Less than a week till we head to DC for the 2008 Assets Learning Conference. Less than a week, and I still haven’t previewed three of the four sets of concurrent sessions offered at the conference. I just haven’t had time to really focus on which three sessions I’ll attend out of some 35 or 40 options in those three time slots (my thoughts on the 2nd set of concurrent sessions are posted here, and my thoughts on the two sets of roundtable sessions are here and here).
So next I’ll tackle the Thursday afternoon time slot from 1:45 – 3:15pm (Concurrent Sessions 1). My job is made a bit easier by the fact that Thursday afternoon is when “Hill visits” are scheduled (when attendees are encouraged to make group visits to Senators, Representatives and their staffmembers), so there are no policy track sessions offered during this time slot.
I’ll move right along to the practice track sessions. Option 1 is “Involving Teens in Banking and Investing.” As a father of two, I think a lot about what it will take to prepare my daughters for the financial challenges of their adulthood (and those challenges don’t seem to be getting any easier). FDIC Community Affairs Specialist Lisa Kanemoto will speak, along with Robert Wynn of Wisconsin-based Asset Builders of America and LaKia Williams , community development specialist for conference sponsor Capital One Bank. Many communities have financial education programs for teens, and many of those programs don’t do a great job of connecting with teens. I hope these speakers have inspiring examples of programs that really impact teens; that would be a valuable service.
One question I often have about EITC campaigns: would many of the participants not have filed for the EITC were it not for the campaign. I think free tax filing is great, primarily because it discourages the use of refund anticipation loans and saves considerable amounts of money on tax preparation. But one of the big selling points is often how much EITC money is brought back to the community as a result of the campaign, but I haven’t seen research on EITC campaigns demonstrating how many of their participants wouldn’t have filed for the EITC otherwise (by utilizing a control group, for example). Anyway, that’s why I was struck by the opening sentence of the session description for “Advancing the Assets Agenda to Americans with Disabilities:”
“The real Economic Impact (REI) Tour has mobilized over 400 community-based practitioners and national partners to bring awareness to serving and reaching workers with disabilities who are neither filing nor receiving the EITC.”
That’s strongly asserted, so perhaps their program more directly addresses my previous question of how many participants wouldn’t have filed for the EITC otherwise, which would be exciting to hear about from speakers Tobey Davies of the Center for Community Economic Development and Disabilities, Richard Keeling of the IRS, and Johnette Hartnett of the National Disability Institute. (And I’m sure there are other good examples of research on the impact of EITC campaigns getting people to file for the credit who would not have otherwise done so — I encourage anyone to share them with me.)
Conferences often have a few sessions that end up being infomercials for the services of consultants to the field (not that the field doesn’t benefit from being aware of those consultant services, and those professional consultants are often very engaging speakers, but such sessions still typically end up being less exciting to me than those that come from field practitioners themselves). At first I was ready to put “Assets for Life: Extend Your Agency’s Capacity with Allied Professionals” into that category, but two things make me take it more seriously. First, the “allied professional” being featured (Saundra Davis) is not a national consultant who seems to be out looking for business, but instead appears to be focused on the San Francisco community and isn’t likely to find work from the asset development programs in all the other communities around the country that constitute most of the 1,200 or so attendees at the conference. Second, the other speaker for the session is Emily Waterbury of EARN, one of the premiere asset development organizations in the country. That gives me a lot of confidence that this session will have genuinely helpful ideas on how best to identify and involve outside experts in your program.
“Portable and Relocation IDAs: Moving Beyond Place-Based Asset Building” is a concept that appeals to me for its potential to open up the IDA tool to a larger community of savers who might be able to benefit from it. RAISE Texas appears to have a solid foundation in asset development and would provide a strong introduction to asset-building in Texas for anyone interested. I’d also be interested in connecting with Odessa Adams-Payne, another speaker at this session, who runs an IDA program for the United Way of Greater New Orleans. I know that many United Ways around the country support IDA programs (I’m on the board of one that does), but I believe it’s a smaller number of United Way that actually operate IDA programs themselves, an approach that I would be curious to hear more about.
The session hosted by the Family Independence Initiative in Oakland sounds very exciting to me. I sometimes find myself feeling uncomfortable with the sense of paternalism that can accompany an IDA program like mine — the custodial accounts, the restrictions that only allow the match funds to be spent on an approved asset purchase. FII seems to reject (or at least strongly reconsider) those aspects of asset development: trust and non-paternalism are their key values, even at the risk of awarding funds to families that could theoretically make poor choices with the money. FII seems to encourage the creation of networks of family members sharing responsibility for financial decisions, and they claim to have impressive results — a pilot program in which twenty-five low-income families increased their net worth by 300% in three years. If I were not attending the business roundtable all afternoon on Thursday, “Summoning the Power of Family and Community in Building Assets” is the concurrent session I would attend.
The final practice session on offer Thursday afternoon is hosted by the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions about the expanding role of credit unions in delivering asset building services. I’m glad there’s an opportunity for the credit union community to be featured in a session at the Assets Learning Conference — they are crucial to the web of services available to low-income families — but I feel pretty well acquainted with the role of credit unions and don’t know that I would learn a lot of new material from this particular session.
Moving on to the research track, I’m glad to see that folks from the Institute on Assets and Social Policy (IASP) at Brandeis University in Boston are participating in a key research session on “Re-thinking the Middle Class: Financial Insecurity Among the Non-Poor.” IASP is the closest asset research center to me (two and a half hours away), and I’ve started to become familiar with their work: they are conducting an evaluation of asset development programs run by a network of community action agencies in Massachusetts, and I chair an advisory board for the program operated by Berkshire Community Action Council serving Berkshire County. This particular research session doesn’t seem to be focused on IDA programs per se, but rather a more general assessment of financial insecurity.
Not surprisingly, the other two research sessions during the Thursday afternoon time slot are heavy on influence from the Center for Social Development (CSD) at Washington University in St. Louis, the amazingly active asset research center chaired by the almost mythical (to me) Zeus-like creator of IDA accounts, Professor Michael Sherraden. A session on “Building Assets in Native Communities through EITC and Tax Preparation” will be led by Kristen Wagner at CSD, along with Linda Austin of Ysleta del Sur Pueblo near El Paso, Texas.
It took a little sleuthing to notice that the three speakers for the session titled “SEED Research: A Test of Children’s Development Accounts” all have ties to CSD. Margaret Clancy serves as Policy Director for CSD and has authored or co-authored many of the papers on SEED. Edward Scanlon, on the faculty at the University of Kansas, got his PhD at Washington University, as did Trina Williams Shanks (pdf format link), who’s now on the faculty at the University of Michigan. As I’ve mentioned previously, the idea of universal children’s development accounts is of great interest to me, so I’d love to learn about the research on SEED, but with my participation in the business roundtable I think I’ll have to be content with reading research papers online.
Four sessions in the innovation track are being offered Thursday afternoon. The first is “Community Development Approaches to Home Ownership,” featuring Oramenta Newsome and Annetta Jenkins of LISC’a offices in Washington DC and South Florida respectively. LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) is a central fixture of the larger community development world in which asset development initiatives occur. If “asset development” is a toolbox, then “community development” is the entire hardware store. I’m sure LISC wouldn’t claim to own the store, but they’re certainly one of its most dependable workers, trying to put the right tools in the right hands for an amazing assortment of projects. It would be great to hear the experiences of several LISC experts on home ownership strategies.
The Center for Financial Services Innovation has several opportunities to show off its exciting work at this year’s Assets Learning Conference (CFSI, founded in 2004, has really hit its stride in the last couple of years). One of those opportunities is “Prepaid Cards: Innovations in Creating Financial Access for Underbanked Consumers.” My community, although it has a large low-income population, has a really exceptional network of locally-based banks that do a terrific job of meeting the financial services needs of most people in the community (check-cashing shops are practically non-existent). So I’m less familiar than I would like to be with the role of pre-paid cards for the underbanked. CFSI’s Sarah Gordon, along with partners Tam Doan of the Center for Community Change and Jean Hunt of the Campaign for Working Families, will be covering that ground in this session.
“New Innovations in Asset Building that Leverage Markets to Reach Scale” is an appealing session title, but the rest of the description leaves me unsure whether I would find the material all that valuable. The speakers (Carl Rist of CFED, Peter Barnes of Tomales Bay Institute, and John Logue of the Ohio Employee Ownership Center) are certainly an interesting group. I know that Peter Barnes is quite involved in proposals for a carbon cap and dividend program (as opposed to a cap and trade program) to make sure that fees paid for carbon permits are distributed to households to offset the increases in fuel costs. But I don’t know how you get from there to building assets by leveraging the carbon absorption capacity of the sky. There must be a connection somewhere. The employee ownership concept certainly has a more obvious relevance to asset development; I’d be interested to hear more from John Logue about his work in Ohio. And I have no clue what’s meant by “new forms of economic risk insurance to protest assets. Could be interesting, or could be a waste of time. Hard to know.
The notion of “shared ownership” opportunities, as mentioned in the session description for “Building Assets/Building Wealth through Shared Ownership — National Perspective,” seemed vague to me at first, and I didn’t immediately make the connection to the more specific concept of “shared equity” homebuying that was familiar to me already. The Center for Housing Policy, with support from Beadsie Woo (pdf link) of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, seems to have done the most in-depth research on the practice of shared equity for making home ownership more permanently affordable. I’d be interested to hear what CHP has learned from studying shared equity initiatives.
That’s all for tonight. More to come soon.