Archive for September, 2010

Expanding the Pie

Neighborhood Partnerships staff is in Washington DC attending the CFED Assets Learning Conference.  We were also fortunate to attend a pre-conference session for State & Local Assets Coalitions.  This pre-conference session was attended by 43 state asset coalitions and over 30 local asset coalitions.  Both on days one and two, attendees were challenged to help CFED build a movement in this country to expand economic opportunities for all Americans.

At the end of day one, attendees were asked to respond about how we view asset building as part of a larger social movement, its strengths and weaknesses, and what we need from partners, national organizations, researchers and funders in the coming years to create opportunity for all Americans.

The discussion continued on day two, with a panel discussion on the role of government, state coalitions, foundations and national intermediaries in the asset building movement.  Robert Friedman, Founder and Chair of CFED presented state and local asset coalition partners with three opportunities he sees on the horizon:

  1. This is a federal moment for the asset building movement.  The financial crisis has presented an opportunity where more than ever before, Americans are interested in saving and our leaders are interested in encouraging saving and investing.  Legislation to expand the savers credit to fifty million low income families (sponsored by our own Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Oregon District 3) is within our reach as are other asset building proposals. We need to take advantage of this opportunity.
  2. The money we spend on asset building at the federal level is upside down—each year the federal government spends nearly $400 billion every year on asset building activity through tax benefits and credits—but most of it is for the wealthiest Americans.  CFED’s recently released report Upside Down highlights the opportunity to simply reprioritize a small portion of this asset building budget which could significantly and positively impact very-low , low and moderate income Americans.
  3. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, the asset building agenda addresses the major problems this country is currently facing.  Asset building can create long term economic stability, access to opportunity and a true and stable middle class, and we can expand the pie in an “old fashioned” American way—though enterprise, saving and investment.

Most importantly, Mr. Friedman talked to the group about how this work is work that should appeal to all Americans. It expands opportunity for all Americans.  It develops businesses and promotes entrepreneurship.  It promotes the American Dream.   We have a history in this country of intentionally implementing policies that have helped over time to create a middle class, including the GI Bill, and the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction.  While these policies historically have not been open to all Americans—especially people of color—we can now implement intentional policies that positively impact everyone.   Mr. Friedman is right—this is the moment for the asset building movement. It’s time to create economic opportunity for all Americans.

Archive for September, 2010

Neighborhood Partnerships Celebrates and Launches Leadership Salons and an Advocacy College

Neighborhood Partnerships celebrated their 20th anniversary and launched the Leadership Salon and Leaders Advocacy and Messaging College in a whirlwind of well attended events in mid-September.

Special guests Patrick Bresette and Larry Wallack headlined many of the events with key partners from across the state.   Bresette and Wallack are experts in framing and messaging.  They are working with Neighborhood Partnerships to aid organizations and coalitions to improve communications and advance a broadly shared agenda for Oregon’s future—one where the opportunity to thrive is real for a diversity of Oregonians, there are adequately supported public systems that support pathways out of poverty and disenfranchisement, asset building is a priority and citizens are engaged together in creating our future.

Bresette, Associate Program Director of the Public Works Program at Demos: A Network for Ideas and Action and Larry Wallack, Dean of Dean of the College of Urban and Public Affairs for Portland State University addressed the salon and college with the basics of framing and messaging, derived from extensive research and experience.  They challenged leaders from across the state advocating on a host of issues to work together in coalitions and across issue silos to articulate the underlying values that help frame the importance of and call the public to support the common good.

The hundreds of people who attended the events came from foundations, non-profits, business and all levels of the public sector, working on a variety of issues—housing and homelessness, hunger, human services, family friendly workplace policies, immigration reform, economic and microenterprise development, equity and non-discrimination, public health, justice system reform, election reform, sustainable development and tax policy.

October is the next opportunity for the Leadership Salon and Leaders Advocacy and Messaging College to work with Bresette and Wallack, who will be delving deeper into framing and messaging and translating the concepts into practical tools to realize the vision of an Oregon we cherish.  If you are interested in learning more, please contact Janet Byrd, Executive Director of Neighborhood Partnerships.

Janet promised a special 21st anniversary celebration for Neighborhood Partnerships next year. And with hard work, we can also hope also celebrate a state that looks more like our vision of equity and opportunity for all Oregonians.

**This guest post was written by Kathy Turner.  Kathy is a consultant for Neighborhood Partnerships.

Archive for September, 2010

Closing the Racial Wealth Gap through Asset Development

Speaking yesterday at the opening plenary of CFED’s biennial Assets Learning Conference, Thomas Shapiro and Melvin Oliver outlined four strategies for eliminating the United States’ racial wealth gap.  Shapiro and Oliver are authors of Black Wealth/White Wealth, a flagship work on wealth and inequality.  Speaking to a crowd of over 1,000 advocates and service providers from all over the United States, Shapiro and Oliver linked historical practices such as redlining and discrimination by the federal housing administration, insurance companies and financial institutions and today’s subprime lending crisis.  Shapiro and Oliver pointed out that today—in 2010—the average African American household owns 10% of the wealth of the average white American household—a chilling statistic which hasn’t changed since the 1980s.

Shapiro and Oliver called on the audience to acknowledge hard truths about the role established asset building programs, such as the home mortgage interest rate deduction, play in augmenting unfair gains perpetuated for generations.  Thomas Shapiro cited the Panel Study on Income Dynamics, which has followed African American and white families for generations to monitor changes in wealth accumulation over time.  Shapiro pointed out that the study gives us the opportunity to monitor wealth accumulation throughout the life-cycle and conclusively demonstrates that the vast majority of wealth accumulation goes to those who are well off to begin with.

Shapiro and Oliver proceeded to outline a policy framework for addressing the racial wealth gap:

Thomas Shapiro called for critically examining wealth building provision in the tax code, which costs approximately 400 billion dollars a year.  These policies include the home mortgage interest deduction and savings for retirement pensions.  More than 50% of these expenditures go to the top 5% of tax payers—those making more than $167,000 per year, while very little goes to middle or low income tax payers.

Thomas Shapiro called on CFED’s audience to question our thinking on the estate tax and how the intergenerational transfer of wealth through inheritance fits into our country’s democratic tradition. Dr. Shapiro posited that inheritance is the enemy of merit, and called on the audience to question whether we can continue to pass along huge advantages through inheritance while placing a high value on equal opportunity.

Melvin Oliver reminded us that home equity is the main source of wealth for Americans, and asked conference attendees to consider the ways in which residential segregation impacts wealth. He pointed out that high rates of home ownership correlate with stable communities, civic participation, education attainment, and reduced criminal activity, and noted that African Americans do not get the same equity gains from home ownership as whites because of racial segregation and the systematic undervaluing of black neighborhoods.  This systematic undervaluation as a result of segregation is essentially an equity tax.  Dr. Oliver also called on community development institutions to purchase and renovate foreclosed homes, and called on us all to consider asset building opportunities for renters.

Finally, Melvin Oliver called on us to think about how Children’s Development Accounts can help to close the racial wealth gap. He recommended that public deposits made for each young person be greater  for lower-income families in order to make real strides to reducing the racial wealth gap over time.

Melvin Oliver concluded this powerful presentation by calling on the audience to recognize that, in order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. Shapiro and Oliver’s presentation was an important reminder about the urgency of asset policy reform coupled with culturally sensitive service delivery.  Stay tuned for more highlights from CFED’s biennial conference.

Archive for September, 2010

Poverty Rates Demand a New Conversation!

On Thursday, September 16, the Census Bureau released new data on income, poverty and health insurance coverage.  The news was bleak—increased rates of poverty and decreased health insurance coverage as a result of the current and ongoing recession.

The release of data by the Census Bureau revealed:

3.7 million more Americans have fallen into poverty in 2009, driven by deep job losses and prolonged unemployment.

In 2009, the number and percentage of Americans without health insurance coverage also grew.

Despite this bad news, the news could have been much worse—the Census is also reporting that 3.3 million Americans continue to receive unemployment insurance benefits—keeping many of them barely above the poverty level.  The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities believes the Recovery Act also helped alleviate the poverty levels through the Making Work Pay credit and food stamps.

As of June 2009, almost one in eight Oregonians* were living in poverty—think of the combined populations of Newport, Salem, Eugene, Medford, Bend, Pendleton, and Corvallis.  If figures were available for today, that number would be even higher.  This is a tragedy, and threatens to undermine the very foundation of our communities.

We know how to solve this problem.  We have tools and strategies to help create economic opportunity for all Oregonians, and together we can solve this problem so that all Oregonians benefit.  As our communities begin to thrive again, the connections between us and our interdependence mean that we will all feel the benefits—of a more vibrant economy, engaged and successful residents, thriving neighborhoods and towns.

Tools and public structures are already in place to support these goals:

Unemployment Insurance protects those who have lost jobs as a result of this recession.  It prevents families from falling deeper into debt or homelessness.

Food stamps are also a critical safety net.  Food stamps help families put food on the table for their children, support our local farmers, and put money straight back into the local economy as the dollars are spent immediately.

As we continue to see the impacts of this recession, we know that we all could be doing more.  Neighborhood Partnerships sees this as an opportunity to engage Oregonians in a conversation.  What do we want our state to look like?  How do we work together to build security for our middle class, hard working families, and create opportunity for all of our residents to build a better future?  Let’s not be the generation that didn’t have high hopes for their kids—let’s work together to make this the Oregon we believe in.

* 13.4% of the population, or 510,000

Archive for September, 2010

The Assets Movement at Its Moment

Recently released data shows that the total number of people in poverty grew to one in seven Americans in 2009.  This heart wrenching economic news tells the story of hardship many of us know well since nearly everyone has watched family members and friends struggle through prolonged periods of unemployment or underemployment since the start of the great recession.

With this news in the background, advocates from several of Oregon’s nonprofit leaders—including Neighborhood Partnerships, CASA of Oregon, the Native American Youth and Family Center, Partners for a Hunger Free Oregon, Umpqua CDC, the Partnership to End Poverty, and Mercy Corps NW—will travel to Washington DC next week to attend CFED’s biennial conference on asset building.

This year’s conference is called The Assets Movement at Its Moment: Creating the Save & Invest Economy. The conference organizers recognize that the economic hardship our country is currently experiencing presents those of us advocating for long term economic justice through policy change with an opportunity. All across the nation, families are reprioritizing the importance of saving. Neighborhoods are uniting to support local businesses. And community leaders from all walks of life are reimagining the role of government in ensuring we have a stable and sound economy that truly provides opportunity for everyone. This is, in fact, a moment.

The Assets Movement at Its Moment conference will be grounded in 30 years of innovative asset-building work by CFED and community practitioners worldwide—work that has helped thousands gain economic security including over 1,500 Oregonians who have increased their financial stability through the Oregon Individual Development Account Initiative.  The financial strategies, products, services and programs piloted over the last 30 years are now poised for expansion as core components in economic restructuring.  Now is the time for far more people to take part and prosper in the economic mainstream through strategic and innovative policy change.

The Assets Learning Conference will bring together more than 1,000 insightful and influential community practitioners, government officials, policymakers, researchers, business leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs seeking to lay a new foundation for economic recovery and expansion—an expansion that works for all of us.  In addition, the conference will be a chance for Oregon’s leaders in asset building to learn new strategies and practices from our peers, and to step back from our day-to-day work and think broadly about policy goals for the antipoverty and asset building movements.  It will be an opportunity for critical reflection at this moment of great uncertainty and change.

We invite you to join Neighborhood Partnerships as we report on the conference as it unfolds.  We will be blogging from the conference including a report out on CFED’s State of the Movement address.  Stay tuned to our Facebook page for reactions from the Oregon delegation, and their reflections on the conference and hopes for the future of the asset building movement. We look forward to sharing this momentous experience with all of you.

Archive for September, 2010

Supporting Asset Development in Oregon, and the Assets Learning Conference!

In less than two weeks, staff from Neighborhood Partnerships will travel to Washington, DC for the Assets Learning Conference hosted by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED). CFED, one of our partner organizations, is dedicated to expanding economic opportunity for all Americans for over 30 years. The conference, The Assets Movement at its Moment: Creating the Save & Invest Economy, will convene over 1,000 leaders from the Assets & Opportunity field in Washington, DC, September 22–24. Find out more information about the conference here.

While at the conference, we will attend a session on Predatory Lending. According to CFED, this session “will address the policies at the local, state and federal levels that address predatory consumer lending—including payday loans, rent-to-own arrangements, predatory auto loans and refund anticipation loans.” These are all interesting and relevant topics to our work here in Oregon, in particular the pieces about refund anticipation loans.

In 2011, Our Oregon will begin working to curb the abuse of refund anticipation loans through legislative action, and Neighborhood Partnerships has recently signed on as a supporter of this effort.

Refund Anticipation Loans (or RALs) are short-term and high-cost loans for people expecting tax refunds. RALs are given to consumers by banks or tax preparers, and in exchange the bank or tax preparer then charges the consumer an interest rate and fees—all for loaning them their own money. In an age of e-filing and direct deposits, consumers could get their refund—all of it—from the IRS within as little as seven days, but they aren’t told this by tax preparers. Unfortunately, RALs are all too often sold to low income people who are receiving refunds such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and can little afford the fees and interest rates charged by preparers.

Legislation proposed by Our Oregon would not eliminate Refund Anticipation Loans, or RALs. Instead, it has three key provisions:

  1. Taxpayers are given upfront, easy to understand information about all of the costs associated with the transaction.
  2. Prohibition of add on fees charged by tax preparers for the loans.
  3. Require RAL facilitators to be registered and bonded with the Oregon Board of Tax Practitioners.

The high fees and interest rates take money directly away from the most economically vulnerable households, and diminish the impact of important anti-poverty programs like the EITC. Giving consumers appropriate and complete information is only fair.

Anti-poverty programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit do work—but we have to make sure that people can access these programs, and that their impacts aren’t diminished by products such as refund anticipation loans. Oregonians deserve a Legislature that protects them from predatory lending and makes sure they have all the information they need to make good decisions.

At the Assets Learning Conference, we’ll be interested to hear how other states are handling refund anticipation loans and other forms of predatory lending.

More about the Assets Learning Conference:

This year’s conference remains the only place where a diverse group of leaders comes together to discuss innovations, vision and strategies in assets practice, policy and research. Building on the momentum from the 2008 conference, CFED is creating a program focused on the issues you care about the most, paying particular attention to the biggest challenges facing low‐ and moderate income American individuals and families.

With five exciting plenaries and 60 Concurrent Sessions we’re excited to learn the best and most effective practices, research and innovations at the local, state, national and international level in asset building, homeownership, entrepreneurship, children’s savings and education, behavioral economics, manufactured housing, community and economic development and much more.

In addition to an impressive slate of esteemed presenters, this year’s conference will once again feature advocacy visits on Capitol Hill. It will also feature the first‐ever Innovation Marketplace, a virtual and in‐person space for conference participants to interact with innovative leaders and entrepreneurs dedicated to addressing the challenges facing low‐income Americans. Visit today!

Archive for September, 2010

It’s time for a long-term view of government’s role in Oregon’s future

On August 26, the state of Oregon received another revenue forecast with more bad news.  This revenue forecast indicated the state has an additional $377 million less than expected for the current biennium (2009–2011).  In addition to the $563 million less than expected in May 2010, the state budget is now $940 million short in this biennium after the legislature made cuts to programs and increased taxes through Measures 66 and 67.

Misery loves company, and the state economists are now expecting the revenue shortfall for 2011–2013 will be $3.3 billion—much, much more than the $2.5 billion expected as late as May.  We’ve already experienced cuts to services and state government—now the question is how much will legislators and the Governor ask us to cut before they begin to consider other options?

Further cuts to the general fund budget—which primarily funds schools, public safety, and human services—will be disastrous for the state.  Cuts to housing and human services lead to increased need for emergency services.  A family just scraping by with $418 in cash assistance a month from TANF who then receives a cut of $25 or $50 often ends up at the local food pantry to feed their kids, relying on emergency rent assistance, or may even become homeless and end up in a shelter. These emergency services are more expensive in the short (and long) term than prevention, but state government instead chooses to cut these services, rather than make difficult choices about increasing revenue.

The Governor has asked agencies to prepare budgets with cuts up to 25% for the 2011–2013 biennium.  For Department of Human Services, this will mean additional cuts to services for seniors, people with disabilities and families who can’t make ends meet in this tough economic climate.  It’s time to ask ourselves what the role of government is, and what kind of state do we want to live in.

It’s time to ask ourselves what the role of our public structures are, and how much we value and depend on these structures.  And if we value them, what can we do to ensure they continue?

It’s time for Oregonians to start talking about what public structures we value, and whether we’re willing to pay for those public structures. It’s also time for the Governor and the Legislature to start talking about revenue solutions to a revenue problem—we can’t cut our way out of this budget hole. Instead we need to look at our revenue streams—tax loopholes, tax credits, the kicker, among others.

The Governor and his reset commission have labeled this a “dark decade” of budget deficits and recession. While the revenue forecast is bleak, this is also an opportunity to engage Oregonians in a conversation about what the role of government is, and what they want the state to look like.  We’re interested in a state that believes in taking care of its neighbors, investing in its future, and makes smart choices about where to spend its revenue.