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December 2016 Newsletter

RAISE Texas News

New Report on the Importance of VITA Services Released- Funded by RAISE Texas and CPPP

Knowing that many families and individuals in Texas continue to struggle to make ends meet, United Ways of Texas members have built robust financial stability programs that benefit the local communities they serve. Each local United Way organization, together with community partners, work in diverse communities – large, small, rural, urban – and each face their own challenges and needs around financial stability. While program components are unique to each community, a vastly successful pillar of many financial stability initiatives in Texas is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

A new statewide report released this fall from United Ways of Texas examines the success of the VITA programs, both as a free tax preparation service, and as an essential component of successful financial stability initiatives led by Texas United Way organizations. The report, "Strengthening Texans’ Financial Stability: Reviewing Trends and Future Implications from Texas United Ways", captures a future-oriented picture of how nonprofit networks assist low-to-moderate income residents during tax time and beyond. This comprehensive statewide scan uses survey data collected after the 2015 tax season and local program information to closely look at trends, highlights, challenges, and what’s in store for the future of United Way financial stability programs in Texas. The report was funded by RAISE Texas and Center for Public Policy Priorities.

New Report Highlights Promise and Enrollment Barriers to School-Based CSAs for College

Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) for College are becoming a popular strategy to help families build financial skills, start saving for college, and increase college attendance. Over the past five years, RAISE Texas and Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) have partnered to develop and expand CSAs in Texas. Recently, the Child & Family Research Partnership at The University of Texas at Austin released a new report, School-Based Financial Education and College Savings Accounts in Elementary Schools, which evaluates a feasibility study that RAISE Texas, CPPP and other partners conducted in the 2015-2016 school year. The feasibility study gave kindergarten and 4th grade students the opportunity to open a CSA as they learned about college and savings through four financial education lessons taught by their teachers. We want to highlight some of the major findings of the feasibility study:

  • CSAs are an important teaching and parent engagement tool,
  • Families used the college savings accounts,
  • The program financial education lessons are effective,
  • Families face multiple barriers to opening a CSA,
  • Families found the program materials and steps to enrollment too complex,
  • In-person parent program presentation is important to enrollment.
Read CPPP’s Laura Rosen’s blog post for more key information from the report. Click here to access the entire report.

Texas News

Mini Loan Program Helps Get Most Vulnerable North Texans Out of the Debt Trap

Payday and auto title loans can be devastating for low-income individuals and families that have no choice but to take out one of these high-interest loans because they do not qualify for mainstream loan options. In North Texas, that is exactly what happened to Silvia Perez- she took out a 30 day $1,500 auto title loan to help care for her new grandson, only to have to extend the loan three times due to the inability to pay. Perez had paid almost $1,200 in fees toward the $1,500 loan when she joined the Mini Loan Program at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The Mini Loan Program paid off the title loan and gave her a 12 month loan with monthly payments of $183 at an interest rate of 3 percent. In 18 months, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has issued 63 of these small loans. With one-third of North Texans currently underbanked, the need for these mini loans is going to continue to rise. Click here to read the entire article by our friend, Courtney Collins at KERA.

Congratulations to the 2016 KERNEL Awardees

United Way of Tarrant County hosted the inaugural KERNEL LIVE! event on November 2, 2016. This event was the result of cross sector collaboration to advance social innovation, entrepreneurship and positive impact to the community. KERNEL is the United Way of Tarrant County’s new social innovation fund, and three organizations were awarded grants for their innovative work. Congratulations to Catholic Charities Fort Worth on receiving a KERNEL award for its work on a children’s savings account pilot program to help low-income students and parents save for college. For more information on this event, click here.

FINAL MONTH to Apply for Match the Promise Foundation Scholarships

The Match the Promise Foundation encourages families to save for college by supplementing their contributions to the Texas Tuition Promise Fund®. Approved recipients can receive matching scholarships of tuition units worth up to $1,000 at today's prices, and top-scoring recipients can also receive one-time grants of tuition units worth $2,000 at today's prices.

To apply, children must meet these criteria:

  • Be a fifth through ninth grader
  • Have a family with an annual income of $100,000 or less
  • Be a Texas resident
  • Be enrolled in the Texas Tuition Promise Fund
All interested applicants must apply for Match the Promise scholarships by Dec. 31, 2016. Families may also enroll in the Texas Tuition Promise Fund during this time if they haven't already done so.

National News and Resources

New York City Seeks to Help Families Save for College

The New York Times reports that next fall thousands of New York City Kindergartners will receive a college savings account through a new three-year pilot by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. This pilot will provide about 3,500 children with $100 to be deposited into a 529 college savings account. The families can then receive another $200 over four years if they save small amounts of their own money and meet other program benchmarks. Jon Gray and his wife, Mindy, provided the $10 million donation to finance this program. Click here to read article.

People of Faith Fight to Stop the Debt Trap

Many studies and reports show that the payday and auto title loan industry is not built upon expensive small-dollar consumer loans but rather on creating intentional debt traps for their customers. Payday and auto title lenders continue to catch consumers in loans that they cannot pay off, and the rollover fees that keep them trapped in debt. Thankfully, there are more and more champions fighting against these lending practices, including people of faith. From forming coalitions to making documentaries and pushing cities to pass local ordinances, faith-based organizations are playing a major role in the fight against these predatory lending practices. Read this blog post for more information.

Blog Post Points Out “The Needs of Working Folks”

A new Squared Away Blog post, The Needs of Working Folks, discusses six items that working people are hoping for, based on the polls and research studies throughout the primaries and presidential campaign. From good jobs to a secure retirement, this list describes the dreams of many in our country today. Click here to read the blog.

NDI Executive Director Writes Blog to President-elect Donald Trump

The National Disability Institute had an important message for President-elect Donald Trump in its latest blog for The Huffington Post- “An Open Letter to President-elect Donald Trump on Behalf of Americans with Disabilities.” The blog discusses what does and does not need to change for Americans with disabilities, to ensure their full participation in the workplaces, communities and the economy. Click here to read the letter.

Legislation Passed to Help New Yorkers Go to College
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law S6942/A9188 last week, which will help New Yorkers go to college by enabling families to split their state tax refund and direct a portion of the refund into New York’s 529 college savings program during tax time. For more information, click here.