NLC Awards Grants to Six Cities to Strengthen Financial Inclusion Efforts

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While cities are increasingly creating programs to address financial inclusion, bringing those programs out of their silos to engage with partners and current resources is what makes the difference in those programs’ long-term success.

“At a time when too many Lansing residents face serious obstacles to financial stability, NLC is helping the city to step up to provide them with vital assistance in reducing debt, building credit and saving for the future.” – The Honorable Virg Bernero, Mayor, City of Lansing, Michigan (Photo: Getty Images)

To accomplish his stated goals, Lansing, Michigan, Mayor Virg Benero joined the National League of Cities and five other mayors recently to brainstorm solutions to the financial challenges residents in his city face every day. This Mayors’ Institute was part of NLC’s two-year project supported by MetLife Foundation, Cities Building Systems to Promote Financial Inclusion, which provides technical assistance and grants to eight cities working to build sustainable financial inclusion programs and systems. Last week, NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families (YEF Institute) awarded grants to six of these cities to help them implement diverse approaches to mitigate their residents’ financial challenges.

Nearly half of American households lack enough savings to cover a three-month emergency fund for basic expenses, necessary for the loss of a job or a sudden medical expense. Unless families are financially healthy, cities generate less money from property taxes and can lose revenue from unpaid public utility bills. They must also grapple with the costs of higher rates of foreclosure, decreasing education and health outcomes, and less vibrant local economies.

Cities and their community partners can build and implement programs that provide financial support and services, ranging from child savings accounts to financial counseling to avoiding check-cashers and predatory lending. But by focusing on systems-building, cities put infrastructure in place to ensure that programs are sustainable, integrated into community priorities, and efficient in building on existing services.

The grant funds awarded through this project provide mayors with the opportunity to build capacity, integrate services, and learn from other cities that are part of the project cohort. It can be difficult to secure funding that goes beyond support of existing, discrete programs; mayors will be able to think critically about how to build enduring relationships and recognize that while cities are increasingly creating programs to address financial inclusion, bringing those programs out of their silos to engage with partners and current resources is what makes the difference in those programs’ long-term success.

Cities are taking on elements of infrastructure, communication, and program design with technical assistance from NLC’s YEF Institute. Several are using funding to assess the landscape of financial inclusion in their cities: community organizations and nonprofits are passionate about providing services, so how can cities facilitate or coordinate the efforts of numerous partners?

Lansing is a city with strong programs in place to serve families, and their grant will go towards making connections between those programs. Mayor Bernero will use the grant to engage parents of children that are enrolled in the city’s Children’s Savings Account (CSA) program and connect them to services available through the city’s Financial Empowerment Centers. Financial Empowerment Centers offer residents an array of services such as debt reduction, access to public benefits and financial counseling.  This dual generation approach will help families build confidence in planning for their children’s futures.

Meanwhile, Dubuque, Iowa – another city receiving an NLC financial inclusion grant – plans to integrate its Bank On program (which connects unbanked individuals to accounts) with EITC/VITA initiatives to promote financial education and incentivized savings. By building a shared data platform, working together to target residents, and moving beyond the provision of bank accounts, Dubuque will strengthen the programs it already offers and ensure their sustainability.

With mayors as champions of financial inclusion, cities are well-positioned to make tangible changes in the lives of families. By thinking critically about their role as conveners of stakeholders, implementers of impactful programs, and communicators to residents, cities can use a systems-building approach to strengthen and sustain families and the financial inclusion services they receive.

For more information about NLC’s municipal financial inclusion efforts, visit our website or contact Denise Belser, program manager for economic opportunity and financial empowerment at belser@nlc.org.

About the Authors: 

Denise Belser is the Program Manager of Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment Program within NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Lily Roberts is an intern with the Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment Program within NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families.