By Holly McGuire
As we enter the second half of the calendar year at the IDA Initiative, compiling our annual report to Oregon Housing and Community Services (OHCS) gives us a chance to reflect on the last program year. It was a powerful and intense year, even before the crescendo of the COVID pandemic lockdown in mid-March.
What we feel called to recognize foremost is the amazing collaborative network that we have the privilege to work in as funder and administrator. This body of skilled professionals in the asset building field always make the work lighter. In a year of deep and continued uncertainty about funding the connections built over the years, and the willingness of front line staff and leadership to give their all to continue to make the promise of Individual Development Accounts come alive for individuals and families in our communities across Oregon is truly inspiring. We send out our deep appreciation.
As our regular readers may know, Neighborhood Partnerships and the IDA Team have been in an ongoing process of integrating equity into our work. This includes specific goals for the Initiative—which you can review in the linked Equity Plan included in this newsletter. The reality of equity work is that doing the learning, the consciousness raising, the planning—all challenging, powerful, uncomfortable work—is just a start. Then there is implementation. And implementation is where so many times the momentum can be lost. Implementing equity demands a lot of small actions to chip away at those old ways of doing things, getting buy-in, making what appear to be dry administrative changes, in the hopes that bigger changes will be possible from these new building blocks. Inequity can look like a complex program. It can look like unconsciously punitive reminder emails to savers. It can look like insecure funding. NP staff and IDA Initiative partners have been digging in to where these inequitable structures reside in our program over the last year, learning to use an equity lens on decisions, asking hard questions about how we understand the demographics of our communities and our savers, supporting our savers to be advocates for themselves and their goals.
Change is happening. One example is from the just concluded Special Session of the legislature. We advocated for and succeeded in getting passage of a change to IDA statute adding emergency savings as an asset. We know, even prior to the pandemic, the liquid asset poverty rate—meaning a family does not have enough in savings to live at the poverty level for three months if there is a disruption in income—was 34% for White households and a staggering 60% for households of color in Oregon. Moreover, one-third of U.S. families had no savings at all, and four in 10 adults would either not be able to cover an unexpected expense of $400 or would cover it by selling something or borrowing money. This was our “normal,” not because families were not working or were not working hard enough but because of low wages, rising costs of living, and rampant institutional, structural and systemic racism in all aspects of U.S. society. With both the death toll from COVID rising and unemployment increasing, these figures will inevitably worsen, leaving those who were already vulnerable and exploited to bear the brunt of this crisis. Opening the opportunity of building emergency savings is a policy shift that will have real material benefits for folks who are already saving and working for better futures.
The current calls for justice include—and in fact require economic justice. This goal, brighter and more hopeful than simple poverty alleviation, is the one toward which the IDA Initiative can and is orienting. Reaching this goal is a long game—history has shown that we are not on an easy nor a short journey to racial justice. When we get tired, we must support each other, give each other breaks and a listening ear, and celebrate successes to feel the possibility in our efforts. Neighborhood Partnerships re-commits to ground our work in equity, visioning and building a program that grows and expands the assets and wealth of Black, Indigenous and People of Color, knowing that this will make our communities stronger and better places for all Oregonians to thrive.