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News & Updates from the Assets & Opportunity Network


Leaving Money on the Table

Posted by cspohrer on 03/23/2015

Tags: Virginia, EITC, refundable

By Mitchell Cole, Policy Analyst, The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis

Every year at tax time, Virginia’s Earned Income Credit (EIC) helps hundreds of thousands of working families reduce their taxes. But for all the good that it does, the state’s credit is missing a critical piece that forces families across the state to leave some of their credit — and their cash — on the table.

Unlike with the federal credit, which gives taxpayers the full value, taxpayers in Virginia who claim the state credit can’t get back what they don’t use.

That means families can use the Virginia EIC to reduce the income tax they owe, but it doesn’t help them deal with the other state and local taxes they pay. In fact, they often pay more of their income in state and local taxes than better-off families. That’s because sales and property taxes weigh more heavily on low-income families. So for many families, just reducing their state incomes taxes doesn’t go far enough.

For example, a single parent of two earning $15,000 would get a credit of $1,092. However, that’s $761 more than the amount of income tax she owes. So while her income tax gets reduced to zero, she still must leave most of her credit on the table. That’s money that could be used to help pay a utility bill, buy food for the family, or pay for a car repair.

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There’s an easy fix to this problem: Lawmakers can improve the state’s EIC by making it refundable, helping thousands of low-income, working families by giving them the full value they’ve earned. Even just making the EIC partially refundable would be a step in the right direction. But so far, that’s too much for Virginia’s lawmakers, who voted down proposals to do just that during the last session.

So as families of all income levels file their taxes this year, many of those at the lowest end of the scale will be denied the tax credits that they’ve worked hard to earn. And that just doesn’t seem fair.

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Bank On Virginia Beach Now Enrolling New Classes

Posted by cspohrer on 03/18/2015

Tags: Bank On, Virginia Beach, Financial Education, classes

Virginia Beach, Virginia - Bank On Virginia Beach, a partnership of participating banks, credit unions, community organizations and the City of Virginia Beach, is designed to help you take control of your finances. Spring classes are now enrolling and thanks to the local partners, classes are free. One-on-one coaching will help you set goals, create realistic financial plans and access necessary resources. Put a spring in your step and get started on a better financial path.

Since 2012, graduates of the program have committed over $ ½ million to savings, reduced debt by over $120,000 and improved average credit score by 21 points.

For more information, including how to enroll. visit the Bank On website.

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Tax Season in Full Swing at Wayne Metro

Posted by mlulion on 03/17/2015


By Elena Garton

Wayne Metro's Tax program has been working hard every day filing taxes. If you find yourself sweating over preparing your taxes, just come visit us at one of our many sites and we will file your worries away!

Five Reasons You Should File Your Taxes at a Wayne Metro Tax Site

  1. It's FREE - It is obvious why this is number one.

  2. Certified Through the IRS - All preparers, volunteers, and financial coaches are trained and certified through the IRS. If you would like to see our fancy certificates we would be happy to show you!

  3. You Could Win BIG - By saving a portion of their refund clients have the opportunity to win a $25 gift card, $100 cash prize, or $25,000! We also tend to frequent candy and have Wayne Metro swag for our loyal clients.

  4. Locations Throughout All of Wayne County - For all of tax season (January through April) we have tax sites across the entire county, 36 total! Our sites are open Monday through Saturday, morning through evening. Our motto could be "convenience"!

  5. Much More than Tax Preparation - Wayne Metro provides numerous services as an agency, and this is reflected at our tax sites. Besides just tax preparation, there are also financial coaches on site to talk to and multiple services and resources available for other Wayne Metro programs.

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The Assets & Opportunity Network Announces New Leadership

Posted by klawton on 03/16/2015

The Assets & Opportunity Network is happy to announce new leadership to help guide and shape the direction of the Network as well as represent and share the cutting edge service delivery and advocacy work happening in their local communities. At the end of 2014, several members of the Network Steering Committee (NSC) transitioned off the committee. We would like to thank David Rothstein (Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland) and Kate Richey (Oklahoma Policy Institute) for serving on the NSC since the beginning in 2012. To fill their shoes, the NSC invited four distinguished Network Leaders to join the Committee for the next two years. The new NSC members are:

The four new members above join current NSC members Lisa Forti (Alameda County Social Services, NSC Chair), Christina Barsky (Consultant, Montana), Lucy Gorham (University of North Carolina), Margaret Miley (Midas Collaborative, Massachusetts), Lucy Mullany (Illinois Asset Building Group), Victor Ramirez (Center for Asset Building Opportunities/Citi Community Development, Los Angeles), Kaye Schmitz (Florida Prosperity Partnership) and Dave Snyder (Minnesota Asset Building Coalition). All members will bring their state and local expertise in asset building programs and policies to help shape the direction of the Network.

In addition to new Network Steering Committee Members, the Network also welcomed 13 new Network Leaders, bringing the total to 85. Of that number, 36 are State Network Leaders and 49 are Local Network Leaders, spanning 42 states and the District of Columbia.

A&O Network map

The new group of Network Leaders includes both long-standing and new statewide and local coalitions as well as asset-building practitioners and advocates. These groups have experience in free tax preparation, housing counseling, Bank On and credit counseling programs, as well as advocating for the Earned Income Tax Credit, children’s savings accounts, regulations of payday lending, prize-linked savings and much more.

New State Network Leaders:

New Local Network Leaders:

You can learn more about all of our Network Leaders and Network Steering Committee members by visiting our website at and joining as a General Member. Future opportunities to apply to become a Network Leader will be announced to Network General Members in the Fall.

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Happy VITA Customers at Appalachian Community Action

Posted by cspohrer on 03/16/2015

Tags: community action, VITA, Virginia, Appalachian

Appalachian Community Action in Gate City, Virginia hosts Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) every year and is emphasizing savings this year to all customers coming to have their federal and state tax returns filed electronically for free by certified volunteers. Pictured below: The Kiser Family, Mr. Hosein, and The Leonard Family showing off how much they saved.

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Poll finds strong support for regulating payday lenders

Posted by kwilliams on 03/13/2015

Midwesterners offer strongest support for new rules and protections

While voters around the country and across the political spectrum are deeply concerned about payday lending, Midwesterners feel the most negative about this industry and its 300 percent average interest rate loans.

Republicans, Democrats and independents in the Midwest also feel very strongly that payday and car title lenders should be required to follow the same kinds of responsible lending practices as banks and other for-profit lenders, according to a new, bipartisan national poll sponsored by the Center for Responsible Lending.

The poll comes at a time when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is considering national rules to govern the controversial, multi-billion dollar payday lending industry. Among Midwesterners, regardless of political affiliation, a full 67 percent – two thirds of those polled – hold unfavorable views of payday lenders and support a broad range of policies to keep them from making dangerous loans.

Specifically, the poll found that 78 percent of Americans – 80 percent of Republicans – would support a rule that would permit payday lenders to make a loan only after verifying that the borrower can pay it back according to the original terms of the loan, while also still paying for housing, food and heat and electricity. In the Midwest, that figure reaches 82 percent and of those, 65 percent categorize themselves as “strongly supportive.”

“This poll confirms what Ohio voters said in 2008: They want stricter regulation of the payday industry. Unfortunately, as our Supreme Court pointed out, Ohio did not get that. It is time to try again,” said Linda Cook, Senior Staff Attorney of the Ohio Poverty Law Center.

“This poll is unambiguous, as was the will of the voters in 2008 when an overwhelming majority affirmed the 28 percent payday lending rate cap law,” said Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Housing and Homelessness in Ohio. “ It’s time the legislature end these disastrous loans.”

The poll also found that a majority of Americans from all political parties support the work and mission of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in general.

More than 60 percent of likely voters support the CFPB’s actions to protect military service members from law-breaking lenders and the CFPB’s actions against racially discriminatory auto lenders.

“Since attempts at regulation in 2008, payday lending has gotten worse. The industry is more exploitive by charging higher interest rates and putting the livelihood of families at risk from the rise of auto-title lending and the risk of car repossession, “said Kalitha Williams, Policy Liaison of Policy Matters Ohio. “We need state lawmakers to reign in the industry and protect Ohio consumers”

Overall, the poll indicates broad consensus among likely 2016 voters of both parties on the need for financial regulations and enforcement. The survey of 800 likely voters was conducted by Lake Research Partners and Chesapeake Beach Consulting.

See more here.

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New Data Show 3.2 Million Americans Benefit from Volunteer Tax Preparation

Posted by dlevine on 03/12/2015

New Data Show Volunteer Tax Preparation Provides a Significant Benefit to Lower-Income Taxpayers

Nearly $4 billion in refunds reached every state in the U.S.

On Tuesday, the Taxpayer Opportunity Network released its new breakdown of national IRS data on the 2014 tax season, which shows that volunteers helped over 3.2 million taxpayers get $3.89 billion in tax refunds. The data reveal that the economic impact of volunteer tax assistance benefits residents of every state in the country, helping them achieve their financial goals and boosting local economic activity.

CFED and the Taxpayer Opportunity Network find that millions of Americans receive an economic boost from tax credits generated by Volunteer Tax Assistance, including $1.1 billion in Earned Income Tax Credits, $900 million in Child and Additional Child Tax Credits, and $82 million in Education Credits. Furthermore, since filing an accurate tax return is critical to obtaining mortgages, small business loans, college financial aid and even citizenship, the efforts of volunteers help millions have access to the financial mainstream.

Demand for community-based volunteer assistance is rising, in part because IRS customer service has been dramatically reduced to absorb about $1.9 billion in cuts to the Service’s annual budget since 2010. As indicated in the National Taxpayer Advocate’s report to Congress, these volunteer programs need significantly more funding to help fill the gap created by IRS budget cuts, as the IRS estimates 19 million taxpayers would use volunteer tax assistance if it were readily available.

Facts about Volunteer Tax Assistance:

  • The vast majority of volunteer tax preparers participate in the IRS-sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) programs. They must pass IRS certification tests annually to demonstrate their competency.
  • VITA sites are generally located at community and neighborhood centers, libraries, schools, shopping malls and other convenient locations across the country. Find a VITA location near you.
  • Currently, an estimated 96,000 IRS-certified volunteers are helping over three million taxpayers across the country file their taxes and get their refunds.

This is the first time the Taxpayer Opportunity Network and CFED have used IRS data to understand the power of volunteer tax preparation. The Taxpayer Opportunity Network aims to help Americans save and build wealth, stay out of poverty, and create a more prosperous future through tax policy and community-based tax assistance.

Access the full volunteer tax preparation data for the 2014 tax season here.

Join the Taxpayer Opportunity Network if you are a tax assistance volunteer, if you work at an organization that operates a tax assistance program, if you are involved in advocacy for tax policy or if you are considering getting involved.

General membership in the Taxpayer Opportunity Network is free and any interested individual may join this national network of practitioners and advocates. The Taxpayer Opportunity Network seeks to advance policies that create a “right-side up” tax system for American taxpayers.

Benefits of membership in the Taxpayer Opportunity Network include:

  • Updates about learning and advocacy opportunities made available through the Network.
  • News about the latest developments in the field of tax preparers serving low- and moderate-income taxpayers.
  • Valuable resources for volunteer tax preparers, VITA/TCE program managers, tax site coordinators, LITC volunteers and others interested in using tax assistance as a gateway to opportunity.
  • Discounts to Taxpayer Opportunity Network-hosted convenings.

For more information about these data or to speak with an expert, please email

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America Families Struggling with Fragile Budgets

Posted by lmullany on 03/09/2015

A new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts found that despite the economic recovery, most American households continue to be financially vulnerable.

According to the report, almost half of households are income-constrained, reporting that they spent as much as or more than they made in the past year. Wages have barely budged in recent years, while the costs of housing, health care, and other necessities have increased. This strains the budget of American families, particularly families with a low income.

While overall wealth has grown, that wealth has not been equally shared. Families with the lowest incomes have not seen their wealth increase in recent years. 55% of American households are savings-limited, meaning that they have less than one month of their income in cash, checking, and savings accounts. Additionally, 8% of American households are debt-challenged, spending 41% or more of their monthly income to repay debt.

The result: most American households are still facing a financial challenge and are not prepared for a financial emergency, despite years of overall economic recovery. Both state and federal government need to be passing and implementing policies that promote asset building and financial security among low- and middle-income families.

IABG continues to work with our partners to promote policies that protect and support families as they try to balance their budgets following a devastating recession. Last year, IABG worked with partners to create wage protections for workers paid via a payroll card and to pass the Secure Choice Savings Program, expanding access to employment-based retirement savings programs.

Take Action

IABG is working with partners to pass legislation that will provide greater protections for Illinoisans in the debt collection process. SB1248 / HB2584 enables families to responsibly pay down their debt while ensure that creditors do not take so much of their wages and emergency savings that they are unable to meet their basic needs. The legislation:

  • Protects a larger percentage of a worker’s wages from garnishment
  • Protects a portion of a family’s savings
  • Exempts college savings accounts
  • Prohibits wage assignments
  • Ensures all exemption amounts are tied to inflation
  • Decreases interest rates facing consumers

Click here to add your organization’s support to the bill. We hope you will join us as we work for a future in which all Illinois families have the opportunity to build financial secure futures.

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2015 ONAC Conference

Posted by cfinsel on 03/05/2015

We invite you to attend the 2015 Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition (ONAC) Conference, on Tuesday, July 14, 2015. The conference will be held at the Oklahoma History Center (located on the northeast corner of N.E. 23rd & Lincoln Boulevard, across the street from the Oklahoma Capitol), 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive, Oklahoma City, OK 73105.

During the conference, we will examine the current state of Native asset building in Oklahoma; have opportunities for peer learning; share information about Native asset building models, funding sources, partnership opportunities, research, training and technical assistance; and learn about ONAC next steps and ways to be involved in the Coalition.

At the end of the day, we will have a networking reception and provide ONAC membership information. We invite you to participate in this interactive conference.

Who should attend the conference?

Those interested and engaged in Native asset building in Oklahoma. We invite Tribal leaders, Tribal program directors, Native nonprofits, Native asset building practitioners and researchers, state representatives, students, cultural advisors, policy organizations, funders, financial institutions and financial institution regulatory bodies, national asset building organizations, inter-tribal organizations, representatives from the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians, IRS, and Administration for Children and Families, and others interested in tribal asset building in Oklahoma to attend.

Conference Schedule: July 14, 2015

• 9:00 a.m. Registration and Breakfast

• 9:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Conference

• 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Networking Reception and Membership Drive

The 2015 ONAC Conference Fee is $25.00.

For more information about the conference, please go to

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Opponents keeping up pressure on payday lenders in Texas

Posted by jware on 02/27/2015

Tags: payday lending

Masako Melissa Hirsch interviewed YW's Becca Fritze about the dangers of Payday Lending for the Dallas Morning News in September.

The original article can be found here:

With brightly colored storefronts and signs in English and Spanish, they advertise “Cash now!” and “Cash today!” There’s at least one on every block for several miles.

Despite this busy strip, the numbers of these types of stores in Dallas are on the decline.

Since the city passed a landmark ordinance regulating lenders three years ago, dozens of shops have closed. It’s just one way, city officials and consumer advocates said, that the ordinance has affected an industry that they say preys on low-income residents and traps them in a cycle of debt. Yet while they said most lenders are making efforts to comply, some companies have found ways to skirt the restrictions.

Now, the ordinance’s supporters are gearing up for the 2015 Texas legislative session, anticipating pushback from payday lending companies. Dallas City Council member Jerry Allen, who was a major force in passing the ordinance and continues to encourage other cities to join, said he expects companies will lobby for a weak law that would pre-empt local ordinances.

“My goal would be to not go backwards,” he said. “They’ve given up at the local level. They’re going to put a full-court press at the state.”

As the start of the session approaches, Allen said ordinance supporters will work to get more cities to pass ordinances and rally state legislators. At least 18 cities have passed ordinances similar to the one in Dallas.

The industry’s political clout stifled past efforts to create statewide reform.

Rob Norcross, spokesman for the Consumer Service Alliance of Texas, which represents many of the state’s short-term lenders, said city ordinances often leave customers paying more at one time or having to take out multiple loans.

“Some of these customers are in financial situations that don’t fit the narrow parameters of the ordinance,” he said.

But some change may be coming. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the federal consumer watchdog, is developing rules to regulate the industry. In July, it fined Irving-based ACE Cash Express $10 million for what it described as predatory practices. It also took actions against Fort Worth-based Cash America last November.

Such changes could only help the city regulations, ordinance supporters said.

State and federal laws “are stronger because they come across the board. It doesn’t undermine the benefit of what the cities are doing. It would just make it that much better,” said Ann Baddour, senior policy analyst for Texas Appleseed, an advocate for poor residents.

Some bans

For Sandra Johnson of Irving, a recent payday loan started with a high electricity bill.

Johnson, a receptionist, said money can be tight after rent, bills and food. An unexpected higher bill took her budget over the edge.

She was already paying off other loans. A car-title loan helped her daughter who was out of work. Another payday loan helped when she had surgery.

The loans are easy to get, she said. Paying the high interest, however, was a struggle.

“I understand that when I get a loan, I have to pay it back,” she said. “But when it’s gotten to the point where you have to pay it back or you don’t eat, it makes it hard.”

Marketed as a quick fix to help cover expenses until a person’s next paycheck, the loans often come with costly fees and high interest rates that make it difficult to pay them off.

Consequently, 14 states and Washington, D.C., have banned payday loan stores. But efforts in Texas to rein in the industry have largely failed.

In the past decade, payday and car-title loan companies have used a loophole in state law that allows them to operate without interest rate limits. As a result, a payday loan for $300 may end up costing about $701 — the highest rate in the country, according to an analysis by Pew Charitable Trusts.

In 2011, religious and community groups advocated for state legislation that would limit some of these practices. Ultimately, they were only able to require businesses to be licensed with the state, submit loan data and provide detailed cost disclosures.

The Dallas City Council was already discussing its own ways to regulate the industry. In May 2011, it passed an ordinance that limited where payday loan and car-title companies could open. That June, it passed another ordinance that placed restrictions on actual loans.

Interest limits were out of the city’s power. But the ordinance restricted the amount a person could take out based on income or a car’s value. It also limited renewals and required minimum payments toward the principal.

Dallas sued

Within weeks, the Consumer Service Alliance of Texas and several lenders sued Dallas, arguing that the ordinance conflicted with state law and was intended to put lenders out of business. In May, the Texas 5th District Court of Appeals ruled in the city’s favor and said Dallas is immune from a lawsuit filed by payday lenders.

By then, other cities had joined Dallas. Through efforts by Allen and religious and community groups, many of the state’s largest cities — including Austin, Houston, San Antonio and El Paso — passed similar ordinances.

In North Texas, Denton, Flower Mound and Garland enacted ordinances, while several other cities implemented zoning ordinances.


The state doesn’t release specific loan data by cities. But a comparison of licensed stores in Dallas from April 2012, shortly after 2011 state and city regulations went into effect, and July 2014 shows that about a quarter of stores have closed.

The state’s Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner, which oversees the companies, only maintains a current list of store licenses. Texas Appleseed, which regularly requests the data, provided the 2012 list.

In 2012, Dallas had 241 payday and car title loan stores — collectively called Credit Access Businesses in Texas. As of Sept. 18, there were 177 — about a 27 percent decline.

Many of the companies doing business in Dallas closed stores during that time.

In its 2013 annual report, Cash America International said that it closed 36 stores in Texas primarily because city ordinances had reduced the profitability and volume of short-term loans. The company closed three stores in Dallas.

EZCORP also said in its most recent quarterly report that it closed stores as a result of city ordinances.

Multiple calls to companies operating in Dallas were not returned.

But Norcross, the industry representative, said his group projects 46 more stores will close in Dallas by the end of 2014. The ordinance, he said, doesn’t leave companies with much flexibility. With loans limited to four payments, each payment often ends up being too large for customers, he said. It also doesn’t address the differences that come with each loan type.

“It’s a one-size-fits-all approach that is incomplete,” he said.

The time for the group to challenge the Dallas appeals ruling has run out. The group or a lender may be able to refile the lawsuit if a lender gets fined under the ordinance, Norcross said.

Business inspections

Companies have found ways around the ordinance, consumer advocates said.

The Anti-Poverty Coalition of Greater Dallas has been sending volunteers to stores to see if they are complying with the regulations.

Last October, Becca Fritze, senior program manager of financial empowerment at the YWCA, went to a store and asked what would happen if she couldn’t pay off the loan within four payments. After her colleagues asked the same question, lenders directed them online.

“For me, it was that they said, ‘Oh, don’t worry. We’ll just refer you to a store outside of Dallas,’” she said.

Norcross said that such interactions might come from a desire not to lose customers. “If a customer says, ‘Look, I’ve got a problem here. What am I going to do?’ they’re going to try to help them out,” he said.

Baddour, of Texas Appleseed, said some companies also have offered what they describe as single-payment loans that end up having multiple fees.

More enforcement, she said, will help close such potential loopholes.

Dallas began inspecting businesses in May 2013. Since then, it has inspected 87 locations, conducted six examinations and issued 34 notices of violation, said assistant city attorney Maureen Milligan. One lender received four criminal citations.

The most common violations have been that lenders didn’t have proper documentation for an applicant’s income or car value, she said.

Most of the companies, however, have been willing to comply, she said.

Online loans

Statewide, lenders have found areas to grow. While Dallas has fewer stores, the numbers across Texas have stayed around 3,300. In North Texas, some cities without ordinances have more stores than in 2012.

Although the number of new loans and refinances dropped last year, the industry had more consumers, according to the Center for Public Policy Priorities’ analysis of industry filings with the state. The fees charged to customers also increased by 12 percent. The Austin-based center is a nonpartisan nonprofit that pushes for public policies to help low- and moderate-income Texans.

Online loans also seem to be growing. Many lenders offer loans through their websites. Consumer advocates describe that as a way to avoid regulation.

As of now, the Dallas ordinance’s application to online loans is only hypothetical, said first assistant city attorney Chris Bowers. The city attorney’s office hasn’t received any borrower complaints about online loans or had a lender try to argue that one was issued outside of city limits because a portion of it was online, he said.

“It will depend on the facts,” he said. “But the mere fact that they’re touching a computer does not insulate them from the ordinance.”

Ultimately, a statewide law is needed, consumer advocates said.

“Having something comprehensive at the state level would potentially prevent operators from setting up shops just outside the jurisdictions of some of these ordinances,” said Oliver Bernstein, spokesman for the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Yet laws can only go so far without alternative financial solutions, Fritze of the YWCA said.

“You can kind of put those laws in place, but you still need an alternative product. There aren’t a lot of products out there,” she said.

Financial counseling

Some alternatives are in the pipeline. BCL of Texas, for example, is working to bring the Community Loan Center program, a pilot program in Brownsville, to Dallas and Austin by next year. The program would allow employers to provide loans to their employees at an interest rate capped at 18 percent.

Meanwhile, Fritze meets regularly with Johnson for financial counseling sessions. After she pays off her current loans, Johnson said, she won’t take out any more.

The sessions, Johnson said, “have really taught me these life goals about what it takes to make it.”

Overall, the ordinances have raised awareness about the issue and about financial education, supporters said.

Allen said the ordinance also helps encourage economic development.

“If I was corporate America, I would read that as a positive thing that Dallas is doing,” he said. “That’s the image that you want to have.”

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