearly one million people around the world who are homeless, living in poverty, or seeking safety. For more information, visit:

Woodstock Institute is a leading nonprofit research and policy organization in the areas of fair lending, wealth creation, and financial systems reform. Woodstock Institute works locally and nationally to create a financial system in which lower-wealth persons and communities of color can safely borrow, save, and build wealth so that they can achieve economic security and community prosperity. For more information, visit:

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SE Michigan: VITA Volunteers Needed!

Posted by mlulion on 12/02/2014

Tags: VITA, asset building, Volunteer, Michigan, Detroit, Wayne County, income tax, Wayne Metro

Hello from everyone in Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency's Asset Building Department!

The holiday season is already upon, which means tax season is just around the corner! Wayne Metro is currently seeking volunteers for its Volunteer Income Tax Assessment (VITA) Program for the 2015 tax season.

The VITA Program at Wayne Metro provides free income tax return preparation for low-to-moderate income taxpayers. We are looking for volunteers to assist the Tax Program in preparing quality income tax returns and to uphold the highest ethical standards in doing so.

In 2011 and 2012, Wayne Metro helped file more than 4,000 income tax returns and we have continued to grow each year, but we still need your help! The more volunteers we have, the closer we come to providing free income tax assessment to every eligible taxpayer in Wayne County.

VITA Programs are incredibly effective asset building tools, especially when paired with savings. Taxpayers who use VITA services can not only increase their wealth with a tax return, but also by avoiding the fees charged by a for-profit tax preparer.

Each Income Tax Assistance Volunteer is asked to make a commitment of at least 5 hours per week, and since this is an ongoing volunteer position we encourage a long-term commitment to the Tax Program!

If you, or anyone you know, is interested in joining our Tax Program team as a VITA Volunteer click here to find out more about the position and fill out a volunteer application!

Tax Day

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