Cities are taking a stronger look at financial inclusion according to new research from the National League of Cities. In 65 percent of the cities surveyed, mayors, council members and city treasurers are working with community partners to increase the availability of financial education and counseling, build pathways to safe and affordable financial services, connect families to vital public benefits that they may not be aware of and implement other innovative programs to help families build financial stability.
Financial inclusion is becoming a tall order as it becomes more difficult to reach at risk populations and ensure that as demand for public services and earned benefits continues to grow, that finance education is also part of the conversation.
So far, report data shows that the most organized financial inclusion programs are largely happening in bigger cities. Both New York and Boston have offices of financial empowerment which provide a range of services from credit counseling, to budgeting education to basic education about how to get insurance or plan for the future. In other places like San Francisco, every child entering public kindergarten gets a savings account for college with $50 already deposited.
In addition to this kind of raw city-by-city data about programs that are already in place, the report provides information aimed at helping city officials that may be looking for ideas to kickstart their own financial inclusion programs. For a program to be successful, the report has identified key building blocks including a strong top down champion, local coordination, programming and clear goals.
Cities in the report are on different parts of the building blocks spectrum when it comes to making progress. 63 percent of responding cities, for example, reported at least one of the four “pillars” of city financial inclusion efforts: Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) outreach; multi-benefit outreach/access; financial education, counseling and/or coaching; and homeownership assistance.
Yet, there is still work to do. “While the survey findings show that financial inclusion is an emerging municipal strategy, the findings also suggest additional opportunities for city leaders to play a more substantial role in these efforts. City leaders can increase the visibility of programs, provide additional resources such as funding or staff support, increase coordination to streamline services, accelerate marketing to ensure all residents in need are aware of the programs and services available to them, and develop or promote methods to assess program effectiveness and measure their impact,” report authors write.
“This is the next frontier for mayors and other city officials who seek to achieve the goal of financial inclusion for all city residents. In almost all instances, having strong municipal commitment to financial inclusion efforts means programs and services are stronger, more likely to meet residents’ needs and more stable through diversified funding. Going forward, city leaders will continue to see a need to design creative and comprehensive solutions to equalize access to financial opportunities for all residents.”
The full report is available here.
Image source: National League of Cities