Community Bulletin: A New Opportunity for Advocates

From the Guest Editor

Aloha Community Partners and Friends,

The holiday season is an opportunity to slow down, reflect and take time to be with our loved ones. This year, it comes at a critical juncture for our movement to build better economic opportunity at the national and local levels. 

This past year has reiterated that our stories matter. Telling our stories is a way for us to share who we are—our ancestors, our origins, our values, our cultures, our communities, our practices, our work, and our aspirations. Telling our stories is a way to make meaning of our experience. During the midterm elections, our stories became narratives to build momentum for the issues that matter. And now the holidays are a time when we share stories to reminisce, reconnect, and reenergize with loved ones.

The holidays may also bring us to together with loved ones who may not always see eye to eye with us in regard to our work. But instead of viewing these conversations as sources of debate and discomfort, perhaps we might see them as opportunities to listen and connect.

We can build on these conversations to advance our work to increase wealth equity and financial well-being, beginning with our own families. Here in Hawai'i, we are excited to enhance the burgeoning energy for an affordable housing coalition planning effort—with the support of Prosperity Now—by grounding it in the stories of families from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Through this effort, we aim to lift up the work of hyperlocal community champions to build holistic and communal ways of living connected to place and culture.

We will also continue our work in Hawai'i to support the transfer and evolution of intergenerational knowledge and practice. I pause to acknowledge Prosperity Now’s very own Andrea Levere, who has decided to transition from the organization at its strongest so that a new leader might help Prosperity Now continue to grow and serve communities in need. I am deeply grateful for her leadership and commitment to telling the stories of our most vulnerable families. How do we model Andrea's example and create spaces for new stories while balancing the stories of those who have long given themselves to this work?

And thinking of our growing focus on the racial wealth gap, how might we consider our own stories’ connection to the inequities created by racial wealth disparity across generations? How have they shaped or been shaped by the racial wealth divide?

During the holidays, if we can be compassionate to ourselves and our loved ones, perhaps we can also find compassion for others and create opportunities with them to realize a shared vision of prosperity.

Sending you and your families, networks and communities aloha during this holiday season,

Brent Kakesako
Executive Director, Hawai‘i Alliance for Community-Based Economic Development
Prosperity Now Community Steering Committee Member

Highlights

The Fight for Economic Opportunity Continues After the Midterms

Next year, we will see an unprecedented number of new leaders in Congress and in state and local legislatures who are champions in our work to counter racial and economic inequality (check out our post-election recap). But the fight doesn’t stop now that Election Day is over. As the new legislative sessions begin, the Prosperity Now Community will need to mobilize at the federal, state and local levels to help families build savings, access VITA and Medicaid, earn a living wage and ensure tax systems benefit low-income families rather than generating more wealth for the rich.

This is an incredible opportunity for members of the United States Congress—particularly those in the House—to advance big asset- and wealth-building ideas that will give momentum to the 2020 election, such as the innovative American Opportunity Accounts, which could give every child born in the United States a savings nest egg. But we can’t get complacent, or only play offense; the continued divisions in Congress will also mean that we can’t let up our defense of working families.

The election results mean that we’re likely to see less traction behind federal legislation that supports wealthy households while providing very little, if anything, to working families—like last year’s nearly $2 trillion dollar Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. But we still need your voices. We will continue defending consumer protections, like the CFPB payday rule, but also start pushing for critical new policies. 

We will promote tax legislation that helps those in need get ahead, such as the Refund to Rainy Day Savings Act (S. 3220). This bipartisan bill would help working families leverage their tax refunds to save for emergencies, and we believe it could move forward in this new political environment. We also need to highlight and broaden awareness around right-side-up tax policies that have historically had bipartisan support, such as VITA (the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program), which could likely arise in the next Congress, or even sooner. In fact, we see several opportunities for permanently authorizing the VITA program and increasing its funding during the current lame-duck session of Congress.

At the state level, heading into the midterm elections, Republicans controlled the vast majority of all state legislative bodies. On November 6, Democrats made modest gains by flipping five state Senates and two state Houses. Even in states such as Michigan, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, where Democrats have not gained control, they added enough seats to prevent Republicans from overriding vetoes of Democratic governors. Republicans also held the majority of governorships prior to the election (33 vs. 16), but Democrats regained some control, now holding 23 seats.

Some of the ballot initiatives, such as California’s funding for affordable housing and Colorado’s interest cap on payday loans, also signal new opportunities for state advocates and legislators to fight for working families. These developments are likely to be advantageous to our policy agenda, and we will need your advocacy to advance important policies such as Medicaid expansion, full-day kindergarten and education funding, minimum wage hikes, and other progressive state and local tax structures.

In the end, while there’s still a lot of hard work ahead, we’re hopeful about the new political environment that 2019 brings. Now is the time to ramp up your advocacy. To stay on top of the latest fast-moving policies, join us through Prosperity Now’s Advocacy Center as we work together to continue fighting for a clear path to financial stability, wealth and prosperity for all.

The Top 3 Things We Learned About Our Community In 2018

Each year, Prosperity Now surveys our Community to learn more about who you are, your policy and programmatic priorities, and your experience with our resources. We learned a lot from this year’s surveyand want to share some highlights with you. 

Here are our top three takeaways: 

  1. The top programs provided by our Community are those that you believe are the most promising to increase wealth equity and financial well-being, with one big exception. The top services provided by the Community are Financial Education, Counseling and Coaching as well as VITA and Credit Counseling. These are largely the same top services we learned were provided in 2017, and are also what you believe to be the most promising to increase financial well-being. However, while matched or incentivized savings are viewed by our Community as being incredibly effective, it is not one of the top services provided, perhaps due to Assets for Independence (AFI) being zeroed out in the federal budget. 
  2. More Community members are doing advocacy than they realize. In 2017, we asked organizations simply, “Are you engaged in advocacy?”, and 59 percent of you replied in the affirmative. This year, we posed the question differently, asking specifically if organizations were educating public officials, engaging in advocacy campaigns, participating in coalitions and moreand 84 percent of you said yes to one or more of these. Additionally, the policies organizations are advocating for the most are financial education, predatory lending, EITC, housing and homeownership, and VITA.  
  3. Prosperity Now’s least-used resources are often the most helpful. It’s no surprise that many respondents rated our most widely used resources as "very helpful", such as the Scorecard, research reports and policy briefs. But we learned this year that we’ve got a few “best kept secrets”because some of our least widely-used resources got some of your highest ratings for helpfulness (such as the Advocacy Boot Camp, Campaigns and policy alerts, and the Advocacy Center). We’ll be looking into how we can do a better job of getting these “hidden gems” into your hands, and continue building and improving your favorite resources.  

There’s plenty more data where this came from! Look out for a blog post next month about what else we learned from this year’s survey, including the types of organizations we serve, your client base and more about your policy and programmatic work.

The CFPB's New Financial Skill Scale

In September, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released a Financial Skill Scale designed to measure “an individual’s ability to find, process, and act on financial information.” The CFPB indicates that financial skill is a step to achieving the ultimate outcome of financial well-being, measured in their Financial Well-Being Scale. Alongside the Financial Skill Scale, the CFPB also released a brief, “Pathways to financial well-being: The role of financial capability,” that highlights the importance of using the new scale as one of many ways to measure and help improve a client’s financial well-being.

This new Financial Skill Scale consists of 10 questions (or five if using the abbreviated version) and can be used in conjunction with, and as a building block to, the CFPB’s Financial Well-Being Scale, which measures a person's sense of and ability to meet their financial obligations. Using both scales gives practitioners a more comprehensive understanding of their clients’ financial lives, supports them in identifying financial goals and closes gaps in knowledge, skills and resources.

The Financial Skill Scale can also be used to evaluate organizations’ financial programs or workshops. Practitioners can measure a client’s financial skill at the beginning of a program, then retest the client afterward to assess the effectiveness of the program. This scale can be a powerful tool for organizations to measure outcomes and effectiveness across programs. Explore the CFPB’s resources and discover how they can benefit your organization and programs!

Resources from Across the Community

Tribal Leaders Handbook on Homeownership, Center for Indian Country Development
Homeownership has long been a problem for the rapidly growing Native populations. This handbook provides leaders of Native American communities with resources and support for achieving homeownership on Native lands.

VITA Volunteer Training Platform, Prosperity Now’s Taxpayer Opportunity Network
This free training platform contains twelve modules to prepare you to pass the IRS Volunteer Standards of Conduct, Intake, Interview and Quality Review and Basic Volunteer Certification Tests. This training resource can provide a complete training or supplement the training offered by your VITA site.

Policy Efforts to Reduce Material Hardship for Low-Income Families, Urban Institute
This report evaluates the effect of safety net programs on material hardship (experiencing food insufficiency, unmet medical or dental needs, and inability to meet other essential expenses such as rent and utility payments) for families in the United States, finding that they significantly reduce material hardship.

Advocacy Boot Camp, Prosperity Now
As new federal, state and local representatives enter office after the 2018 midterm elections, this guide will prepare you to take action. The advocacy guide is designed to give you the quick-and-dirty for taking the next step, no matter what that next step may be.

Mapping Student Debt, Generation Progress & Higher Ed, Not Debt
This interactive map shows the geography of student debt across the United States and how delinquency affects communities of color at disproportionate rates.

Webinar Recording: Taxes and the Racial Wealth Divide: How the New Tax Law Leaves Households of Color Further BehindProsperity Now and Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) 
In this webinar, Prosperity Now and ITEP walk through the latest research on why the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was not all about delivering relief to hardworking Americans. They discuss how this law widens the racial wealth gap and what a more equitable tax code might look like.

Change Machine Radio, The Financial Clinic
The latest podcast from The Financial Clinic, “Connecting Financial Goals to Cultural Values,” discusses the impact of an individual’s cultural values on their financial practices. Change Machine Radio also offers a two-part series that dives into the hard realities of being unbanked and the challenges and benefits of becoming banked.

Joining Forces for Financial Health: Vetting Fintech Tools and Partners, Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) and Prosperity Now
Fintech companies and nonprofit organizations are working together to provide safe, affordable and impactful products to low-income people. This blog lays out a few ways in which nonprofit organizations are evaluating their readiness for fintech generally, fintech products and fintech companies.

As Debates over College Costs Make Waves in South Carolina, It’s Time to Boost Need-Based Aid Nationwide, Center for American Progress
This blog post discusses South Carolina’s financial aid spending for higher education and explains how increased spending on need-based grants can help to close the currently widening racial enrollment gap in higher education.

Opportunities & Events

Opportunities

Fahe Advocacy Manager, Fahe, Berea, KY

Bank On Fellowship, Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, New York, NY

Upcoming Call for Financial Well-Being Research Papers
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will be accepting research papers on financial well-being to be presented at a 2019 Symposium. Ten researchers will receive up to $35,000. For more information, contact Molly Brune at molly_brune@abtassoc.com.

Research must utilize the Bureau’s Financial Well-Being Scale (either from the Bureau’s public use dataset or from other proprietary datasets).

The goal of the symposium is to bring together academics, policymakers, researchers and financial educators from across a wide range of fields and disciplines to explore the drivers of financial well-being, as well as the policy and programmatic interventions that can improve financial well-being.

Call for Papers Release Date: Mid-December 2018

Submission Due Date: Mid-January 2019

Symposium Date: September 26, 2019 in Washington, DC at CFPB’s headquarters

For more information or to receive the Request for Papers when it is released, please contact Molly Brune at molly_brune@abtassoc.com.

Events

Michigan Children’s Savings Account Network, Community Economic Development Association of Michigan (CEDAM), Lansing, MI or Webinar, November 30, 2018

Poverty Solutions Summit, Catalyst Miami, Miami, FL, December 1, 2018

Pittsburgh NeighborWorks Training Institute, NeighborWorks, Pittsburgh, PA, December 3-7, 2018

I’M HOME Conference, Prosperity Now, Nashville, TN, December 3-5, 2018

Book Talk: Bob Friedman's "A Few Thousand Dollars" @ Assets Matter Symposium, Fresno, CA, December 4, 2018

Financial Coaching Network Bi-monthly Peer Call, Prosperity Now, Webinar, December 5, 2018

Opportunity SC 2018, South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development (SCACED), Myrtle Beach, SC, December 5-7, 2018

Taking the Financial Health Pulse of America, Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), Webinar, December 12, 2018

#DCEITC Forum, Capital Area Asset Builders, Washington, D.C., December 12, 2018

Prosperity Indiana Summit, Prosperity Indiana, Indianapolis, IN, January 30, 2019

2019 Financial Coaching Institute, Opportunity Alliance Nevada, Reno, NV, February 5-7, 2019

Policy Updates

Consumer Protections

We are calling on the U.S. Senate to pass The Credit Access and Inclusion Act (S. 3040), which would help households with no credit score or poor credit by reporting rent, utilities and phone payments. Tens of millions of working families have no credit score, and a significant number also have poor credit, making them seek out high-cost credit from the fringes, such as predatory payday loans. The Credit Access and Inclusion Act (S. 3040) would help open up the market to these households by increasing the reporting of debt that is paid by many families but usually not included in credit reports, like rent, utilities and phone payments. The House version already passed unanimously this year. Now we need the Senate to do the same.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)

Ask your U.S. House member to support the Consumers First Act (H.R. 6972) to restore the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) ability to protect consumers. Over the past year, a number of steps were taken to undermine the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and there is more to come. The CFPB is the main “cop on the beat” to protect consumers from predatory financial products and services. Introduced by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA-43), this bill would restore the CFPB’s strength and authority by reversing course on efforts to weaken the Bureau.

We are calling on the U.S. Senate to oppose Kathy Kraninger as CFPB Director. The Senate is expected to hold a confirmation vote for Kathy Kraninger, Trump’s pick to head the CFPB, as early as this week. Kraninger has no consumer protections experience, and if confirmed, she will likely continue where Acting Director Mick Mulvaney left off in dismantling the Bureau.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) 

We are calling on the U.S. Congress to provide $20 million in funding for VITA in FY19. With an agreement in place to fund the government through December 7, fiscal year 2019 funding for VITA remains uncertain. Most recently, the House Financial Services Committee agreed to fund VITA at $15 million, while the Senate FSGG Committee’s spending bill would increase VITA funding to $20 million. We’re urging Congress to ensure that the Senate bill will make it into the final FY19 appropriations package.

Last April, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the bipartisan VITA Permanence Actwhich would put VITA into law, and in July the Senate introduced the Taxpayer First Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT), which includes similar language. Now is the time to call or email your Senators and tell them why VITA should be permanent! #VITAForever!

Retirement Savings

This month, Illinois launched Illinois Secure Choice, a state-sponsored retirement savings program that provides retirement savings accounts for employees who do not have access to one through their employer. The new program will automatically enroll employees into a Roth Individual Retirement Arrangement (IRA), where 5 percent of the employee’s paycheck will be invested with the ability to increase or decrease the contribution amount. Illinois Secure Choice is an opt-out program that will help an estimated 1.2 million individuals save for retirement.

Let us know what you think or share your resources and opportunities in the Community Bulletin by emailing community@prosperitynow.org.

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