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Mississippi College Tuition Continues to Rise, Students Footing the Bill

Posted by esivak on 05/05/2014

Since 2008, Mississippi has cut funding for higher education by approximately 25 percent when adjusted for inflation. These cuts have caused tuition at Mississippi’s college and universities to rise at a time when the state’s economy needs more skilled workers. Financial aid for students has not kept up with the increasing costs of a post-secondary education, increasing the likelihood that students are unable to finish college or pursue an education in the first place. Limiting access to higher education will limit opportunities for Mississippi families and our economic growth as a state.

Cost of tuition increase in Mississippi for four-year public colleges and universities since 2008

A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities highlights recent shifts in funding for higher education in the state. While per student funding has increased slightly over the past year, since 2008 Mississippi has cut funding for higher education by 25 percent when adjusted for inflation, which represents a reduction of $2,524 per student. In response to this, our state colleges and universities have had to increase their tuition. The average tuition at a public, four-year college in Mississippi has increased 23 percent or $1,213 during this same time period.

Smart investments in public colleges and universities will strengthen Mississippi’s economy. Areas with highly educated residents attract employers who pay competitive wages. Their employees then spend money in the community, boosting the economy of the entire area. That’s what Mississippi needs for our state economy to thrive.

Without this investment, students increasingly have to foot the bill to finance a higher education. These students are taking on unsustainable levels of debt, and rapidly rising tuition is scaring some students away from college altogether. This has significant implications for their career prospects and the state’s future economic capacity. Mississippi needs to find ways to keep debt down and make college affordable for students and their families.

As our state economy continues to recover, our state leaders must make higher education a priority. With more jobs requiring a post-secondary credential, our state cannot afford to be left behind with the type of low-skill, low-wage jobs that our labor market is likely to be composed of as soon as 2018. To adequately fund higher education, our lawmakers must allow state revenue to adequately recover, rejecting unaffordable tax cut proposals.

Michael Mitchell, author of the report, makes it simple, “States that are cutting taxes rather than investing in their colleges and universities are making the wrong choice.” We can’t afford to make the wrong choice here. Mississippi should focus on providing access to quality higher education that will prepare students to become the highly-skilled workers that tomorrow’s economy will demand.

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Assessing college savings plans in Arkansas & Mississippi

Posted by tedwards on 04/29/2014

This week, Southern Bancorp Community Partners (SBCP) released its paper, "Evaluating College Savings Plans: A Case Study on Arkansas and Mississippi,” to illustrate and examine the current options of college savings accounts offered in Arkansas and Mississippi and analyze the causes behind low participation in each state’s 529 plans. In 2013, SBCP sought a sustainable funding source for Arkansas’s Aspiring Scholars Matching Grant (ASMG) Program, a savings incentive for low-to-moderate income families that matches funds saved for a child’s college education in the 529 GIFT Plan, and investigated the possible creation of a matched 529 savings program in Mississippi.

In reviewing each state’s 529 plans, data showed overall participation was exceptionally low in both Arkansas and Mississippi. Although 529 plans have long been touted as highly valuable savings tools in helping families set aside funds for college costs, less than 5 percent of Arkansas and Mississippi children have a college savings plan established for their benefit. While Arkansas and Mississippi have offered 529 plans for almost two decades, each state ranks poorly in college degree attainment (Arkansas 49th; Mississippi 50th). The problem does not lie in a lack of college savings opportunities, but rather why more people do not take full advantage of the college savings opportunities offered in both states.

A recent study finds that children with savings accounts in their name, including 529 plans, could be up to seven times more likely to attend college if those children expressed an expectation to attend college– regardless of a family’s race, education level, or income. As demonstrated by the positive results of ASMG and other national studies’ findings, when a college savings program is marketed, supported, and administered well, more people may take advantage of it regardless of their household income.

Based on national research and findings from our 2013 survey of parents with elementary school-aged children, many low-to-moderate income households do not use 529 accounts because they are discouraged by the complex enrollment process, believe they do not make enough money to save, or are simply not aware of 529 accounts. But as indicated by the overall low participation rates, a majority of middle-to-upper income households opt not to use 529 plans either. As such, the state college savings plans are not reaching a significant number of children in their current structure.

Opportunities to save for post-secondary education are imperative for households of all income levels in Arkansas and Mississippi, as education can lay the foundation for stronger economic security and greater economic opportunity. SBCP has a long history of advocating for policies that provide opportunities for low-to-moderate income families to build wealth and enhance their quality of life. Strengthening child savings accounts programs and policies in Arkansas and Mississippi is just another way to ensure children in both states have the necessary financial tools to thrive.

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University of Louisville's Program Reaches Incoming Freshmen Below Poverty Level

Posted by tlentz on 04/24/2014

In 2007, the University of Louisville initiated a special program called the Cardinal Covenant in response to college costs and the challenge for students from low-income families to fund their education. The University of Louisville's Cardinal Covenant is the first program of its kind in the state of Kentucky. This program will make college attainable for the 22.6% of Kentucky families living at or below 150% of the federal poverty level as published by the U.S. Census Bureau (Data obtain from the U.S. Census Bureau).

U of L will make a promise to incoming freshmen who meet the following criteria to award enough gift assistance from federal, state, private, and institutional sources to cover their direct costs (tuition, room, board, and books). Students will be able to graduate debt free as long as they graduate within four years and remain Pell Grant eligible each year.

Learn more

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Reversing the Tide on Payday Loans in Mississippi

Posted by tedwards on 04/23/2014

Southern Bancorp has been a longtime advocate for policies, programs and products that promote family economic security. A part of this advocacy includes efforts to eliminate predatory practices such as payday lending. [i] In our most recent Policy Points edition, “Turning a Cycle of Debt and Dependency into Financial Security: Rerouting Payday Loan Consumers in Mississippi,” we look at the current payday lending environment in Mississippi; highlight the need for successful payday loan alternative products and strong asset building policies by showcasing lessons learned in Arkansas; provide policy recommendations for increased financial security for Mississippians, including payday lending reform; and feature a new alternative payday loan approach in Mississippi, the New Roots Credit Partnership, which is facilitated by the Mississippi Center for Justice through traditional financial institutions and employers throughout the state.

Payday loans, sometimes referred to as payday advances, are small-dollar, short-term easily accessed loans. They are obtained by leaving a check with a lender for the loan amount, plus any fees, to be held until the next payday.[ii] To qualify, a borrower must have a checking account and proof of income, including employment, social security, child support, disability or even unemployment benefits.

While providing a quick, financial boost for Mississippi households, payday lenders rely on a business model that involves loan terms that trap their customers in a perpetual debt cycle. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, the “churning” of existing borrowers’ loans every two weeks accounts for three-fourths of all payday loan volume. Furthermore, repeat borrowers comprise 98 percent of payday loan volume.[iii] Many borrowers are unable to pay back their loans within the required two weeks and are forced to take out new loans in order to cover the loan and interest. When borrowers cannot pay the original loan amount, predatory lenders encourage them to take out a new loan for the same amount—paying a new fee—to cover the loan, or borrowers go to another payday lender to borrow to pay off the first loan.[iv] As a result, borrowers are faced with revolving and increasing amounts of debt. Payday loan consumers in Mississippi take out an average of nine payday loans, paying more than 500 percent of the loan in interest and fees before they begin paying off the original balance.[v]

Consumer protection advocates such as Mississippi Center for Justice and Mississippians for Fair Lending have made many attempts to enact payday lending reform legislation. However, based on the industry’s strong legislative influence, the chances of eliminating payday lending through legislation in Mississippi are slim. As such, consumer protection advocates have begun to shift their attention to ensuring the availability of safe, affordable, and financially appealing small dollar loan products that lessen the need to rely on payday lenders.

Southern is one of these financial organizations working to create innovative, scalable alternatives that lift consumers up, as opposed to trapping them in the debt cycle. One such product being piloted in Mississippi, the Liberty Loan, is still in the development and testing phase, but could soon join others being championed by advocates from across the country.

If you’d like to read more about Southern’s Liberty Loans as covered by the Washington Post, click here. And if you’d like to learn more about our efforts to strengthen the economic security of rural communities, we invite you to contact Tamika Edwards, Director of Public Policy, at tamika.edwards@southernpartners.org.

[i] Most notably in working with Arkansans Against Abusive Payday Lending (AAAPL), SBCP helped to shut-down all payday loan storefronts, resulting in the last payday lender leaving the state in 2009.

[ii] Mississippi Economic Policy Center. (2007). Mississippi payday lending fact sheet. Available at http://mepconline.org/images/admin/spotedit/attach/4/Payday_Lending_Fact_Sheet_FINAL.pdf.

[iii] Center for Responsible Lending. (2013). Available at http://www.responsiblelending.org/payday-lending/tools-resources/fast-facts.html.

[iv] Mississippians for Fair Lending. (2013). The high price of small-dollar loans. Available at http://www.mscenterforjustice.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/State%20Policy%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf.

[v] Ibid.

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House Passes Bill Protecting Workers From Payroll Card Fees

Posted by lmullany on 04/18/2014

Last week, the Illinois House passed legislation (HB5622) that would protect workers from the hidden and abusive fees of many payroll cards. The bill was sponsored by Representative Turner and supported by the Illinois Attorney General.

Payroll cards are growing in popularity in Illinois. Some Illinois employers are no longer paying their employees with a check or via a direct deposit into a bank account. Rather they are loading wages onto a payroll card. Payroll cards are particularly being used for workers that are unbanked.

Large employers like Sears, U-Haul, UPS, and McDonalds are using this method to pay many of their workers. At first glance this may seem like a great idea and offer a convenience for people who don’t already have a traditional bank account. The problems arise as soon as the worker swipes the card, and in some cases even before that.

Payroll cards are not regulated at the federal or state levels. Currently, businesses are not required to fully disclose the terms of the payroll card program or ensure that workers can access their hard earned wages without incurring fees.

At a recent Stepping Out of Poverty forum, hosted by Community Organizing & Family Issues (COFI), workers shared their stories on how these fees have repeatedly drained their budgets. Often times workers would use their cards only to find surprisingly low balances because of abusive and hidden fees that ate away at their balance.

HB5622 would provide consumer protections from many of these fees, including: + Monthly Fees + Point of transaction fees + Fees to check your balance + Customer service fees + Overdraft fees

The bill also requires employers to give employees notice of the terms of the card and obtain their voluntary consent before enrolling them in a payroll card program. It also guarantees that employees can access their full wages at least once every two weeks without incurring a fee.

HB5622 now moves to the Senate where it is being sponsored by Senator Raoul. If you or someone you know has a story about payroll cards we need your voice! Find your State Senator and urge them to support HB5622. To share your payroll card story and be part of the movement contact IABG.

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Why United Way THRIVE?

Posted by slopez on 04/14/2014

Stronger, more financially stable families mean a stronger, more financially stable community for us all.

In 2008, compelled by research pointing to the importance of family financial stability and its impact on nearly all other social issues, including education, health, and community well-being, United Way of Greater Houston launched United Way THRIVE.

Through United Way THRIVE, families achieve financial stability by focusing on three key strategies: increasing income, building savings and acquiring assets.

These strategies have proved successful.

Since launching in 2008, United Way THRIVE has established a path to financial stability for more than 52,000 Houston-area families.

As THRIVE has grown, more partners have joined, and the initiative has built a five-year solid record of creating real change for lower-income families. Read more about our five year summary of impact: click here

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Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity

Posted by gwendy on 04/14/2014

Tags: economic summit, new majority, communities of color, Innovation

Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the acts of human beings.” – Nelson Mandela

Justice rather than charity; solutions instead of complaints. This was the tone of Greenlining Institute’s Economic Summit that I had the pleasure of attending last week in Oakland, CA. Focused on ensuring that communities of color are able to participate and thrive in the new economy, the event covered everything from financial services to health to energy policy. It was a refreshingly holistic approach to what are deep and persistent problems facing minorities in our state and across the nation. Among the more compelling ideas I heard were:

- Modernizing California’s Lifeline Phone service (subsidized phone lines for low-income Californians) to include mobile phones and SMS texting.

- A hackathon for Black Male achievement – with a long term goal of “an empathy spillover”

- Developing apps for gaming consoles (X-Box, Playstation) to connect young people who are absent from school to their homework – no email required.

- Installing solar panels on schools in low-income neighborhoods to reduce electricity use among the most under-resourced schools.

- Embedding internet cable in the high speed rail lines to provide quality internet access for rural communities –to facilitate technology that allows plants to communicate when they need to be watered.

Technological change is moving quickly and all too often people get left behind. Here’s to all the innovators working hard to make sure our state lives up to its promise of opportunity for all.

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Silicon Valley Index

Posted by gwendy on 04/14/2014

Tags: silicon valley, income inequality, shrinking middle class

Whether you’re involved in a tech start-up or are just trying to find an apartment, it’s easy to see that Silicon Valley is booming. And while we’re proud of our region’s success and innovation, not everyone is benefiting from this growth. According to new data from the Silicon Valley Index, the region is facing growing income inequality and a shrinking middle class.

We have more families than ever before earning over $100,000 per year, but the number of families earning less than $35,000 a year is also growing. While per capita income went up for whites and Asians (5.6% and 2.4% respectively) between 2010 and 2012, it declined by 2.0% for Latinos and 5.0% for African Americans. Given that cost of housing in region keeps rising, declining real income means more families are struggling just to keep their families housed and fed. In fact, the income decline for Latinos is higher in Silicon Valley (-2.0%) than for California overall (-1.6%). We need to ask the tough questions to understand why our region’s rising prosperity is not accessible to all our neighbors.

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Senate Passes the Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program

Posted by lmullany on 04/11/2014

On a vote of 31-22-2, the Illinois Secure Choice Program (SB2758) passed out of the Illinois Senate today. The bill will give millions of private sector workers the opportunity to save their own money for retirement by expanding access to employment-based retirement savings account.

More than 2.5 million workers do not have access to a retirement savings account through their employer, according to a report from 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.

SB2758, sponsored by Senator Daniel Biss, will automatically enroll workers without access to an employer-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.

“We're facing a looming retirement security crisis: 2.5 million Illinois workers lack access to employer-sponsored retirement plans. Unless we act now to help give Illinois residents the tools to save, the number of retirees living in poverty will continue to grow,” 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 a retirement in dignity and a retirement in poverty.”

The bill will now move to the House where Representative Barbara Flynn Currie will be the Chief Sponsor. She is the current sponsor of the companion bill, HB4595.

“The Secure Choice Savings Program makes it easy for Illinois workers to save without burdening employers or the state,” Representative Currie said. “This is a bill that every legislator who cares about the retirement security of Illinois workers should vote for.”

The Illinois Asset Building Group (IABG) is advocating, along with its partners, for the passage of the Illinois Secure Choice Program. “Secure Choice provides workers an easy way to save their own money for retirement,” said Lucy Mullany, Coordinator of IABG and a Senior Policy Associate with Heartland Alliance. “We thank the Senate for taking a big step towards stronger retirement security for Illinois workers and look forward to working with Members of the House to pass this legislation out of the General Assembly.”

The Illinois Secure Choice Savings Program is supported by IABG, Heartland Alliance, Woodstock Institute, the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, SEIU Healthcare, AARP Illinois, and over 45 organizations and businesses across the state.

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Louisville Celebrates First Graduating Class of Community Financial Empowerment Certification Program

Posted by tlentz on 04/10/2014

The first graduating class to complete Louisville's new Community Financial Empowerment Certification (CFEC) program was recognized at an event on Thursday, March 27. This pilot group contained 15 social services providers.

Louisville Metro Department of Community Services and Revitalization has worked with a variety of partners to create the Community Financial Empowerment Certification (CFEC) in response to a growing need among clients to obtain assistance creating budgets, developing financial goals and building assets. The CFEC provides a financial empowerment framework for Louisville's service providers, equipping them with tools and knowledge to move clients out of the crisis-to-crisis cycle and toward a more stable future. Read more

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