Financial Empowerment Centers

SPREADING A PROVEN MODEL TO HELP HOUSEHOLDS GET OUT OF DEBT

Millions of U.S. households struggle with large amounts of debt and a lack of information and resources to help them build their financial stability. This is a critical problem for cities – research shows that economically strong families are better able to weather economic shocks, contribute to and grow the local economy, and help their children succeed. By delivering one-on-one financial counseling as a free city service, the Financial Empowerment Center model offers cities a tangible strategy to help those most in need of critical one-on-one assistance and build community financial stability. Through a partnership with the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, Bloomberg Philanthropies is helping cities implement this innovative model.

THERE IS A GROWING DEMAND FOR CITIES TO INTRODUCE STRATEGIES THAT HELP LOW-INCOME RESIDENTS IMPROVE THEIR ECONOMIC OUTLOOK

There are more than 65 million people in the United States who are outside the financial mainstream, without a checking or savings account and using costly alternative financial services. In addition, nearly half of Americans regularly experience substantial fluctuations in income, and 55% of households do not have enough savings to replace a month of their income. Meanwhile, the services and support available to low-income residents are inconsistent at best and counterproductive at worst.

Bloomberg Philanthropies is spreading a proven model – a new public service –that helps low-income citizens reduce debt, build assets, and take control of their financial futures.

ENCOURAGING AND SPREADING FINANCIAL STABILITY AND SAVINGS

Piloted in New York City, Financial Empowerment Centers offer free, professional, one-on-one financial counseling. The Centers provide citizens with tools and information to manage their finances, pay down debt, increase savings, establish and build credit, and access safe and affordable mainstream banking products. Launched in 2008, NYC’s Financial Empowerment Centers have helped tens of thousands of residents reduce their debt by tens of millions of dollars and build substantial savings.

Local governments implement social service programs that connect residents with schools, benefits, housing, and other resources. They are therefore uniquely positioned to integrate financial counseling into social service delivery systems. Financial instability is often the underlying backdrop for residents seeking social services.

Through a partnership with the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, Bloomberg Philanthropies is supporting the replication of this proven model in dozens of American cities.

In March 2013, thanks to cash grants made possible by Bloomberg Philanthropies, new Centers opened their doors in Denver, Lansing, Nashville, Philadelphia, and San Antonio. These Centers have worked with almost 34,000 clients, helping them reduce individual debt by almost $40 million, and increasing their families’ savings by close to $5 million. Although these initial grants have ended, each of these cities is sustaining FEC services beyond grant, and three of five city administrations expanded their commitments by opening Offices of Financial Empowerment or similar municipal entities to support and oversee both FEC and additional city-led financial empowerment efforts.

Now, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the CFE Fund are seeding additional FEC replication through providing funding and technical assistance to local leaders to develop, launch, and implement financial counseling as a free public service. In addition, the CFE Fund is supporting an Affiliates Network, bringing together cities, counties, states, and nonprofit organizations who provide other government-connected models of free financial counseling and coaching, learning from these experiences to further the professionalizing field of financial counseling and coaching.

By investing in these cities, Bloomberg Philanthropies seeks to further demonstrate the effectiveness of the model and establish it as a new public service, making a powerful case for even more cities around the country to begin taking up this important work.

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