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Author: Joanna Cortez Hernandez

Mobilizing Communities Into Action

A key lesson from the past 14 years is that improving people’s financial security has to do with much more than their personal financial choices. In most cases, it has everything to do with their civic lives.

Here’s the thing — Financial security is intimately linked with the political winds and economic structures that keep many of the people we serve in the shadows and at the margins of society.

For some clients, it’s also about the barriers immigrants in this country face when opening a bank account or asking for fair pay. For others, it’s about the way they’re judged and treated based on the amount of money they have. On a day to day basis, across all clients, we see that political realities and cultural narratives impact their financial lives in real and everyday ways.

Nothing makes this more evident than the federal government’s response to COVID-19. There are millions of immigrants who pay into the U.S. tax system and contribute to communities in meaningful ways. Yet, many of them were shut out of the CARES Act. This is a prime example of how current unjust political systems fail to recognize the intrinsic value in us all.

MAF’s direct programs and services anchor the mobilization work that we’re leading. As long-time believers that low-income and immigrant communities are the experts in and advocates of their own lives, we’re listening to them.

They’re frustrated with a national discourse that actively denies their humanity, a system of institutional racism that perpetuates a cycle of poverty, and exclusionary immigration policies that block people’s access to essential services and opportunities that they deserve.

What’s become clear more and more every day is the urgent need for change. And people – the true experts – need to be at the front and center of it.

That’s why we’re re-committing ourselves to our community-centered approach by intentionally adding mobilization as a growing body of work. By doing so, we’ll dedicate more of our energy to thoughtfully design actionable tools, resources, and campaigns that place people at the forefront of change and mobilizes them to take civic action.

In true MAF fashion, our values guide us. We’re building on our programs and services by keeping engagement at the heart of our work. We’re harnessing the power of communities by uplifting their voices and lived experiences as a force for change. We’re also continuing to work in collaboration with other advocates across the country who share our goals of empowering communities through civic engagement.

What we know is that communities are powerful. What they have to say matters and people are their best self-advocates.

We want to help people get loud about the issues relevant to their lives by empowering them to become civically engaged. And our work has already begun. In the last few months, we’ve designed and tested technology to help low-income and immigrant communities participate in the census. Soon we’ll be unveiling a Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaign to help facilitate an ongoing conversation with clients about how they can take action on the issues most pressing to their lives.

Alongside the low-income and immigrant communities we serve, MAF is re-imagining a world where we celebrate everyone’s strengths, and political systems treat us all with an equal amount of respect and dignity. A world where dominant narratives match our realities, and we can all reach our full economic and civic potential.

There’s a lot of work ahead to create an equitable system that recognizes, uplifts and empowers the inherent strength of all people. Stay tuned for more about our growing body of work and join us so that together we can mobilize communities across the country towards civic engagement.

SB 455 Updates: CA Financial Empowerment Fund

MAF is sponsoring SB 455, also known as the California Financial Empowerment Fund, which would create a $4 million fund to support nonprofits delivering effective financial education and empowerment tools.

SB 455 unanimously passed both California legislative chambers unopposed and gained statewide supprot from mayors and a broad coalition of nonprofit organizations. On October 2nd, Californian Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB 455 into law!

SB 455 Timeline

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MAF Sponsors SB 455: CA Financial Empowerment Fund

In the U.S. there is a wide array of financial products and services to help consumers build their financial lives. In addition to banks, there is a whole Financial Planning and Advice industry to assist consumers in making sound financial decisions.

But for low-income Americans, access to this advice and support — service that could help them manage their complicated financial lives — is limited, at best.

In 2018, the U.S. spent $670 million in financial education programs for low-income consumers — an amount equal to a little over 1% of the Financial Planning and Advice industry’s total revenue that year ($57 billion). This gap in spending illustrates just how inadequately we support consumers that are financially vulnerable, marginalized and underserved by mainstream financial institutions and the advice industry.

The resources to provide higher quality financial support to these communities do exist. It is just a matter of redistributing existing resources in a more effective way.

On October 2, Govenor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 455 to create the California Financial Empowerment Fund — a $4 million fund to support a statewide infrastructure of nonprofits delivering effective financial education and empowerment tools that help consumers improve their financial well-being.

With the passage of SB 455, the State of California is now actively engaged in supporting effective financial education and empowerment tools. The bill elevates clear standards for how these efforts are designed and delivered and brings government money to bear in this important work.

Financial well-being is not a final destination, nor a singular goal that individuals need to reach. Rather, financial well-being is a continuous state of being. It is about being able to meet all of our financial needs and obligations throughout the course of our lives. And to do so, we require effective tools and advice in navigating complicated financial systems.   

Even when we think our financial lives are set, something out of our control can happen to shake our confidence and financial well-being. Take for example the financial health of federal workers who were forced from their jobs during the 5-week long government shutdown; 25% of which reported going to food banks to put food on the table and 42% of which took on new debt in order to meet their day-to-day expenses. The longest government shutdown ever laid bear this simple fact: even those with the most secure jobs are weeks away from being financially vulnerable.

SB 455 is momentous for MAF but it is an even bigger moment for the financial empowerment field. Its passage will allow us to set high standards of how to design and deliver effective financial education.

MAF, like many nonprofits, provide effective financial products and services that are making a difference. In the past decade, we’ve learned that pairing safe and affordable products with financial education allows people to achieve impressive outcomes in their financial lives. When clients apply to our Lending Circles program they gain access to free online financial education courses, and 45% of first-time loan clients watch more than the minimum requirement. Lending Circles clients are then able to improve their credit scores by an average of 168 points, pay down high-cost debt by $1,000, and repay their loans at a 99.3% repayment rate. Many of our clients, like Boni (read his story here), are able to apply the concepts they learn online — whether it’s about credit or homebuying — to build their credit and expand their access to the financial services world.

As leaders in our field, we need to have an honest conversation about how we engage communities around financial education and empowerment.

Financial products and services have to be delivered effectively in order to have a positive transformational impact. We found that 91% of first-time MAF loan clients opted to learn about a product they already had. This indicates that people are hungry to learn more about the products they’re using and that financial education is a process of lifelong learning. People want to know how to use the products available to them so they can increase their financial well-being and we can support that need by offering relevant financial education programs. SB 455 would provide nonprofits at the forefront of creating pathways to financial empowerment the opportunity to build a collective power that leads to a positive change in how our financial systems function.

Everyone, both those that are included and excluded from the financial mainstream systems, has much to learn about financial products and services. Nothing about navigating complicated financial systems is intuitive. We need to think about how to deliver financial education effectively — in a way that motivates and uplifts the financial growth of all communities.

Financial well-being matters, for us and our communities. SB 455 prioritizes the financial health of consumers in California.

We are uplifting our work in the financial empowerment field with an eye toward bigger systems change. Financial wellness should be a reality for all communities, particularly for those often ignored by mainstream financial institutions, and SB 455 is a stepping stone to make it happen. We are eager to see the impact that SB 455 will have on state-wide standards and funding.

Be sure to follow MAF on social media for more updates! 

Media Contact:
Joanna Cortez Hernandez, MAF
(415) 373-6039

Public Charge Statement Release: A Barrier to Upward Mobility for Immigrant Families

MAF recently submitted the below statement against the proposed public charge rule. We would like to encourage you all to also make your voice heard before the public comment period closes on December 10th. The Protecting Immigrant Families Coalition has designed an online comment portal to make the public comment process easier.

Mission Asset Fund (MAF) strongly opposes the proposed public charge rule because of the irreversible harm that it will have on immigrant families all across the nation. In over ten years, MAF has supported thousands of low-income individuals, families, and immigrants gain access to safe and affordable loan products. While we are based in San Francisco, CA our nonprofit’s programs and services have led positive impact in communities all across America.

As a direct service provider, we are already witnessing the fear that this proposed rule is causing in the lives of our clients; many whom are immigrant families that use programs like CalFresh to help keep food on the table. In the Bay Area alone, which includes nine different counties, there are more than 440,400 noncitizens in families who participate in cash and noncash benefit programs currently being considered in the proposed rule’s public charge determination. The fact of the matter is, this proposed rule will not affect low-income immigrant families alone. It is already causing widespread fear amongst all immigrants–including their US Citizen children.

We should be putting all of our efforts into maximizing the opportunity for all to thrive in our country, regardless of their immigration or financial status. Instead, this proposed rule would set forth short-sided standards when making public charge determinations. MAF understands the importance of financial security and we know that an individual’s income and credit report alone doesn’t depict a clear picture of their entire financial situation. In fact, within 6 to 12 months of starting our program, nearly one-fifth of MAF’s Lending Circles clients are able to escape subprime credit scores. This only goes to show that there are many different factors that play a role in determining someone’s low credit score and that it would be unfair to include it as a factor for deciding an individual’s immigration status.  

MAF recognizes the resilience and resourcefulness displayed by all immigrants in America to overcome barriers. Not only is this proposed rule heartless and unjust, but it creates barriers to upward mobility for immigrant families. The proposed changes to public charge deviate from the founding spirit of America. Immigrants are and will always continue to be important in the fabric of our communities. Instead of embracing and respecting the diverse backgrounds of all immigrants, this proposed rule is an extension of anti-immigrant policies at the federal level that further perpetuates a false narrative of immigrants.  

Like many other nonprofit direct service providers, MAF wants to ensure that the promise of our country is made true for everyone regardless of their origins or financial status. As long-standing advocates, we will never support a policy that further harms vulnerable immigrant families in America. With the well-being of our communities and the success of our nation in mind, we urge the Department of Homeland Security to withdraw its proposed changes to the public charge rule.

In solidarity,

Mission Asset Fund (MAF)

Public Charge: An Attack on All Immigrants

A few weeks ago the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a proposed rule that will change how the government looks at immigrants who have used or are likely to use public benefits. This proposed rule would enforce outrageous standards for evaluation, like using an immigrant’s credit report and score to determine whether they are or are likely to become a “public charge.” To put this into perspective, a credit score of 640 (a below average FICO score) could mean the difference between receiving and not receiving a green card.

The proposed rule characterizes toxic America values that fail to acknowledge and respect the contributions of all immigrants regardless of financial status.

If implemented, the rule will make it difficult for: 1) immigrants who are currently outside of and seeking permission into the United States to receive a visa; or 2) immigrants who are already in the United States and are applying to become a legal permanent resident (or green card holder) through a family member or their employer.

At the core of the proposed rule is the federal government’s effort to expand the list of public assistance programs that will be considered when evaluating an immigrants’ eligibility to secure status. The current public charge policy only considers cash assistance and government-funded long-term institutional care but the proposed rule would expand it to also include the following key social safety net programs: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), non-emergency Medicaid, Medicare Part D, and Section 8 housing vouchers.

This is a deliberate, mean-spirited tactic employed by the administration to further harm vulnerable immigrant families in the United States.

Aside from expanding the definition of public charge to include additional public assistance programs, the proposed rule would also set forth short-sided standards for US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officers to consider when making public charge determinations.

In the proposed rule, the federal government outlines a new household income threshold that highly favors immigrants with a household income over 250 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (which, for a family of four, is more than $62,000 annually). The proposed rule would also mandate immigrants to disclose their credit history and score as a weighted factor of their financial status. Its expansion of public assistance programs along with its increased breadth of scope for factors, like financial status, would penalize non-citizen immigrant families for a lack of “self-sufficiency”, or in other words, for being low-income.

The underlying message to immigrant families is what’s most worrisome — choose between receiving critical public assistance for the health and well-being of you and your family or secure your future immigration status in the United States.

This is a cruel and unjust dilemma to impose on low-income immigrant families. But the fact of the matter is, this proposed rule will not affect low-income immigrant families alone. It is already causing widespread fear amongst all immigrants–including their US Citizen children.

As a nonprofit that supports immigrants, MAF understands the importance of financial security and access to safe and affordable loan products. We recognize the resilience and resourcefulness displayed by all immigrants in the United States to overcome financial barriers. Not only is this proposed rule heartless and unjust, but it creates barriers to upward mobility for low-income and immigrant families. It is designed to deny these families a chance to thrive.

In over ten years of supporting thousands of low-income individuals, families, and immigrants to establish their credit, we know that an individual’s income and credit report alone doesn’t depict a clear picture of their entire financial situation.

MAF, like many other nonprofit direct service providers, will witness the harm DHS’ proposed rule related to public charge will cause on immigrant families. This proposed rule is an inhumane and punitive attack that will destroy the health and well-being of vulnerable immigrant families across the nation.

Last Wednesday, DHS recently published its proposed rule in the Federal Register, an act that marks the commencement of a 60-day public comment period that will close on Monday, December 10th. It is during this 60-day public comment period that our action against public charge matters more than ever. 

The fight is far from over and the time to act is now!

MAF is committed to advocating for our immigrant communities and opposing this repressive proposed rule. Whether you decide to use your voice during the public comments period or you’re interested to learn more about our work to support immigrants; we encourage you all to stand with us as allies in service to the fair and just treatment of all immigrant communities.