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News #8

The first snow has come (and gone, mostly) and the thermometer has dropped well below zero, so it must really be winter. I hope you are all staying warm and well.

Welcome to the 8th newsletter of the CT Asset Building Collaborative (CABC). Read on to find out more about local events and news, as well as key research findings and national news that affects us and our work.  Don’t forget to follow us on facebook and twitter, for all the latest news and events!

News you can use

Welcome to our newest CABC steering committee members...

We are happy to announce that we have four new steering committee members. They are Michelle McCabe, Director of The Center for Food Equity and Economic Development of the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport; Steve Diaz, Senior Community Investment Manager at United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut; Robert Adriani, soon to take over as Project Director of the Bureau of Rehabilitation Service (BRS) Connect to Work Project; and Dave Hinchey, Director of Community Impact of the Credit Union League of Connecticut. We are excited to have people with such deep knowledge and experience of asset building services on the committee to take the work of the CABC forward to 2018 and beyond.

 ...and we’re still looking for people interested in serving!

It’s not too late to get more involved with the CABC. We are still looking for people to help us out with our various steering committees, including peer learning, communications, and policy, as well as helping with specific events, or representing geographical areas. Contact us at [email protected] if you want to know more!

Retirement of Joyce Armstrong.

CABC founder and steering committee member, Joyce Armstrong, will be retiring from her position as Project Director of the BRS Connect to Work Project. Thankfully for CABC, Joyce will continue to volunteer on asset building work after retirement; her commitment, energy and deep knowledge of the issues has been, and will continue to be, absolutely invaluable to our progress. We know that BRS will miss her enormously. Joyce will be replaced at BRS by Robert Adriani, who fortunately is becoming a member of the CABC Steering Committee and will continue the very important connection between the work of the CABC and BRS.

BRS Pilot Projects

It’s all go at BRS! Two pilot projects will be starting soon. The first is the Promoting Opportunity Demonstration (POD) pilot, an experiment to see whether SSDI recipients are more likely to go back to work if their SSDI income is reduced, rather than eliminated, when they get employment income. Social Security will be sending invitations to randomly selected Connecticut residents to participate, with enrollment starting early in 2018. The second is the Youth Transition Research Pilot for students ages 16 and 17 receiving SSI, testing the impact of providing these students with information about and resources related to SSI re-determination that takes place at age 18. Enrollment will start in February of 2018. Look out for information about both projects!

StreetCred New Haven

A new free tax preparation site will open at Yale New Haven Hospital during the upcoming tax season, in partnership with Streetcred. Streetcred is an innovative project that originated in Boston, integrating VITA’s free tax preparation services into healthcare settings, with the goal of connecting eligible families with those free services at a trusted and convenient location. The model also aims to improve the impact of medical care by addressing the social determinants of health on-site. If you’re interested in learning more, referring clients, or volunteering, call 475-355-7873 or email [email protected].

BankOn New Haven

BankOn New Haven is on the move! This project, part of a national initiative which aims to connect low and moderate income people with safe and affordable bank and credit union accounts, is rolling out in the city. Samantha Savvidou has been hired by the Connecticut Association for Human services to be the BankOn New Haven fellow; she’ll be creating a BankOn coalition for the city, and working with local banks to develop and market the products so badly needed by the many residents currently excluded or poorly served by the financial services sector. Contact [email protected] to find out more, and the new website which should be up and running any day now!

Recent events

The Greater Fairfield regional meeting held on October 10th was a great success! Participants got to know each other through 'speed-networking', then we heard about Housatonic Community College's important work both providing student with the training they need for future employment, and supporting them with their financial challenges; efforts by banks and credit unions to develop products to reach more low-to moderate income people; and some important entrepreneurship initiatives. Also, the Jump$tart Financial Literacy Summit held on October 13th pulled in around 100 people to hear more about financial literacy, focusing on the student debt crisis. At that event, the CABC sponsored a workshop on Policy Options for Debt-Free college with Rep. Matt Lesser, Subira Gordon of the State Commission on Equity and Opportunity, and Board of Regents member Merle Harris. More to come on this topic in 2018!

The latest news and research that matters

Urban Institute’s City Level Dashboard of Resident Financial Health

This incredibly helpful, easy to navigate site describes how a city’s financial health is affected by the financial health of its residents. Using data from sixty cities across the country, including New Haven, the Urban Institute explains how cities with more financially healthy residents have stronger economies, spend less on emergency services and supports, and are more resilient. They make important recommendations for cities to support resident financial health. For a city like New Haven, which is categorized as a city that is facing challenges to its economic stability, recommendations include helping residents access safe and affordable bank accounts, providing management payment options for families that owe money to the city, providing financial counseling services, and investing in workforce development. Luckily, New Haven is right on track as it ramps up its financial empowerment work with the Financial Empowerment and BankOn projects!

Another important Urban Institute project is their interactive map of Debt in America - see a short article about it here. For more local Connecticut information about financial health, check out DataHaven’s ‘data story’ on financial security in our state, and how many people find themselves struggling, despite a apparently good picture overall.

CFPB’s future in doubt

While those of us who work in asset building may be familiar with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), it was hardly a household name until the last few weeks, when it suddenly made headline news all over the country. The director, Richard Cordray, announced on November 15th that he was stepping down, setting off a dramatic (and ongoing) power struggle over who would succeed him. Would it be his deputy, Leandra English, as he insisted was the legally correct order of succession, and who would continue the CFPB’s work pursuing banks and other financial institutions whose practices negatively affect consumers? Or would it be the president’s choice, Mick Mulvaney, currently also the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, who has in the past called the CFPB a “sick, sad joke”.

Currently Mulvaney is sitting in Cordray’s vacated seat, but the legal battle continues. Keep an eye on this story, as it will have implications for all of us working in the asset building world, given the vital role that the CFPB plays in providing information to and protecting low-to moderate income consumers, conducting vital research, and creating free resources for financial education and empowerment. If things go badly and we can no longer trust the CFBP to be on our side, State regulators will become increasingly important allies.

Making the most of the EITC – it’s just not that easy

We all know (I hope) that the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is one of the most effective poverty-attacking strategies that we have in this country. Which is why it’s so frustrating when we cut the amount that working families get. But for EITC recipients it can be frustrating that the money comes only once a year, often leaving them vulnerable to costly borrowing, such as payday loans, as they wait for their refund. Efforts to try to encourage people to make better decisions about how they spend their refund, including encouraging saving, find that the money has already been allocated elsewhere including repaying loans. One idea being floated is to allow EITC applicants to take a $500 advance on their refund, which sounds like an awesome idea, but experts point out that most low income people take loans are in emergency situations, and whatever the EITC advance loan might look like, it would very likely NOT be quick and easy to access at any point. Looks like more thought is needed into how the EITC could be even more impactful than it is now.

How promising is Fintech to our work?

Fintech really is the latest thing in financial services, with the financial services and products available to consumers already transformed by technological innovation. However, these innovations have so far tended to target wealthy and high income people, neglecting lower income Americans. An article in American Banker outlines ways in which fintech could be used to serve low-income people, while being profitable for service providers, including helping people automate savings, improve functionality of government issued benefits cards, help people lend to and repay each other, and create realistic, consumer-oriented mortgage and auto loan calculators.

And more....

Sadly, while there are some positive stories, there is so much bad news around equitable asset building that if we included everything that is important here we’d go on forever. Just a few more things to look into if you are brave enough – racial discrimination in bankruptcy filings, and increasing rates of credit card debt. There is a lot of work to do, and we are so glad that we are all working together to make a difference.