Building Assets for Region VI Families Leadership Roundtable

Building Assets for Region VI Families Leadership Roundtable

Dallas, Texas

March 12, 2012

Good afternoon, everyone.  Thanks for that kind introduction.

It’s a real pleasure to join you.  I hope by the time we’re finished you’ll have gained lots of good ideas and fresh approaches to bring back to your communities.

As our current and future grantees, never forget that you are the spine holding up the body of social service delivery in this country.  The feds may write the rules and dole out the money, but you’re the ones who know the people down the block, who understand the dynamics of neighborhoods, and are closest to the bone of poverty and its manifestations.  You respond directly to immediate and unmet need.

Even more importantly, you form a community of your own, with a single-minded commitment to help families succeed financially by building their assets.  So I commend you for facing tough challenges head-on and working so hard to improve life for the children and families we serve.

As you well know, the recession has transformed the landscape of need and opened our eyes to how scarce and precious our resources are.  It has intensified the urgency to work in a unified fashion to achieve positive outcomes.  This imperative to cooperate never changes; it only becomes more pressing.

So I’m very pleased to be speaking at a conference dedicated to the proposition that with the right tools and support, low income families can take control of their own finances, emerge from poverty, and achieve a measure of independence and fiscal security, even under difficult economic conditions.

I want to talk with you briefly about the key role of asset-building in ACF’s efforts to combat poverty. 

Asset building is a core component of our mission to improve social and economic well being for the most vulnerable in our country.

As you know, the principle behind the asset building movement is that income and assets are both essential partners in an overall plan to combat poverty, that income support alone is not sufficient.

Given that conviction, we’ve recognized AFI’s natural affinity with ACF’s other programs.  Through our ASSETS (Assets, Savings, Support, Education and Training) initiative, we’ve embedded financial education and asset-building into them—-for example, into TANF, which guides families toward self-sufficiency through employment and training and into child support enforcement, which works with custodial and non-custodial parents to ensure that the children get the support they deserve. 

With this initiative and others, we’re demonstrating that we’re serious about coordinating services within our own house, not viewing each program as a separate entity, but rather as a part of the constellation of supports that any given family might need at any given time.

The Assets for Independence program has its own uniquely practical approach, an approach that speaks to a great faith in the ability of people to rise out of poverty.

• The program gives people a leg up with matched savings accounts.
•   It connects them to banks and mainstream financial institutions, saving them from the machinations of pay-day lenders.
•  It teaches them how to budget, plan for the future, get an education, and accumulate real property, businesses and nest eggs that can cushion them from the economy’s ups and downs.

Asset-building harks back to the old proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” 

This is not to deny the importance of income support—it is absolutely necessary--but to reach independence, become financially savvy and accumulate some savings and property, families must learn to build their own assets without total reliance on outside assistance, which will never be enough to get them to that next level.

As welfare policy expert Michael Sherraden said, “Very few people manage to SPEND their way out of poverty.”

The results of the AFI program show that we’re on the right track.

Today there are some 224 organizations administering the program nationwide.  And the results are quite astounding:
• Nearly 80,000 very low income folks have saved $66.4 million.
• More than 29,000 have used their IDA funds to buy homes, start businesses or go to college.

Research confirms that the approach AFI projects take—a combination of financial literacy education, ongoing support and matched bank accounts—is having a very positive impact on families.  For example, the Urban Institute recently reported that a high percentage of families who bought homes while participating in an IDA programs were doing well with their mortgages.  Very few were having significant trouble meeting their payments.  In these days of rampant foreclosures, that’s quite a good result.

ACF’s ongoing evaluation of the program is also encouraging.  We’ve found that compared with similar families, those who achieve their IDA savings goals are twice as likely to make a life-changing decision to pursue a higher education, 35% more
likely to save and become homeowners, and 84% more likely to become business owners.

And it’s the grantees who are shepherding these excellent outcomes, thinking outside the box and tailoring programs to fit their clients.  Because of the comprehensive approach that the asset building approach requires, you must become very adept at collaborating with partner organizations to ensure that your clients have access to the services they need.

This collaborative and coordinated approach is so powerful, and it leads to very clear and positive results.  In many programs we have to push grantees to work across program lines – but with AFI, you all do this naturally.  You do it this way because you are focused on helping families succeed over the long-term.  This is exactly the kind of grass-roots creativity that gets results.

I’ll give you a few examples:

• The YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas is an AFI grantee.  They joined United Way to pilot a new comprehensive approach to help poor families become self-sufficient.  They did this by opening Family Financial Centers at four trusted United Way community service organizations.  Now a family can connect with a whole range of services, including asset development, in one convenient place.

• The El Paso Collaborative for Community and Economic Development works with the Center against Family Violence and the Texas Council on Family Violence to offer asset building services to survivors of domestic violence.  Their services are carried out with great sensitivity to the situations of these women.  I’d like to thank the Allstate Foundation for providing nonfederal funds for this effort.

• I mentioned child support earlier—there’s a great example here.  The Covenant Community Capital Corporation and the Texas child support office are working together to hook young fathers up with asset building programs.

I know there are more great examples, and we’d love to hear about them.

Given these good results, we continue to support the AFI program and especially your work.  The proof is that we’ve made significant investments in the program over last few years.

For example:

• We’ve developed an online toolbox that spotlights promising fundraising strategies for grantees.  You can find it at www.IDAresources.org.

• We’ve provided technical assistance to grantees to help you marshal resources.

• We’ve shared information about fundraising approaches and messaging strategies that work.

We want our training and technical assistance to be meaningful, so I welcome your ideas on how we can help you the most.

But I don’t want to sound too much like a Polyanna.  We are not blind to the fact that the sluggish economy has affected grantees, just as it has everyone else.  We realize that raising funds to pay the match required by law is no easy task these days.  That’s why today we hope to gain insight into how you can become more financially stable while helping your clients achieve the same goal.

I salute the work you’re doing and look forward to continued excellent results.

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