FEATURED STATE: Pennsylvania
Over the last decade, Pennsylvania has implemented numerous strategies to support the commonwealth’s working families. From the beginning, legislative leaders sought partners in the executive branch and among key players in the private sector. Together, their efforts produced a number of successful, lasting initiatives that have garnered national recognition and been replicated in other states.
In 2004, Governor Ed Rendell created the Pennsylvania Task Force on Working Families. The task force was led by Representative Dwight Evans of Philadelphia and co-chaired by Secretary of Banking William Schenck, a 30-year veteran of the financial industry. The group’s final report set out four overarching goals: 1. Connect working families to quality financial education; 2. Move working families beyond living from paycheck to paycheck; 3. Help working families create their own jobs and security; and 4. Make sure working families are treated fairly by financial institutions.
At the same time as he appointed a task force on working families, Governor Rendell also established an Office of Financial Education (OFE) within the Department of Banking. The newly formed office took its cue from what residents statewide told the task force on working families. One resounding request was to put financial education classes in Pennsylvania schools. With stable funding and support from the Department of Banking’s dedicated staff, the small Office of Financial Education has since helped more than 2,000 teachers and administrators integrate financial concepts into their classes. These efforts have reached more than 400,000 Pennsylvania students. The OFE’s website and events such as the Governor’s Institute on Financial Education give teachers ideas about how to include topics such as budgeting, saving, investing, credit and debt into their curriculum. In 2010, the Institute for Financial Literacy named the Office of Financial Education the Not-for-Profit Organization of the Year.
Overall, Pennsylvania’s efforts to support lower-income families are about ensuring that people have the tools to get ahead on their own. In that vein, Pennsylvania legislators in 2004 created an innovative program to bring healthier foods to lower-income and rural neighborhoods. The Fresh Foods Financing Initiative (FFFI) is a public-private partnership that helps grocery stores to set up shop in typically underserved neighborhoods. The program has become a model for similar ones across the country and is the template for President Obama’s proposed $345 million Healthy Foods Financing Initiative. For its efforts to reduce obesity, the FFFI received a ’Pioneering Innovation’ award from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dollars and Sense: PA’s Task Force on Working Families
At the urging of Representative Dwight Evans, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell in 2004 established a Task Force on Working Families. Co-chairs Rep. Evans and Bill Schenck, the Secretary of Banking, tapped the expertise of more than 60 members – from legislators and department heads to bankers, community organizers, members of the clergy and others. This diverse group was divided into four, issue-based committees, each chaired by a state and local leader. Over several months, the task force gathered input at 24 open discussions held across the state. The group’s final report, titled Dollars and Sense, identified sixteen specific strategies to help families get ahead. Each includes background research and tells a story of how the issue impacts a real citizen. The recommendations lay out a blueprint for implementation and a cost-benefit assessment. The task force also outlines programs that are already in place to avoid duplicating them. Although the report was clearly written as a call to action, it’s not a pie-in-the-sky list of expensive initiatives. Many of the recommendations are low or no cost. The ones that require larger investments are justified in terms of their positive long-term yields. For example, the report suggests that financial professionals who volunteer for financial education efforts should get continuing education credits.
Knowledge is Power – www.moneysbestfriend.com
Created and maintained by the Office of Financial Education within the Pennsylvania Department of Banking, the website www.moneysbestfriend.com is a virtual one-stop shop for financial education. The site offers a wealth of user-friendly information for both kids and adults and specialized advice for educators and employers. In the Kids & Money section alone, dozens of links offer fun suggestions for parents who want to increase their children’s financial I.Q. Kids can play a game of financial football courtesy of Visa and the NFL. Teenagers can learn about financing higher education and graduates can get career advice. The site’s mascot, a flop-eared dog named Buck, frequently offers his ‘two-cents,’ valuable quips and reminders like this one for recent grads: “Education lenders suggest that your student loan payment should be about 8–10% of your gross (pre-tax) income.” Then there’s advice for families on budgets and cash flow, credit, insurance, taxes, retirement, death and more. The entire site is cross-referenced with links directing users to topics that may apply to their original inquiry. Pennsylvania residents looking for face-to-face assistance can search by zip code for financial counselors in their area. The database is regularly updated, and the website provides contact information and a description for listed organizations, plus directions to get there. The Resources for Educators section of the site offers nearly 200 links to materials and activities that help classroom teachers integrate personal finance into their daily lesson plans. There are countless other tips and tools, including some that help employers incorporate financial education into their regular HR operations, like reminding employees to take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit. In 2010, The Office of Financial Education received a ‘Bright Idea’ award from the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Nourishing Communities: PA’s Fresh Foods Financing Initiative
Research indicates that it tends to cost more to finance and run a grocery store in lower-income urban and rural communities. As a result, people in these neighborhoods often lack access to affordable fresh foods, which can lead to high rates of diabetes and obesity, especially among children. In 2004, under the leadership of Representative Dwight Evans, Pennsylvania created the Fresh Foods Financing Initiative (FFFI), a public-private partnership that administers grants and loans to encourage supermarket development in underserved areas. By 2010, the state’s five-year, $30 million grant had been matched three-fold – $120 million – by The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), a Community Development Financial Institution that also manages many FFFI operations. Another partner, The Food Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to nutritious foods, has also been crucial to the initiative’s success. Together with the Pennsylvania Department of Commerce and Economic Development, the supermarket industry and local organizations like the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Commission, the FFFI has attracted more than 200 applications, nearly half of which have been approved. More than half a million people across Pennsylvania now have better access to fresh, healthy foods, and approximately 5,000 jobs have been created or saved – many in economically stagnant communities where good jobs with opportunities for training and advancement are scarce. Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government has twice named the FFFI one of the nation’s most innovative public policy programs.
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Hear it from them
Q and A with
Representative Dwight Evans
Hear from lawmakers and others who have been intimately involved with their state’s efforts to create opportunities for low-income working families. Legislators explain why they feel these issues are important. They also discuss the factors that helped them be successful – both in the statehouse and at home in their district.
Representative Dwight Evans
Q: Why a task force on working families?
Representative Evans: I knew state budgets weren’t going to grow, so I wanted to figure out how to re-channel our resources to efficiently support working families. The purpose of the task force was to look at current policies across the board and come up with recommendations for new ones. I was hoping it would encourage cabinet officers to begin measuring initiatives with a different yardstick: what is the impact on working families?
Q: How important was it to have the executive branch involved from the beginning?
Representative Evans: It was extremely important. Obviously, as legislators, we mainly pass legislation and oversee the budget. Since the executive branch is responsible for delivery, I thought if we had cabinet members involved early on, we’d learn more and we’d build better recommendations.
Heather Tyler: Because the Office of Financial Education was housed in the Department of Banking, we had a stable funding source and the time and resources to mature. We had an administrative structure that supported us, and that was key. We had the luxury to do 100 percent mission-oriented work because we had a talented staff to take care of our daily needs. They helped us contact professionals to help us build the website and the database, and they supported our ongoing IT work.