Community Bulletin: A Year of Growth and Success

From the Guest Editor

Dear Community Partners and Friends,

In his 1944 book, The American Character, Sir Denis William Brogan offered the following bit of wisdom: “It is, I have been told, one of the most formidable of Chinese imprecations to wish that your enemy lived ‘in interesting times.’ We live in very interesting times; times not to be made better by any simple formula.” The so-called ancient curse has now become cliché. 2018 was a very interesting year and our challenges cannot simply be addressed with platitudes. 

Most interesting to me was the big reversal in housing policy on Capitol Hill. This year we had little hope that federal policymakers were ready to put housing first. However, on December 10, Congressman Cedric Richmond introduced the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, a bill originally introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren. This bill takes a comprehensive approach to the housing crisis and works toward closing the racial wealth gap caused by housing inequities. 

With Democrats poised to take control of the House of Representatives, Rep. Richmond will join the Democrats’ whip team. We can expect the American Housing and Mobility Act to be heard and debated—even if it doesn’t become law. That means 2019 will be even more interesting, and we can move forward with more confidence because there is genuine hope that we will explore actionable changes that would improve the lives of every American.

In partnership,

Andreanecia Morris
President/Chair, Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance (GNOHA)
Prosperity Now Community Steering Committee Member

Note from the Editor: To reflect on 2018, this month we’re re-sharing the top hits of the Community Bulletin from this past year in our newsletter below. We hope you enjoy rereading these spotlights and resources from our Community! And we look forward to continuing working with you all and spotlighting the amazing work of our Community partners in 2019!

Highlights

The Community’s Top Stories of 2018

End of Year Tips for Managing Stress and the Health + Wealth Connection

Stress Management for Practitioners

Stress is one of the most common mental health concerns in the US. The American Psychological Association’s 2017 Stress in America survey found that money is one of the leading sources of stress in the country (62%), second only to stress about the future of the nation (63%). During Mental Health Awareness Month, we reflected on the significant impacts stress can have on both physical and mental health—affecting our lives at home, at school and work. Practitioners can benefit from being aware of stress, not only to better care for clients, but also to recognize the signs of stress in our own lives.

Self-care is key! Here are some stress management tips for financial capability practitioners from the Prosperity Now Community and staff.

Rachel Houston, Financial Stability Partnership Director at United Way of the River Cities, believes the best form of stress management she can use when running her VITA site is stress prevention:

  • Don't bite off more than you can chew
    • "When a site is overwhelmed, it becomes a stressful environment. Stressed out volunteers make mistakes and I would rather do fewer returns with fewer rejections. I talk with my volunteers regularly and find ways to prevent problems before they arise. This year I extended the time per client at a couple of sites, reduced overall appointment numbers and shifted those clients elsewhere."
  • Planning, planning, planning
    • "I know well in advance who is volunteering, how many clients we are expecting and what gaps need to be filled. We have seven sites that are all open one day a week. So, coordinating seven locations with 50 volunteers that move around day to day from site to site takes planning and communication. I am the link between site coordinators, volunteers and clients. Having one point of contact makes life easier for everyone and prevents stressful situations."
  • Learn to say “no”
    • "I can’t be all things to all people all of the time. I have learned that saying no is difficult, but needed. This year I had to fire a couple of volunteers. That was a stressful experience, but it was one stressful event instead of an entire season spent with a toxic volunteer and her hapless husband. My sanity isn’t worth the price of their service. This goes for problem clients too. Just say no."

Jessika Lopez, former Program Manager with the Racial Wealth Divide Initiative at Prosperity Now, relieves stress through the power of a playlist.

  • "Listening to music makes me happy and has always been an outlet for my anxiety. Between today’s political climate, work pressure and even normal everyday stresses, some days, I’m just over it. But then I listen to a playlist or album on my headphones and I’m able to block out the noise. I feel like I can take on the day. Listening to music won’t fix the world’s problems but it gives me what I need to keep trying."

Other Tips from the Prosperity Now Community:

  • Take time to recharge—make sure to schedule “me time."
  • Talk or write it out. When something is bothering you, find a positive way to release it.
  • Have lunch away from your desk. No distractions. Escape, relax and enjoy your lunch. 

The Health + Wealth Connection for Your Clients

An area of growing research and practice within financial capability is the connection between health and wealth. Mental health and financial well-being share strong correlations. Financial stress can lead to or exacerbate depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions. Conversely, depression, trauma and other mental health challenges can impair an individual’s ability to achieve income stability, manage debt or plan for the future. 

Many programs serving low- and moderate-income communities work with clients facing chronic stress and mental health concerns. Traumatic stress, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and adverse community experiences can have enduring impacts on the lives of those impacted by violence, poverty and discrimination. Learn more about ACEs and how to develop trauma-informed approaches to help your clients cultivate resilience and reach for their financial goals.

What’s your tip for stress management? Let us know at community@prosperitynow.org!

Affordable Housing Organizations Offer Comprehensive Services to Better Meet Families’ Needs

Housing organizations have begun to provide comprehensive support around financial issues like credit building, savings and budgeting. This new infographic highlights data from over 60 housing organizations that have started offering a variety of services to better support their clients. Through our surveying of housing organizations, we learned about a housing organization in Baltimore that provides underbanked and unbanked clients prepaid cards as well as access to direct deposit, which help avoid unnecessary fees and allow clients to pay bills online.

We met Rochelle, a single mother of two girls living in HUD-assisted housing who uses the powerful family self-sufficiency program to build assets and start a 529 college savings account for her children, reduce her debt and save almost $5,000 in her savings account. We heard from Ms. Robinson, a client of New York City’s Ready to Rent Program, in which she worked directly with a financial counselor to successfully apply for affordable housing through a plan to consolidate student loans and raise her credit score. Learn more about how housing programs are integrating financial capability in this report from the Center for Community Capital at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Want to connect to other organizations and share more stories like these? Join the I’M HOME Network to stay connected and be the first to get materials from Prosperity Now’s 2018 I’M HOME Conference! Also check out the Affordable Homeownership Network to join a community of practitioners, researchers and advocates who are opening pathways to homeownership, removing barriers to wealth building and providing support to those with the least resources.

Financial Coaches Take a Participant-Centered Approach

Financial coaching programs benefit enormously from a human-centered design that fits the community being served. This is why, when developing the new Financial Coaching Program Design Guide, Prosperity Now relied on six organizations to beta-test the Guide to make sure it was adaptable to their communities. One of those organizations was the California-based Building Skills Partnership, which used the Guide to transition its previously ad-hoc services for a janitor labor union to a robust coaching program.

Building Skills Partnership used the Guide to help build alignment between organization leadership, coaching program managers and designers and frontline staff on goals of the program for their clients, which include improving credit, reducing debt, helping with immigration status and preparing for retirement. This process also included developing and clarifying the outputs Building Skills Partnership would measure to evaluate the program. As a result, the team established that their program would focus on short- and medium-term outputs. While this particular coaching program is still in the implementation phase, the team at Building Skills Partnership is being intentional about the journey their clients will experience throughout the program, from recruitment to signing up, coaching and “graduation.”

What advice does Saul Gonzalez, a coach with Building Skills Partnership, have for other practitioners when it comes to using the guide? “You already know what you already know,” he says. “The guide is not a prescription, it won’t have all the answers. But it is a useful tool for those who are interested in starting a coaching program or have a program and want to scale it.” Further, Saul advises that implementation of a financial coaching program takes time, and to have fun with it. He also cautions that it is important to speak honestly when leadership and program management goals are not aligned. “It behooves practitioners to leave egos aside and collaborate! The goal is to help change the community and bring economic opportunity to your clients.”

Prosperity Now Welcomes 15 New Community Champions

This fall, Prosperity Now opened its 2018 Community Champions application to organizations and coalitions interested in becoming better advocates for their clients. We were pleased to see applications from across the country and a variety of specializations including coalition building, consumer protections, the Earned Income Tax Credit, affordable homeownership, financial coaching, advocacy and service delivery. 

Community Champions are state, local and Native groups that are leaders and conveners in their community. They are committed to mobilizing and advancing policy around consumer protections, the safety net, tax equity and affordable homeownership. Prosperity Now works with Community Champions to advance federal and state policy; and develop the knowledge, skills and capacity of these Champions to become stronger and more effective leaders. 

This year, we welcomed 15 new Community Champions from 13 states. For the first time, we have representation in Kentucky, West Virginia and South Dakota. Altogether, the Prosperity Now Community now has 93 Community Champions in 45 states and Washington, DC.

The new Community Champions are:

Community Champion applications are accepted once a year, but there are still many opportunities to get involved and build your leadership within the Community. Prosperity Now Community networks provide opportunities to talk with and learn from your peers around issues like free tax preparation, financial coaching, savings, racial equity and more. Join one of our networks!

Resources

The Top Community Resources of 2018

Webinar: Grassroots Empowerment: Introducing the African American Financial Capability Initiative, Prosperity Now’s Racial Wealth Divide Initiative and Northwest Area Foundation
This webinar discusses the new initiative that brings together six African American communities of practice to collaboratively develop and implement innovative community-centered financial capability pilot projects that fight racial economic inequality.

Financial Skill Scale, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)
This new scale measures an individual’s ability to find, process, and act on financial information. The 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.

Financial Coaching and Financial Therapy: Differences and Boundaries, Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal
This paper discusses the similarities and differences between financial coaching and financial therapy.

Financial Coaching: Training Rubric, Center for Financial Security at University of Wisconsin-Madison
This is a rubric on financial coaching training for program managers and coaches who are deciding the right type of coaching components for their unique needs.

Financial Coaching Program Design Guide, Prosperity Now
This Coaching Guide supports organizations in developing a participant-centered financial coaching program, highlights the strengths and limitations of financial coaching, offers design tools, showcases promising models and practices, and includes resources from program leaders and financial coaches. 

VITA Volunteer Training PlatformProsperity 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.

Webinar Series: Trauma-Informed Practice & Resilience Brown Bag, Mobilizing Action for Resilient Communities
In each of these short 45-minute sessions, advisors share their expertise and engage in dialogue on key strategies for creating just, healthy and resilient communities.  

Facilitator’s Guide for Continuous Improvement Conversations with a Racial Equity Lens, Living Cities
This racial equity guide provides information and tools on applying a racial equity lens to your work and achieving population-level change.

Whose Bad Choices? How Policy Precludes Prosperity and What We Can Do About It, Prosperity Now
The 2018 Prosperity Now Scorecard took a look into the role policy plays in shaping financial security, both for better and for worse, and how to dispel common problematic myths about what it’s like to be poor and the causes of racial wealth inequities in the US.

A Municipal Policy Blueprint for a More Inclusive Path to Prosperity, Prosperity Now
This Blueprint focuses on designing, advocating and implementing policies that build financial security within communities of color. Designed for policymakers and advocates, the Blueprint encourages meaningful, manageable and moveable policies that promote racial wealth equity.

Additional Resources from Across the Community

Recordings: Equity Summit 2018, Policy Link
The Equity Summit 2018 plenaries focused on practices and policies needed to create a more inclusive and equitable economy and society.

Native Financial Education Coalition Resource Center, Native Financial Education Coalition
This resource center has the latest information, research, data and best practices about Indian Country financial education.

Who Pays: A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All 50 States, Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy
This report ranks each state’s tax system from least to most equitable and finds that only five states and D.C. have tax systems that address income inequality.

Consumer Insights on Paying Bills, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)
This report finds that empowering clients to change bill due dates to better line up with income can help manage cash flow and improve financial well-being.

Opportunities & Events

Opportunities

Office of Financial Empowerment Director, City of Saint Paul, Saint Paul, MN

Upcoming Call for Financial Well-Being Research Papers, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) 

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

Fintech & Racial Equity in Financial Coaching, Prosperity Now, Webinar, January 9, 2019

InForum Partnership Engagement Breakfast, United Way of Greater Atlanta, Atlanta, GA, January 17, 2019

Building Your Facilitation Skills: The "What" and the "How" of Financial Literacy, Florida Prosperity Partnership, Pensacola, FL, January 24, 2019

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

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

2019 Just Economy Conference, National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Washington, D.C., March 11-13, 2019

A|4 Financial Coaching Foundations Workshop, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI, March 26-27, 2019

Financial Health Forum, Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), Scottsdale, AZ, May 14-16, 2019

Policy Updates

Top Policy Updates of 2018

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program saw significant progress this year in the U.S. Congress. The U.S. House passed the VITA Permanence Act in April, pushing the program one step closer to permanent authorization in the IRS tax code. On the funding side, the U.S. Senate appropriations bill gives VITA a $5 million increase in funding – from $15 million to $20 million - for fiscal year 2019. This wouldn’t be possible without the advocacy efforts of the Prosperity Now Community. This year, you sent over 700 emails, phone calls, tweets and petitions to Congress advocating for VITA funding and permanence. Congress has yet to agree on a final spending package as FY18 funding has been extended through December 21st while Congress comes to an agreement for FY19. However, we are confident that – with your continued advocacy – an increase in VITA funding and permanence could become a reality early next year. 

The U.S. Senate introduced a package of savings bills – the Strengthen Financial Security Through Short-Term Savings Act and Refund to Rainy Day Savings Act – which use the workplace and tax time to help families build emergency savings. While it’s unlikely that we’ll see a similar bill in the House this Congress, with your continued advocacy, these bills will be re-introduced in the new Congress in the Senate and introduced in the House.  

The Credit Access and Inclusion Act, which would allow positive rent, phone and utilities payments to be reported to the three credit bureaus, passed the U.S. House and was introduced in the U.S. Senate. It’s unlikely to move forward in the Senate this year, but we hope to see continued progress in the next Congress

Earlier this year, we celebrated a small victory when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) payday lending rule withstood Congressional challenge and remained in place. We are preparing for a huge battle on this front and will rely on our Community of advocates to help keep this rule intact. The rule, which was released under former director Richard Cordray, would require payday lenders to consider a borrowers’ ability to repay before issuing a loan. Despite surviving the Congressional challenge, the acting director is now trying to gut or water down the rule internally. Stay tuned for more on this and other policy areas in early January. 

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)

We are calling on the U.S. Congress to provide $20 million in funding for VITA in FY19 Budget. Read more

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