GUEST WORDS-- Since joining the LA County Board of Supervisors 18 months ago, I, along with my colleagues on the Board, have taken a series of steps to build prosperity and economic security for residents by raising the minimum wage and establishing programs to promote social enterprises, help small businesses thrive and prevent people from falling into homelessness when they encounter short-term financial crises, like the loss of a job or a catastrophic medical condition.
Last week, the Board took another significant action to try to stabilize and empower low-income households in the county. Fifteen percent of our residents live below the official poverty line, but more than three times that number (49%) lack sufficient savings to live above the poverty level for three months if they lose a job or suffer a financial emergency. These residents don’t hold sufficient household wealth to weather even a brief financial storm.
Twenty-eight percent of County households either don’t have a bank account or rely on check-cashing stores and payday lenders with high interest rates. Those dramatic numbers led to the Board voting to establish a Center for Financial Empowerment which will help thousands of families reduce their debt and save money.
The Center for Financial Empowerment will coordinate and promote the many existing financial services already available for low-income residents such as financial literacy, free tax preparation, accessing appropriate benefits and helping consumers manage their debt. Similar Centers have been established in Boston, Chicago, New York, Oakland, San Francisco, and Seattle.
In LA, the Center will initially prioritize two populations: families and young people. According to a New America Foundation report, low to moderate income County residents fail to claim more than $370 million in Federal EITC funds each year. The Center for Financial Empowerment will focus on ensuring that County families tap a greater share of that EITC funding.
In addition, the Center will target young people, 18 to 24, who are just entering the job market and starting families. Over the last decade, San Francisco’s Office of Financial Empowerment has helped more than 75,000 “unbanked” San Franciscans open safe, affordable bank accounts, and more than 22,000 college savings accounts have been opened for public kindergarten students.
I am very grateful for the support of my colleagues, especially Supervisor Hilda Solis, who co-authored the motion that established the Center, and to Citi Community Development which will provide significant financial support for the first year of the County’s pilot.
I am hopeful that these new County efforts will help more and more families build the kind of household wealth that will allow them to send children to college, purchase homes and start new businesses!
(Sheila Kuehl is LA County Supervisor for the 3rd District. The Supervisor is an occasional contributor to CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.