Five Things We Learned After Hearing from Financial Inclusion Advocates Across the Country

In 2017, we noticed that Prosperity Now Community members were seeking connections with others who are invested in financial security for low- and moderate-income people. To give these Community members a platform to exchange insights, Prosperity Now hosted nine Virtual Regional Listening Sessions in partnership with our Community Steering Committee and other leaders in February and March of this year.  

The sessions brought together nearly 200 state and local partners to discuss data, trends and priorities around financial security and economic opportunity with others in their region. This was a follow-up to last year’s eight Virtual Regional Listening Sessions, where we learned there was high demand to connect and take action after the 2016 election cycle.

So what did we learn in 2018? Here are five insights we gleaned from the Listening Sessions to inform better advocacy:

1. There is a Thirst for Data and Resources

Many attendees of the Listening Sessions came for a deeper dive into the regional data shared in Prosperity Now’s recently-released 2018 Scorecard. Participants in all regions were especially interested in data regarding racial wealth and disability disparities and are now anticipating our release of more local data in the future. Many attendees expressed interest in connecting with others in their state to analyze data more specific to where they live. We also heard a desire to connect around issue-area data and for future resources that outline a case study of a successful policy advocacy campaign. 

2. Policy Priorities are Both Overlapping and Specific Depending on Region

Several regions cited similar policy priorities, such as: 

  • Housing and homeownership (Northeast, Mid-South, West Coast, Southeast and Midwest).

  • Protections against predatory lending and access to credit-building products and services (Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, Southwest, Mountain West and Great Plains, Midwest).

  • Children’s savings (Mid-South, West Coast, South Central and Midwest).

  • Funding for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) (Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, Southwest and South Central).

However, many regions had their own unique policy priorities based on their states’ particular circumstances. The Northeast region participants cited minimum wage as a main priority for their advocates. Participants in the Southeast and West Coast noted that entrepreneurship is a major policy priority for them. We also saw that rental housing policy is a major concern in the Mid-South, Southeast and West Coast. And in regions with large rural areas—like the Southwest, West Coast, Mountain West and Great Plains—many participants said rural economic development policies is their priority in 2018. 

Though many Community members are active advocates in their state and local areas, time and capacity was the most-cited barrier for attendees to engaging these policies at the federal level. 

3. Prosperity Now Community Members Have a Rejuvenated Interest in Developing New and Innovative Programs and Services

While we learned a lot about policy priorities, participants emphasized the need for more conversations about best practices for programs and services. This is a reversal from last year. Several participants acknowledged their concern for and lack of confidence in the federal government’s support for our issues and programs. Others expressed concern that state governments will follow suit. 

Despite those issues, we heard about many programmatic successes such as creating partnerships with hospitals and medical professionals to promote savings. One program created a transportation program to drive pregnant women to prenatal appointments. 

What kind of programs did different regions prioritize? Attendees from the South and West Coast are supplementing their policy advocacy around affordable rental housing and entrepreneurship with programmatic work to overcome persistent barriers to homeownership and other pathways to economic opportunity. The South is also focused on increasing broadband and internet access so more people can benefit from financial services that are delivered online. The Northeast coalesced around a discussion of a two-generation strategy approach to service provision. 

Finally, nearly all regions continue to worry about the zeroed-out funding for Assets for Independence, the federal program that funded Individual Development Accounts (IDAs). Many are concerned about the future sustainability of IDAs and other programs. 

4. The Prosperity Now Community Wants to Learn More About and Connect with Others on Racial Wealth Equity Above All Other Topics

Participants still have a desire to learn more about the racial wealth divide to serve communities of color. They want to be comfortable with the evidence for the divide, aware of its history and well-connected with other people intent on addressing it. Participants also expressed interest in learning more about other vulnerable populations, such as people with disabilities, women and immigrants, to inform their financial security agendas and program design.

5. There is a Wealth of Issues on Which the Community Wants to Connect

Beyond promising practices around programs, service delivery and racial wealth equity, Listening Session participants look forward to connecting with each other around advocacy strategies, research and coalition-building to advance financial security and economic opportunity. Many more expressed a desire to connect on the state level. If you also want to connect with people in your state, check out our Community Champions and their coalitions.

As we move further into 2018, these lessons will be incorporated into our learning, connecting and advocacy opportunities. We will continue to host conversations centered on key issues in our Networks and incorporate more data into these conversations to aid practitioners who want to inform their work with robust evidence. To participate in these future conversations, make sure to sign up for one of our financial security issue-based Networks. We will also continue offering easy ways to engage in advocacy around issues that matter to the Community through our advocacy center so that partners save as much time as possible. You can learn about these advocacy opportunities by joining one of our federal policy campaigns.

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