Report highlights cities’ assistance to families
When families with children are in need, they often turn to their local governments for help. And, in the last few years, many cities have created innovative programs that address the growing needs of children and families in their communities, according to a report from the Washington-based National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education and Families (NLC-YEF). Released in October, “The State of City Leadership for Children and Families” documents 32 initiatives — from after-school programs to free income tax preparation services — that illustrate emerging trends in municipal programs to promote child and family wellbeing.
The report highlights San Antonio’s Rapid Refund program, which was created in 2007 by the city’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) coalition. Sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service, the program prepares tax returns for free, says Richard Keith, manager of the city’s Office of Financial Empowerment. Officials had noticed that some residents who were eligible for VITA were not using the service because they needed their refunds faster than the seven to 10 business days it took with the free program, Keith says.
Instead, the residents were using paid tax preparers so they could get refund anticipation loans (RAL), whose high-interest can cost the recipient an average of $350 with the tax preparation fee. To address the situation, the city hired its former employee credit union to create a no-cost alternative to RALs so residents could receive their refund within four business days.
Last year, the credit union processed nearly 2,400 Refund Express loans with a combined loan value of about $6 million, saving residents an estimated $800,000 in fees, Keith says. “[The money] goes right back into the pockets of our low- and moderate-income population, and that’s who we’re here to serve,” he says.
NLC’s report also highlights new ways in which cities are addressing deepening financial insecurity, violence, childhood obesity and an enduring educational achievement gap, Savannah, Ga., Mayor Otis Johnson writes in the report’s preface. “By testing cutting-edge strategies to improve the lives of children, youth and families, cities are serving as key laboratories in the discovery of practical answers to many of our most vexing problems,” Johnson writes.
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Download “The State of City Leadership for Children and Families” from www.nlc.org to read more about programs that encourage early childhood success, prevent youth violence, improve community wellness, promote family economic success and more.