By Mike Karpman
As the recent housing bust and recession have demonstrated, the financial security of families and other local residents has a profound impact on cities' economic prospects and neighborhood vitality. Recognizing the important roles they can play as visible community leaders, municipal officials have tested a variety of innovative strategies to promote family financial empowerment in partnership with other key stakeholders.
NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families has provided technical assistance and peer networking opportunities to scores of these cities for more than a decade as they have helped families claim the Earned Income Tax Credit and vital public benefits, save and build assets, and obtain access to affordable, mainstream financial services. In its efforts to assist city leaders, NLC has formed a strong partnership with the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), a national organization that empowers low and moderate-income households to build and preserve assets by advancing policies that help them achieve the American Dream.
Drawing on the experiences of cities of all sizes across the nation, a new report published by CFED and NLC highlights six no-cost or low-cost ideas for how city officials can get started in helping more families in their community achieve financial stability. The report, Taking the First Step: Six Ways to Start Building Financial Security and Opportunity at the Local Level, describes the following points of entry for municipal leadership:
The six financial empowerment strategies described in this step-by-step guide serve as "low-hanging fruit" for cities that have just begun to focus on ways to promote family economic success. These concrete, low-cost strategies can build on existing city initiatives to empower families by helping them learn financial skills, maximize their earnings and income, save and invest for the future, and protect their assets.
The six strategies featured in the report complement traditional municipal efforts to enhance residents' economic security through job creation, workforce development services, and housing and community development programs. Cities can increase the return on their investment in employment and housing and bolster economic self-sufficiency by helping more residents build assets and avoid falling victim to predatory financial practices. For each of the six strategies, the guide provides background information about why the strategy is important, key first steps city leaders can take toward implementation, city examples, and ideas to enhance and sustain the strategy to greater meet the economic needs of residents.
A concluding section explores opportunities to develop a comprehensive and integrated financial empowerment agenda that is firmly embedded within the way local governments do business, and emphasizes the value of drawing on local experience to advocate for supportive policies at the state and federal levels.