Building Partnernships to Move Georgia Forward

With as much Southern hospitality as possible, Georgia Watch and Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI) hosted the Georgia Financial Protection and Economic Opportunity Summit in early March, drawing advocates and practitioners from across the state to discuss strategies for building economic opportunity and empowerment for Georgia's families. The Summit, which was sponsored by Center for Responsible Lending and Prosperity Now, brought together diverse partners to collaborate on policy solutions that create financial stability, including tax time savings and consumer protections.

Data from Prosperity Now’s 2018 Scorecard shows that Georgia lags behind much of the country in economic stability. Fifteen percent of Georgia households live below the federal poverty threshold, which is higher than the national average. Income poverty among households of color is twice that of White households. Forty-four percent of Georgian households do not have enough savings to live above the poverty line for three months or more if they were to lose their jobs or face an emergency like high medical bills. Only half of households in Georgia report setting aside money for emergencies or unexpected expenses in the last year.

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Rosalind Lett, Director of Clayton County Library System

Policy solutions to encourage savings and financial security in Georgia are similarly lagging. Georgia is one of the few states that does not enact a statewide Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), leaving many low-income families without an important opportunity to save and become financially stable. 

In response, GBPI, along with state and local partners, is advocating for the Georgia Work Credit, a refundable statewide EITC that would help grow Georgia’s middle class and boost local economies and businesses. Over the past three years, GBPI has produced research, shared personal stories from EITC filers and hosted in-district meetings to educate policymakers on the importance of a statewide EITC. At the Summit, GBPI introduced its campaign to other partner organizations in the state, inviting them to join the coalition and amplify the need for a statewide EITC. 

Similarly, Georgia Watch is working with statewide partners and advocates such as Step Up Savannah, Urban Asset Builders and others to educate individuals, communities and policymakers on the dangers of predatory lending, especially through practices such as payday lending and title pawn loans. According to data from Prosperity Now's Scorecard, almost 20% of Georgia consumers have outstanding debt of any type, with at least one account 90 days or more past due. A third of Georgia households have debt that is in collection. Predatory lending practices exacerbate debt, especially among low-income families and communities. 

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Jen Singeisen, Executive Director of Step Up Savannah

Georgia Watch's Financial Protection Coalition understands how too many hardworking individuals get trapped in cycles of long-term debt that worsen their financial standing. The coalition is partnering with service providers that offer financial education supports and tools to low-income individuals and communities. Through this work, the coalition aims to highlight the stories and impact of predatory loans on low-income communities. 

Take the example of Venus Lockett, the founder of Urban Asset Builders and a former client of Georgia Watch, who found herself $30,000 in debt when she received an unexpectedly high hospital bill. She explained that with Georgia Watch’s help and credit-building resources, she could eliminate that debt. 

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Venus R. Lockett, Founder of Urban Asset Builders

Today, Urban Asset Builders joins Georgia Watch and the coalition in its efforts to make financial capability resources easily accessible to low-income Georgians, while also advocating for consumer protection policies that alleviate the harmful effects of predatory lending. 

While policy solutions including tax time savings and consumer protections are important to realizing better outcomes for all Georgians, effective policy advocacy really depends on strong and engaged coalitions. A key goal of the Georgia Financial Protection and Economic Opportunity Summit was to build a stronger coalition by convening various stakeholders to produce a collective voice for policy change on financial security in Georgia. The Summit fostered new relationships and educated partners on critical issues to build economic stability in the state. 

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