Mayors want people to use money wisely
Between 1980 and 2002, personal bankruptcy filings in the nation increased more than 535 percent, and credit card debt between 1990 and 2000 tripled, according to the Washington-based U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM). In response, the association’s Council for the New American City created the Dollar Wise program to encourage and support financial literacy programs across the country. The goal of the campaign is to create higher standards of living and financially stable communities.
The Dollar Wise grants are funded by a $1 million donation from Calabasas, Calif.-based Countrywide Financial Corp. In January, USCM awarded $55,000 to Louisville, Ky.; Avondale, Ariz.; and the Quad City area on the border of Iowa and Illinois to support local programs that work toward council goals. Louisville, and the non-profit Louisville Asset Building Coalition (LABC) were awarded $25,000 of the $55,000 for financial education events and programs for residents who are eligible for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). LABC includes 80 public and private partners, such as the Urban League and Junior Achievement, and is a clearinghouse of financial education resources in the Louisville metro area, says LABC Director Eric Seto. “No single organization can handle all financial education needs,” Seto says.
As the mayor’s designee to the LABC, Louisville’s Assistant Director for Human Services Ron Jackson ensures that families applying for public housing and food stamps also are enrolled in programs that promote financial self-sufficiency. The goal of the LABC program is to free families from dependence on public assistance, saving resources for others in need. “Stable families make stable neighborhoods,” Jackson says.
Avondale will use the $15,000 it received from the Dollar Wise campaign to fund its financial education program, Financially FIT (Freedom to Invest in Tomorrow), which aims to reduce the city’s above-average poverty level, says Christina Avila, Avondale’s outreach specialist.
The program offers free monthly financial workshops, financial assessments to help residents understand and improve their credit reports, and free volunteer income tax assistance to encourage people to take advantage of the EITC. Additionally, using local and federal funds, Financially FIT matches the money saved by low-income families and individuals to help them purchase their first homes.
Bettendorm and Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island and Moline, Ill., which make up the Quad Cities, also received $15,000 from the Dollar Wise campaign to finance their multi-jurisdictional educational efforts. The Quad Cities (QC) Dollar Wise program targets low-income residents, people who speak English as a second language, and those without bank accounts. Program coordinators visit neighborhood associations and other organizations that include members of the program’s target audience to offer financial education services.
Recently, QC Dollar Wise received a request from a local transitional housing program to set up four financial programs. “Since the first of the year, we have coordinated six programs that would not have otherwise happened if QC Dollar Wise was not in existence,” says Lisa Ahern, program coordinator.
Nine cities have received Dollar Wise grants since the program began in 2005, and USCM is accepting applications for the next round of grants to be awarded in January 2008. “Each city that received a Dollar Wise grant is a model for others to follow,” says USCM President and Trenton, N.J., Mayor Douglas Palmer.
Annie Gentile is a Vernon, Conn.-based freelance writer.