Monday, August 31, 2015

Congratulations Fargo/Moorhead on the comprehensiveness of the Regional Workforce study


Earlier this summer the Fargo-Moorhead Chamber of Commerce along with their partners, the United Way of Cass-Clay, North of Normal, Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, and the FM AreaFoundation, released an incisive and comprehensive workforce study.

Some factors discovered by the study are of primary concern to the partner members of the North Dakota Economic Security and Prosperity Alliance.

The findings overlapping with NDESPA’s occur in the BUILD theme of the study.  This theme deals with developing “a framework for financial self-sufficiency and upward mobility for workers in low-wage and basic-skill jobs” (p 13).  This is a key component for the improvement of the workforce in the Fargo/Moorhead area because 45% of the employment opportunities in the area are low-pay, low-skill jobs. 

The employment barriers for many workers discovered in the study are affordable housing, childcare, and transportation (p 10). 

According to the study, of the homeless adults in the Fargo/Moorhead area a third of them are employed with 10% employed full-time.  “Of those not working, a lack of transportation was the most common barrier to employment” (p 10).

The study also states that licensed childcare providers are meeting only 54% of the childcare needs in Fargo/Moorhead.  The cost of childcare, at 9% of the median income of families with children, is also impeding many individuals’ ability to take jobs in the area.  Shiftwork is also creating a demand for non-9-to-5 childcare that is currently not being met, as well (p 10).

Finally, transportation is keeping many potential employees out of the workpool.  According to the study, many low-income workers are unable to afford a vehicle, and those that do own cars, the quality of the vehicle and the inability to repair one after a breakdown forces many to rely on public transportation.  The reliance on public transportation with currently mis-matched routes and hours compared to available employment opportunities bars many from employment. 

The fact that Fargo-Moorhead and its business community are looking beyond the needs of area employers to the needs of current and potential employees is encouraging.  Next week the NDESPA blog will examine the solutions being presented in the workforce study for these identified issues.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Part 4: CFED: Financial Security at Work

This week we’ve reviewed our preliminary findings (see below) from our Financial Security at Work Initiative, sponsored by the Prudential Foundation, which is the culmination of a literature review, field scan and interviews with expert from the field. There is great promise in tapping into employer-based programs as a way to expand access to financial capability services.

But what are the key drivers in making that happen and what barriers exist? The questions we’re posing below will help inform our next phase as an organization and shape the conversations we will have with the field.

  • Have we made a case that drives employers to action? Nonprofits, social service agencies and frontline workers see every day that people who work still struggle financially. However, while we have some interesting isolated examples, the overwhelming majority of employers are not yet taking action to offer financial capability services to employees. Is it because we aren’t making the case to businesses, despite a growing mound of evidence that addressing financial issues leads to an improvement in employment-related outcomes? What is the compelling story we need to tell? As we mentioned previously, quantitative and cost-benefit data may be difficult to collect, leading us to question whether a large-scale research initiative it is the right path forward. Furthermore, will this data be compelling enough for employers to start offering these services or will a policy action be needed that will incentivize employers as a group?

  • Do workers want these services to be provided by their employers? Although the workplace is a tantalizing delivery model—because it’s where people get paid, after all, and because it dovetails with other financial benefits they may be receiving—questions still remain about whether employees want their employers to offer more extensive financial capability programs and products. Some believe that a third-party outside of the employer—similar to Delaware’s $tandByMe program, which places financial coaches on the job site—might be best to help create the sense of an arm’s-length relationship (even if the employer is paying for the financial coach, in the case of $tandByMe). Worker preferences, financial services needs and marketing messages all need further testing and refinement in order to better design workplace-based programs.
  • What is a quality job? As we grappled with this work over the last few months, there has been a big elephant in the room: wages. We heard the same sentiment over and over again: “if employers want to give their low- and moderate-income workers more financial stability, then why don’t they just pay them more?” We are also seeing the rise of the “1099 economy,” in which workers are relying freelance jobs, patching employment opportunities together with no benefits to fall back on. We recognize that it takes a livable, stable wage in order to start saving and planning for the future. However, research from the Institute on Assets and Social Policy shows that workplace benefits have a direct impact on a household’s ability to build wealth and achieve financial security over time. Additionally, many employers are looking at benefit packages as a way to entice and keep employees rather than with wage increases. Younger workers, too, are showing preferences for better benefits packages as part of their total compensation analysis. This work needs to be folded into the broader national conversation around what makes a quality job, including a livable wage.
  • What does financial capability programming look like in different sectors? We recognize that people interact with their employers in vastly different ways across sectors. A home health care worker’s touch points with an employer are vastly different than a fast food worker. A Head Start teacher has a different structure to her job than a bike messenger. Employers in these different sectors face different productivity and retention challenges with their employees as well. What are the models we put in place that help deal with these differences across sectors?
  • How do financial needs change across the lifecycle? As people progress from early career on to eventual retirement, they will need different products and services to address student debt, housing, childcare, emergency expenses, health care and retirement planning. In addition, different generations are facing financial issues in distinct ways; twentysomethings today have different financial needs than twentysomethings of the 1990s. Employers need to think through customizing their approach to financial capability services to address these different needs in the lifecycle and generational differences.
  • Who are the influencers? Sooner rather than later, CEOs, Chief Human Resources Officers (CHRO) and people who make benefits decisions need to be at the table with us to discuss the path forward. How do we best reach those individuals? What sources do they trust, and how do we begin to engage in their decision-making processes? How do we ensure we’re talking to benefits consultants who create benefits packages for large companies? How do we deploy the concept of shared value—where corporations create business value by addressing social issues—in tackling employee financial well-being? Are we addressing the problems that keep a CHRO up at night? These are all ways we need to think about the messages of employee financial stability and how to use them effectively to increase action among employers.
  • What is the role of policy? Policymakers have focused recently on retirement security, with great progress being made by Treasury with the new myRA product, and states like Illinois and California taking automatic-IRA initiatives forward. Beyond retirement security, what is the role for policymakers and advocates in moving other financial capability products and programs forward? Should every state codify their Office of Financial Empowerment and provide a financial coaching infrastructure, like Delaware? How can we build better protections for 1099 workers that provide enhanced financial security? Can we build incentives into the tax code to get more programs to offer financial capability and empowerment programs? Can we ensure new legislation, like WIOA, thinks about career pathways and employer partnerships that link new and old employees to quality financial products? CFED’s policy team will continue to keep an eye out for potential leverage points to expand financial capability programs in the workplace.

  • Moving Forward

    Clearly we still have a lot of questions to answer. At CFED, as we move forward in our Financial Security at Work Initiative, we’ll be diving deeper into each of these to see what progress we can make. We want to engage with new and diverse stakeholders interested in the topic—reach out with your ideas and comments! Please share your thoughts with us using the #AJobIsNotEnough on Twitter and email us with any questions. We look forward to facilitating a productive conversation on this topic as we continue our work.


    With gratitude to Terry Gillen, who helped pull together this collection of information and resources. Thanks also to expert informants: Justine Zinkin (Neighborhood Financial Trusts), Ken McDonnell (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau), Leigh Phillips (San Francisco Office of Financial Empowerment), Mario Avila (Emerge Financial Wellness), Mary Dupont ($tand By Me), Nicole Smith (New York City Office of Financial Empowerment), and Sameera Fazili- who brought us great insights and information about the workplace as a platform for financial capability services. Any opinions or views stated by the interviewees are their own and may not represent the views of the organizations where they are employed.

    For more from this series, check out Part 1: Why We Need to Think About Financial Security at Work, Part 2: Financial Capability Programs: What Works in the Workplace and Part 3: Looking Ahead: Promising Practices for Financial Wellness at Work.

    Thursday, August 27, 2015

    Part 3: CFED: Financial Security at Work

    For the third installment of our blog series on CFED’s initiative on Financial Security at Work, sponsored by the Prudential Foundation, we will present promising practices to help grow and strengthen the field. Part 1 explained the need for workplace-based financial capability services and Part 2 highlighted different program models that have been shown to be effective.
    Millions of low- and moderate-income workers each year struggle to reach financial stability. The workplace—whether it be in a restaurant, office building, hospital or construction site—is where most of us spend the majority of our week. As we look for opportunities to help more low- and moderate-income households reach financial stability, the workplace feels like a natural fit.
    During our field scan, literature review and discussions with experts in the field, we identified several promising practices that employers need to think about as they develop their own financial wellness programming. As more workplaces launch such programs, we need to ensure that programs are building upon what has been done and learning from promising practices.

    Develop the program with an employee-centered approach

    As CFED has learned through work with low- and moderate-income consumers, a financial capability program won’t be effective unless employees see that it solves a real problem for them. Programs that start with an employee needs assessment will be able to identify where their employees are experiencing the most financial challenges and respond with effective products and services. This is necessary in order to determine the expected levels of participation and choose offerings that can have the most impact.

    Learning about their workforce’s current financial situation will help employers implement a program that employees will actually utilize. The Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in partnership with CFED, lifts up similar practices in Building Financial Capability: A Planning Guide for Integrated Services, which starts with a client-centered approach and encourages solutions to be built around the client. Employers who are interested in starting a financial wellness program in their workplace should always take a step back and start by identifying employees’ needs and challenges.

    Focus on behavior change

    The key to lasting financial security is to change financial behaviors. Research has consistently shown that in order to improve financial outcomes, programs need to equip participants to put their financial know-how in action even after they leave the program. Programs that encourage automatic enrollment, split deposit into savings accounts or auto-escalation lay the groundwork for consumers to continue to practice good financial habits for years to come.

    It is important to move away from programs focusing entirely on financial literacy that do not create opportunities for long-lasting behavior change. Instead there needs to be a focus on giving employees access to resources, tools and products that allow them to continue to make sound financial decisions.

    Address the need for products for both short- and long-term financial needs

    Many workplace-based financial wellness programs are primarily focused on retirement savings. However, research has shown that, although retirement is an important issue, there is also a need for access to more short-term savings products in the workplace. Low- and moderate-income workers are especially vulnerable to falling into a cycle of debt due to unexpected financial emergencies. Something as simple as unplanned car maintenance could lead to debt if the worker doesn’t have the savings to cover it; this, in turn, can cause stress and contribute to absenteeism in the workplace. In addition, workplace-based savings programs could help workers who struggle to save for other non-retirement assets, such as postsecondary education or homeownership.

    Track program impact

    Asking participants for feedback allows employers to see what is working and what is not, so that adjustments can be made to the program. Just as employees must take the necessary steps to change their financial behaviors, employers must make sure their efforts are effective and are providing the needed services.
    Similarly, programs should establish systems to track participation and engagement. For example, employees often receive quarterly statements for their retirement accounts, which allows the employee to see progress and track savings and allows employers to track how many employees are participating in the retirement account or how many are escalating contributions. With this information employers can change strategies for targeting outreach or changing workplace policies. This type of tracking needs to be done in all financial capability programs that are implemented in the workplace.

    Moving Forward

    As the field grows there is a need for additional research to identify more promising practices. The GAO highlighted that while “there is much research on interventions related to retirement savings, there is less information available on the effectiveness of interventions related to other financial issues.” There are several reasons for this, but one reason is that measuring effectiveness of different programs can be difficult and often arbitrary. Many evaluations of current programs mostly focus on employee’s “satisfaction” or programs’ “perceived impact,” rather than looking at a quantitative measures, like increased savings or decreased absenteeism. As a result, although a program can be seen as working, it is difficult to determine to what extent and which aspects of each program are most beneficial.

    One of the reasons for this is that there are often issues with privacy. In order to test whether or not interventions affect individuals’ financial security, researchers or outside evaluators need access to individuals’ financial information. Understandably, few employees are willing to provide this information.

    However, we believe there is hope. A few decades ago, the large presence of workplace health and fitness programs may have seemed farfetched. But as employers became the primary vehicle for health insurance, they saw the benefit to having a healthy workforce. Today, incentives for employees to join gyms, participate in “number of steps” per day challenges and join on-site exercise classes are common. This shift occurred as workplaces saw the benefit of having a healthy workforce. As financial instability grows in millions of households around the country, we can only hope a similar shift will occur related to financial capability.

    As pensions become a thing of the past and wages stagnate, employees are forced to take a more active role in managing their financial futures, and employers have a role to play to stabilize their workforce financially and ensure that they are able to be productive.

    Tomorrow we will be publishing our last blog of the series which will highlight some unanswered questions and some thoughts about moving this field forward.

    Wednesday, August 26, 2015

    Part 2: CFED: Financial Security at Work

    This week we are releasing our preliminary findings of CFED’s Financial Security at Work Initiative, sponsored by the Prudential Foundation. This initiative addresses the realities of low- and moderate-income workers’ financial challenges and looks at the employer as a provider of services that can lead to financial capability and stability. Part 1 gave an overview of the problem and supporting literature; Part 2 will present and discuss four models that have displayed positive results in the field.

    While the unemployment rate is slowly falling, many workers are still struggling to make ends meet with low savings high debt, and low credit scores. Financial capability programs, which help participants gain the skills, knowledge and access to the products and services they need to manage their financial lives effectively, can alleviate some of this struggle. We often talk about offering these programs through existing social service providers, but integrating financial capability services into the workplace is another good way to meet people where they are and help mitigate their financial challenges.

    The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently highlighted the unique access employers have to their employees’ finances and other benefit programs, which means employers are also uniquely positioned to connect their employees to financial capability services. The objective is not only to inform consumers, but to give them the access to financial products that will help them convert knowledge into action and produce positive, lasting outcomes.
    Achieving financial stability is a lifelong process, and workers of all ages and professions have a need for financial stability. That is why introducing financial capability programs in the workplace—where we are engaged from youth to retirement—can be so effective.

    We have identified four financial capability program models that work especially well in the workplace:

  • Financial coaching
  • Online learning and financial management platforms
  • Connecting workers to financial products
  • Increasing savings through education and product design

  • Financial Coaching

    Financial coaching focuses on building a one-on-one relationship between a client and a coach to achieve the client’s self-defined financial goals. A coach assists the client in changing their financial behaviors and making small steps to improve their finances. The PolicyLab Consulting Group found that financial coaching helps low-income households increase their assets.
    For example, $tand By Me, a financial coaching program in Delaware, shows the potential for reaching workers in their various workplaces. This state-funded program provides customized financial instruction and personalized solutions to the unique situations of the participants. $tand By Me has reported that participating employers feel more positively about their businesses and employees experience reduced debt and improved credit scores.
    One reason this program has been successful is because of the role of the state government in providing funding, support and visibility. More widespread involvement from states across the country would increase the capacity of workplace-based financial coaching programs.
    The impacts of financial coaching efforts are readily apparent. The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) recently released a report focusing on their Financial Opportunity Centers, which provide financial coaching combined with workforce development and public benefits counseling. Overall the results have been extremely positive, with the majority of clients improving their credit scores and increasing their net worth.

    Online Learning and Financial Management Platforms

    Online platforms use technology to disseminate financial information and resources. Online learning can reach more people at once, give recipients more flexibility on when they participate and allow consumers additional access outside of work by having the option of viewing the tools at home. As a result, this is often an easier way to bring financial empowerment services to employees.
    One example of this type of online learning platform is PayPerks. PayPerks provides education tools, such as online tutorials and surveys. They also offer incentives—often monetary—to encourage learning, as well as fostering the ability to make financially healthy choices by implementing what was learned.

    Connecting Workers to Financial Products

    The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation found that one in thirteen households were unbanked in 2013. This number does not include those who are underbanked and use alternative financial services. Since being unbanked often excludes individuals from traditional and safe means of taking out loans, these same consumers are often victims of predatory lending. The Pew Charitable Trusts found that more than five percent of American adults—about 12 million a year—have taken out a payday loan in the past five years.

    Workplace-based financial capability programs can help workers achieve financial stability by connecting them to appropriate, affordable financial products. This means helping consumers access bank accounts, non-predatory loans and retirement savings accounts, to name a few. There is a clear need for workplaces to connect people to quality and safe financial products.
    One example of this type of program is the State Employee Credit Union in North Carolina. This member-owned credit union offers short-term loans with low interest rates as alternatives to predatory payday loans. This allows employees to cover unexpected costs without being charged exorbitant fees and interest rates and getting trapped in a cycle of debt.

    Increasing Employees’ Savings

    CFED knows the important role that savings plays in financial stability. Saving for an emergency, saving for college, saving for a car, saving for a house, saving for retirement—all are necessary for households to be financially stable and have a secure future.
    Many existing programs focus primarily on long-term savings, which is important for financial security. But short-term savings are often more crucial to an individuals’ ability to respond to a financial emergency. Many low- and moderate-income households, despite seeing the need to have these emergency funds, are unable to meet their savings goals. The U.S. Financial Diaries addresses the scale of this problem and finds that as little as 7% of households were able to meet their emergency savings goals.

    myRA is one example of a program that is attempting to address both long- and short-term savings with an easy, low-fee, quality savings product. myRA is administrated by the U.S. Treasury Department and allows employees to automatically contribute to a savings account through payroll deductions. Although it is primarily for retirement savings, the contributions can be withdrawn at any time without penalties. This could be a product that could fill both needs for a low-wage workforce.

    Moving Forward…

    Each of these program models attempts to address a different employee financial need or challenge by bridging the gap between knowledge and action. These programs not only provide information to employees but also promote healthy financial behavior.

    Stay tuned for an analysis of the promising practices in the field in Part 3 of this blog series coming tomorrow!

    Tuesday, August 25, 2015

    Part 1: CFED: Financial Security at Work

    This week we are releasing our preliminary findings of CFED’s Financial Security at Work Initiative, sponsored by the Prudential Foundation. This initiative addresses the realities of low- and moderate-income workers’ financial challenges and looks at the employer as a provider of services that can lead to financial capability and stability. Part 1 will give readers an overview of the problem this initiative is attempting to solve and the literature that supports the workplace as a platform for financial wellness programs.

    Although the U.S. economy continues to improve, finances remain a major source of stress for many Americans. Increasing debt, rampant predatory lending practices and low retirement savings continue to be issues for a majority of households. Pew Research Center found that more than two out of five American consumers are experiencing major financial difficulties. This increase of financial stress impacts worker productivity and reduces financial stability for households.

    Research has found that financial stress is widespread. The American Psychological Association finds that low-income consumers, especially younger low-income consumers, experience significantly more stress than the average American. And this stress doesn’t go away when an employee enters their workplace. Employee stress levels have an impact on business’ bottom-line.

    One study noted that “stress is one of the leading causes for the loss of employee productivity in the US.” The White House emphasized this issue, adding that as many as 15% of workers are stressed to the extent that their productivity is suffering. They also find that stressed workers are more likely to skip days of work.

    Bailey, William C., Kay Woodiel, Jean Turner, and Jenifer Young. 1998. “The Relationship of Financial Stress to Overall Stress and Satisfaction.” Personal Finances and Worker Productivity, 2:2, 198-206.
    Edmiston, Kelly D., Mary C. Gillet-Fisher and Molly McGrath. 2009. “Weighing the Effects of Financial Education in the Workplace.” The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
    Lusardi, Annamaria and Olivia S. Mitchell. 2007. “Baby Boomer Retirement Security: The Roles of Planning, Financial Literacy, and Housing Wealth.” Journal of Monetary Economics, 54:1, 205-224.
    Tuominen, Mary C. and Eleanor L. Thompson. 2015. “There Was No Money Left to Save”: Financial Literacy and the Lives of Low-Income People.” Journal of Progressive Human Services, 26:2, 148-165.

    Employers are beginning to recognize that financial stress is a problem and are attempting to respond with services. According to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), a little more than half of employers offer at least some type of financial education to those on their payroll. However, a key component of ensuring financial wellness and thereby relieving stress for these groups of consumers is to provide programs that simultaneously build financial knowledge, increase financial skills and provide access to financial resources.
    There has been a growing interest in providing financial wellness programs in the workplace, but often these are primarily focused on financial literacy, not on financial capability.

    What’s the difference?

    Programs focusing merely on financial literacy rarely lead to behavioral changes. Classroom-based one-time financial literacy sessions may teach people more about finances, but they don’t usually lead people to take concrete actions that would tangibly change their financial lives. Financial capability programs, on the other hand, provide consumers with more personalized and hands-on assistance to both help clients understand their financial situations and promote access to resources. Financial capability programs, as their title suggests, ensure that individuals not only achieve financial literacy, but are fully capable of navigating their own financial lives and have access to appropriate financial services.

    At CFED, we recognize the necessity of meeting people where they are in their financial situations by integrating financial capability into existing platforms where low- to moderate-income consumers already interact. For many, the workplace is a key place for this integration to occur. Human resources or finance personnel are well-positioned to discuss personal finances in the workplace, and workers are typically already having personal finance conversations with their employers regarding retirement benefits, direct deposit and health insurance. This makes the workplace an optimal place for individuals to plan for their financial futures, discuss financial challenges and access key financial products.

    For example, employers can help establish plans of action for when individuals receive their bi-weekly or monthly paychecks. Whether this be opting to set money into a retirement account or opening a bank account, starting to plan before the money is spent can make it easier for consumers. One study (Lusardi and Mitchell) that addresses the importance and necessity of financial planning found that those that plan for the future are more likely to accumulate wealth no matter what their race, occupation, etc. Regardless of your current financial situation, planning is important.
    As many employers begin to recognize the need to reach out to their employees about their financial lives, it is important to implement effective programs.

    An Urban Strategies Council publication on “Employer-Based Asset Building Strategies” addresses how workplace-based financial education programs might not always stand up to a cost-benefit analysis. They wrote that if “financial education is coupled with services (e.g. free tax prep on site), products (e.g. prepaid debit card or IDA program), and opportunities (e.g. auto-enrollment) that have tangible consequences for employee financial health, the outcomes could be worth the [employer] investment.” In other words, in order for a program to be effective, it cannot solely consist of a simple financial education program.

    Instead, a more intense and personalized approach can show positive financial outcomes. In fact, a study analyzing a financial wellness program, involving both financial training and coaching elements, from The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City found that “for [their] study cohort, money balances in individual retirement accounts (IRAs) increased 51.2%, and money balances in non-retirement accounts increased by 31.4%.”

    Looking forward…

    Despite the need to establish work-related financial-wellness programs, there is limited research demonstrating the effectiveness of existing programs. Further research is needed to find quantifiable increases in individuals’ financial capability and security due to such programs. If properly designed, financial capability programs administered through the workplace could build financial security for and alleviate the financial stress of millions of Americans.

    Part 2 of this blog series (available tomorrow!) will discuss four specific workplace-based models shown to produce beneficial outcomes.

    Monday, August 24, 2015

    12 Reasons Why We Do the Work We Do Together by the Coalition on Human Needs

    Coalition on Human Needs 

    As we were preparing for our Human Needs Hero event last week, we were contemplating the bringing together of the human needs community that’s at the heart of CHN’s work. As we did, we thought about why we all do the work that we do together – both the challenges and the successes. Here are just 12 of those many reasons:
    Living In Poverty Age 18 34
      • Half of new jobs pay less than a living wage, and the minimum wage hasn’t been raised in six years.
      • Half of low-wage workers don’t have a single paid day off to care for themselves or a family member.
    Many in Congress want to cut spending on the very programs that deliver these successes. That’s why spreading the word about the need for more investments in human needs programs is critical. To learn more how you can speak out and help stop federal cuts to human needs programs, click here.

    Friday, August 21, 2015

    There's No App for That

    I live in Washington, DC, but most of my family lives in Texas. So I rely on technology—Facetime, Instagram, constant group texting—to stay in touch. I’m incredibly grateful that this technology allows me to see and speak with people I love, but no amount of instant messaging can replace my trips back home when I get to spend the day sitting around talking and really connecting with my family and friends.

    At CFED, we also rely on technology to facilitate learning groups and stay in touch with our partners across the country. These virtual meetings have many advantages—but there just isn’t an app that can duplicate the power of connecting face-to-face.

    That’s why, from April 22 through June 24 of this year, our team traveled to seven states to facilitate day-long workshops on financial capability integration. While these in-person workshops took more time and resources to put together than a conference call or webinar, the results were well worth the extra effort. Here’s why face-to-face convenings are so powerful:
  • They provide the ever-elusive time and space needed for reflection and planning. In the face of day-to-day demands on our time and attention, most of us struggle to find enough time to reflect on our work and plan new initiatives. Attending these full-day workshops—free from the distractions of an office, email and meetings—gave attendees the time and mental space to think creatively about their work and develop ideas for improving or expanding their efforts.
  • They create opportunities for connecting and collaborating with local partners. When we asked participants what they liked most about the workshops, the Number One response was the networking. Organizations were able to meet new people and explore new opportunities for collaboration. Even partners that knew one another well and collaborated often appreciated and took advantage of the opportunity to sit down with partners, learn about their work and strategize new ways to work together. Organizations may be more digitally connected than ever before, but there’s nothing like a plain old conversation to spark a true partnership.
  • They facilitate sharing new resources and ideas. Workshop attendees had the opportunity to get hands-on experience with the planning tools in the recently-released Integration Planning Guide. They also got to learn about and discuss innovative practices from organizations around the country and in the room. Another bonus was that CFED got to learn about new practices we can share with attendees at future workshops, and we got to expand our Network and learn about new organizations we plan to partner with in the future.
  • Asking people to take a full day away from their work is a big request. Knowing this, we carefully designed and facilitated learning activities to make the most of these opportunities:
  • Visualizing a Financial Capability Theory of Change: For our purposes, a theory of change describes the current state of clients’ financial lives, what the desired future state is and what services will help to bring about this change. At the workshops, we organized attendees into small groups to illustrate a theory of change for financial capability integration. First, each group drew what their clients’ current financial insecurity looks like. These drawings depicted the stress, confusion and hopelessness clients face every day along with overdue bills and unstable housing. Then, clients drew what financial security would look like for their clients—smiling faces, comfortable homes, peace signs and bloated piggy banks. Finally, we asked each small group to list the financial capability services that could help their clients move from their current state of insecurity to greater levels of financial security. Grounding the selection of services in the realities of clients’ lives—including the feelings of hopelessness that are hard to capture in needs assessments—helped the groups prioritize the most meaningful services and keep in mind why they are doing this work in the first place.
  • Who’s Doing What: This exercise was designed to help familiarize participants with the other service providers in their state. We hung 10 pieces of flip chart paper around the room, one for each financial capability service we discussed. Then we asked representatives from each organization to put their organization’s name on post-it notes and hang them on the flip chart papers to indicate which of the services they currently provide. Attendees conducted a gallery walk to review who’s doing what in their state and identify organizations they wanted to connect with. Organizations learned about new services for their clients and about the span of financial capability services across their state.
  • Financial Capability Speed Dating: In this activity, attendees paired up with a potential partner to ask questions about their financial capability services. Attendees used this time to learn about partners’ services they knew their clients needed, from free credit counseling services to statewide tax prep sites. Not only did attendees learn more about these services, they used this time to ask in-depth questions about eligibility and tailoring to figure out if the partner’s services were a good fit for their clients. Interactions were limited to 15 minutes or less so organizations could move around the room and meet with a variety of partners, and then they made plans to follow up after the workshop with good matches.

  • I will continue to utilize technology that connects me to people across the country. But when it comes to envisioning new solutions and building lasting partnerships, nothing can quite replicate in-person meetings. We at CFED are looking forward to continuing to convene our partners so we can continually learn from each other and make progress toward the goals we share.

    Thursday, August 20, 2015

    Fargo Forum reaching out to people who were able to get insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

    Have you recently obtained health insurance? We'd like to talk to you

    More people are able to obtain health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare, either through buying insurance through the online exchange or through expansion of Medicaid. The Forum is writing about this issue and would like to talk to people who, for whatever reason, were able to obtain health insurance over the last two years.
    Please contact Patrick Springer via email today at pspringer@forumcomm.com.

    Wednesday, August 19, 2015

    Creating Hunger Free Communities Statewide Summit

    Creating Hunger Free Communities Statewide Summit
    September 17 – 18, 2015
    Bismarck Event Center
    Bismarck, North Dakota
    Coordinated by the Creating a Hunger Free North Dakota Coalition

    Register now to:
    - network with others working to achieve a Hunger-Free North Dakota
    - hear national speakers from the AARP Foundation, Feeding America, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, and Nutrition for the Future
    - learn about solutions from some of North Dakota’s most innovative partners
    - make “Stone Soup” and meet others working to end hunger in their own communities
    We are daring to ask the question, “Can we eliminate hunger in our state?” No other state is closer to this goal than North Dakota.
    Although our state claims one of the lowest rates of hunger and food insecurity in the nation, still 7.8 percent, or about 56,430 people in our state don’t have enough food, at times, for a healthy, active life for their children and all family members, and don’t have reliable access to nutritious and affordable food. We are bringing together people from across the state and across the country to help find solutions together.
    Plan to attend today. The Early Bird rate is in effect through August 28.
    Registration is kept to the low rate of $70.00 +processing fees, increasing to $80.00 +processing fees after August 28. Thank you to the support of our sponsors, we are able to keep registration fees low.
    A limited number of stipends are available for registration and travel. Please contact karen@ehrensconsulting.com to request.
    Register now!

    Tuesday, August 18, 2015

    Guest Post: Nick Archuleta, North Dakota United President, on Teacher Waivers

    small color for email signature

    Professional teachers in North Dakota have done an exceptionally good job of educating our youth since statehood. Our teachers have endeavored to provide an excellent education to every child that has walked, rolled or been carried through our schoolhouse doors. Our teachers and schools are recognized nationally for the outstanding service they provide.

    Professional educators take the responsibility of providing enriching educational opportunities to our young people very seriously. They spend considerable time learning the art and science of teaching, often accumulating significant debt in the process. They take jobs in communities across the state, at salaries well below those of other professionals because they relish the opportunity to impact children’s lives in meaningful ways. They earn their degrees; they pay for their licenses and commit to continuing their education because they love what they do. They do not ask for the respect of their communities, they earn it every day.

    Now, however, there is a plan afoot to turn all that on its ear. Gov. Dalrymple has been put in the unenviable position of having to decide whether to fast-track a plan that is destined to fail. The “community expert” plan would allow school districts to hire untrained, unqualified and unlicensed individuals to teach in North Dakota’s classrooms.

    The plan will not solve the issue of unfilled teaching positions because it will only serve to attract more applicants despite their limited capacities to do the job well. The plan will not address the real reasons why some school districts do not attract more qualified applicants and why some have difficulty retaining the teachers they do have.

    Every summer in North Dakota, an alarm is sounded at the beginning of August, calling attention to the number of unfilled teaching positions. On Aug. 1, 2014, there were some 200 unfilled positions. That number of unfilled positions seems daunting, yet on the first day of school three weeks later, the number of unfilled positions had dropped to 86.3. So what happened to affect such a dramatic drop in the number of unfilled teaching positions in a matter of a few weeks? No one knows for sure because no one at DPI compiles such information, but I will surmise that teachers signed their contracts.

    The reason so many teachers wait to sign their contracts until August is because they are trying to do what is right by their families. Many teachers want to move to a community that offers better salaries, more professional engagement and more opportunity. Often, but not always, these are North Dakota’s larger cities like Grand Forks, Fargo, West Fargo, Bismarck, Mandan, Minot and Dickinson. Once those school districts’ rosters are full, teachers who had hoped to be hired in those cities opt to sign a contract and remain in the communities they served the previous year.

    The teacher shortage issue is complex and this simplistic, stop-gap measure will not solve the problem. One cause of the teacher shortage is that as our teachers retire, there are fewer individuals to replace them. This is because there are fewer people choosing teaching as a career. The reasons fewer people choose teaching as a career are many, but two reasons I hear often are low salaries and that teaching has lost the prestige it once enjoyed in our society. The “community expert” plan addresses neither of these issues.

    Since 1983, the teaching profession has been under constant criticism. When I was growing up, education was seen as the solution to America’s problems. Now, in some quarters, education is seen as the cause of America’s problems. The teaching profession has come under withering assault from misinformed ideologues who believe that teaching and learning occur in a vacuum, free from negative outside influences like poverty and politics.

    Crafting a plan that is based on actual data is the way forward, and North Dakota United stands ready to help. Making communities viable places for teachers to live and work is the key. Raising salaries, requiring high-quality mentoring programs for teachers and creating student-centered, teacher-led teaching and learning environments will help teachers understand that they are valued professionals.

    Let’s take the time to get this right. Our kids deserve our best efforts.

    Monday, August 17, 2015

    Forum editorial: Expanded Medicaid works in ND

    North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, who was among a handful of Republican governors to sign on to Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, did the right thing. He took a lot of political heat from his own party, but resisted. He not only was right at the time, he since has reiterated that it was the right thing to do for North Dakotans who did not have access to health care.

    The governor is no cheerleader for Obamacare. He is, however, a pragmatic leader who saw an opportunity to help North Dakotans in need, and made the call. The results thus far confirm his foresight.

    Some 19,000 North Dakotans have signed up for health insurance under the ACA’s Medicaid expansion. The program is a major factor in the steep decline in uninsured people in the state. It’s not the only factor (a strong economy and competitive job market are causing more employers to offer health policies to workers), but it is a significant driver of the state’s good health insurance statistics.

    The drop from 15 percent uninsured prior to the ACA to 6.9 percent this year is one of the more impressive changes in the nation.

    Critics contend the Medicaid change is proving to be more expensive than forecast. No surprise. However, the charge that Obamacare is the primary cause of escalating health insurance and Medicaid and Medicare costs is mostly canard. Health care inflation was raging before Obamacare, still is, and would have been showing the same trends had the ACA never become law. What the ACA has done, unfortunately, is give insurers and health care providers cover for rising costs. Every time rates go up, co-pays rise or the cost of a drug jumps, they conveniently and dishonestly point to the ACA as the culprit.Polls show Obamacare, the concept at least, remains unpopular among most Americans. But break it down and ask about specific provisions – expanded Medicaid, insuring existing conditions, keeping kids on a policy longer – and poll results flip.Certainly there is lots not to like about the ACA. But insurers and providers have moved quickly to adjust to the law’s new reality. And governors like Dalrymple, who was able to cut through the partisan smog, helped make affordable health care accessible.

    Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.

    Red River Market accepts SNAP

    Red River Market now accepting SNAP benefits

    FARGO – Red River Market in Fargo is the latest farmers market in North Dakota to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits via electronic benefit transfer cards. SNAP helps low-income families buy food.

    The Red River Market has about 23 individual vendors featuring fruits, vegetables, eggs, herbs, baked goods and meat that can be purchased with SNAP benefits. The market is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays at Broadway and Second Avenue North in downtown Fargo.

    The Red River Market joins Hildebrant's Farmers Market in West Fargo and William Erbes Farm in Fargo that accept SNAP benefits.

    Bismarck Tribune: Medicaid System goes Online in October

    Medicaid system goes online in October

    A multimillion-dollar IT project for the state’s largest agency is on track to be completed this fall after being delayed for years and costs rising from $62.5 million to more than $97.9 million.

    Department of Human Services officials said the state’s new Medicaid Management Information System project had experienced a series of delays and changes in its budget, missing a federal deadline of Oct. 1 last year to go live.

    The tentative go-live date for the new system is Oct. 5.

    DHS executive director Maggie Anderson said no further delays are anticipated.

    “We have been doing a variety of training and outreach. This is a very intense time for us,” she said.
    As of May 31, approximately $66.4 million had been spent on the project, of which $58.3 million was federal dollars. Of the total budget, about $85.5 million is from federal funds.

    “There really hasn’t been a lot of feedback (yet) as far as the transition goes,” said Anderson, who expects to hear comments in the coming weeks from members of the Human Services and Information Technology committees.

    In a July 20 letter to Medicaid providers statewide, the department announced the go-live date for the system, to be called the ND Health Enterprise MMIS. It will replace the system put in place more than 35 years ago.

    A transition from the old system to the new began this month. Last week was the cutoff date for submitting new claim adjustments to the old system. The cutoff for providing paper claims to the old system is Tuesday, though there are exceptions for some providers. The cutoff for electronic claims is Sept. 2.

    In the July letter, providers were told to plan for a potential gap in the payment of claims as the transition takes place.

    Jenny Witham, IT Services director for DHS, said the delays resulted when the vendor, Xerox, took a long time designing and developing its system. Another included changes in the project’s scope and in federal law, most notably because of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

    “It’s a very complex system. It’s just as complex as the MMIS in New York or California or any other large state. We just have a smaller volume,” Witham said.

    Rep. Mark Owens, R-Grand Forks, chairman of the Interim Information Technology Committee, said the project had “slowed down and encountered adjustments” but committee members during the course of the project have been understanding of the situation.

    “I didn’t sense a frustration with the lawmakers in the project. As a whole, they wanted progress,” he said.

    Owens said the time for the project to come online is now and fine-tuning of the system can come later.

    (Reach Nick Smith at 701-250-8255 or 701-223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.)

    EARN Starter Program

    EARN is initiating a new program called the EARN Starter Account.  It is a program that teaches low and middle income people how to save money.  Here is EARN's explanation of the program.

    "To participate, all you have to do is link a savings account of your choice, deposit money each month, and make no withdrawals.  Every month you reach your deposit minimum, you will earn rewards!  Even if you've never saved before, or have only set aside a few dollars here and there, the Starter Account is a great way to kick-start and grow a lifelong habit of saving.  Interested?  Sign up now!"

    EARN is also hosting a webinar on the Starter Program on August 19, from 1 to 2pm.  

    The Starter Account is a new component of EARN's programs which include:

    The Triple Boost Account, which "is a matched savings account for low-wage workers to save for their children's education expenses. Savers set aside $500 and receive $1,500 in match money. The total sum of $2,000 can be spent on qualified educational expenses for your child. At this time, we are fully enrolled and no longer accepting new applications" 

    The EARN IDA (Individual Development Account) a matched savings account for low-wage workers to save for one of three specific goals: purchasing a first home, higher education, or a small business. With an EARN IDA account, you save $2,000 over a period of time and receive $4,000 in match money. The total sum of $6,000 can be invested towards your chosen goal.  At this time, we are fully enrolled and no longer accepting new applications. 

    The North Dakota Community Action Partnership is in charge of a similar program to EARN's IDA in North Dakota that matches two to one with a combination of federal and non-federal dollars. 

    Friday, August 14, 2015

    Is the Earned Income Tax Credit an Emergency Savings Tool for the Low-Wage Worker? What about interest? Here comes the Rainy Day EITC!

    From The Hill blog:

    Turning the EITC into an emergency savings tool for low-wage workers

    “Thank God for tax season!” says Debra McKinley, a restaurant worker in Boston who relies on her tax refund – particularly the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – to catch up on bills, afford a special treat for her daughter’s birthday and put a little savings aside for emergencies. But it’s nearly August now, and tax season is a distant memory. For many of us that’s just fine, but for McKinley and millions of low-income workers like her, it means anxiously counting the days until next year’s tax return.

    McKinley is one of more than a hundred low-wage workers interviewed for the book “It’s Not Like I’m Poor.” The EITC—often the most substantial part of their tax refund—is a financial lifeline for workers like her, but there’s one problem: it’s only available once a year.

    As financial pressures mount throughout the year for families like McKinley’s, rainy day funds built up at tax time are often depleted.  That means unpredictable events such as a cut in work hours can quickly lead to ballooning credit card debt or a trip to the payday loan office. Something as simple as a “check engine” light signals a looming, unbearable financial burden. 
    The EITC is the country’s largest anti-poverty program for workers, but it was not built to contend with the recurring financial shocks that define low-wage life in America. We have a plan that would give these workers the extra help they need when inevitable financial emergencies occur after tax season. We call it the Rainy Day EITC and it deserves attention on Capitol Hill.

    Under the policy proposal, a worker who opts in to the Rainy Day EITC on her tax form receives most of the EITC (80 percent) during tax season and defers the remainder. Six months later, she gets a Rainy Day payment—the 20 percent she deferred and a 50 percent savings match.

    For a typical low-wage family with an EITC of $2,500, this Rainy Day payment adds up to real savings. The family receives $2,000 at tax time, and six months later gets another $700. That $700 is larger than the typical pay day loan in America. It’s the difference between fixing the car when the check engine light goes on and just hoping for the best. It means a real financial cushion later in the year, after the boom times of tax season have receded into memory.

    The Rainy Day EITC isn’t just the brainchild of ivory tower academics and policy wonks. It’s based on in-depth interviews  from “It’s Not Like I’m Poor”with low-wage workers who value the “forced savings” mechanism of the lump sum EITC, but find themselves without a rainy day fund months later. The proposal was honed with input from researchers and administrators of low-income tax preparation programs from across the country.

    The Rainy Day EITC isn’t a silver bullet. Many low-wage workers will need their full tax refund at tax time. But for many low-wage workers, the reform would provide a new tool to help them achieve financial security year-round, rather than just during tax-season.

    Congress can create that tool through a relatively modest expansion of the EITC. By our estimate, the initial cost would amount to a little over 1 percent of current spending on the EITC. That relatively small expansion would help millions of workers add some stability to their often unstable financial lives. We believe it is well worth the investment.

    Edin is the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in the Department of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University. Halpern-Meekin is an assistant professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Greene is an Associate professor of Law at the Duke University School of Law. Levin is the associate director of Government Affairs at the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a national nonprofit focused on helping low- and moderate-income Americans save, invest, and build wealth.

    Thursday, August 13, 2015

    North Dakota in the top 10 for Decrease in Uninsured

     The Gallup poll referenced in this Fargo forum Article can be found here, www.gallup.com/poll/184514/uninsured-rates-continue-drop-states.aspx

    The Fargo Forum is also looking for stories about people who were able to get insurance under the Affordable Care Act and North Dakota's expansion of Medicaid.  Please email the Forum's reporter at: pspringer@forumcomm.com.


    Mike Barry, 50, of Fargo, N.D., photographed in his apartment on Wednesday, August 12, 2015, describes the Affordable Care Act as a "god-send" for his health and well-being. According to a new Gallup ranking, North Dakota's uninsured rate has dropped 8.1 percent since 2013. Nick Wagner / The Forum

    Access to health care 'a godsend' for previously uninsured man

    FARGO – Not long ago, Mike Barry was going to a homeless health clinic to take care of his chronic health conditions, which include diabetes, high blood pressure and pulmonary disease.

    But about two years ago, he gained access to health insurance because North Dakota expanded its Medicaid program. He's one of almost 19,000 who picked up Medicaid coverage — a big factor in the drop in the uninsured rate in North Dakota, which fell from 15 percent in 2013 to 6.9 percent in the first half of this year, according to a new Gallup survey.

    Now the 50-year-old Fargo man has access to a primary-care doctor and a team of specialists, a dietitian and a diabetes coach.

    "I know there's been a lot of discussion about the Affordable Care Act," Barry said, referring to the health reform law that allowed states to expand Medicaid and provides health insurance premium subsidies for others. "For me, it's been a godsend. It's opened a lot of doors."

    North Dakota is one of the 10 states that has experienced the greatest reduction in the rate of those who are not covered by health insurance from 2013 to 2015, according to the survey.

    Over the same period, when the national uninsured rate fell from 17.3 percent to 11.7 percent, Minnesota's uninsured rate decreased from 9.5 percent to 4.6 percent, Gallup reported. Minnesota was one of seven states to fall below 5 percent.

    Most states have seen the uninsured rate drop, a trend Gallup attributes to expanded health insurance coverage provided through the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare.

    The states with the largest decreases in the uninsured rate usually had both expanded Medicaid and created their own exchanges.

    Minnesota did both, while North Dakota decided to participate in the federal health insurance exchange.

    Adam Hamm, North Dakota's insurance commissioner, offered a guarded assessment of the Gallup figures.

    "In my nearly eight years as insurance commissioner, I've seen numerous estimates and surveys regarding the number of uninsured North Dakotans ranging anywhere from 7 percent to 15 percent," Hamm said in a statement. "This survey is simply one more data point to consider."

    Another reading on the uninsured population came Wednesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which estimates that 11.5 percent were uninsured nationwide in 2014. In North Dakota, the rate was 7.3 percent and 6.5 percent in Minnesota.

    Two health insurance executives said they weren't surprised by the sharp drop in the uninsured rate, as portrayed in the trend figures from the Gallup surveys.

    In addition to the almost 19,000 who gained coverage through expansion of Medicaid eligibility in North Dakota, another 18,171 are covered through the health insurance exchange, according to figures from March, the most recent available.

    That means 36,000 to 37,000 residents in North Dakota recently gained health insurance coverage, said Jeff Sandene, interim president of the Sanford Health Plan, which provides insurance for Medicaid expansion in the state.

    "That's a big number," he said. "It really doesn't surprise me," he added, referring to the 8.1-percentage point drop shown by the Gallup surveys. "I didn't know the exact number."

    Besides expansion of health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, the strong economy in North Dakota has helped broaden coverage, according to Sandene and Pat Bellmore, chief marketing officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota.

    The North Dakota Blues have seen more employers provide health insurance for the first time, Bellmore said.

    "A lot of it is the tight labor market," he said. To attract and keep workers, employers must offer competitive benefits, including health insurance, Bellmore added.

    Those who previously lacked health insurance now have the benefit of accessing health care, including preventive care that is directed by a primary care physician and carried out by a team of providers, Sandene said.

    Barry is a case in point. In addition to his primary-care doctor at Sanford Medical Center, he now sees specialists for his diabetes, kidney problems and leg problems, as well as a diabetes coach and dietitian. A community paramedic visits him once a week to monitor his conditions.

    "It's allowed me to access things I wouldn't have had access to," he said.

    As a result of the more intensive and coordinated care, Barry's chronic conditions have stabilized and he is seeing some improvement, he said. A 35-year veteran of restaurant work, Barry has been sidelined by his chronic health problems.

    "At least I know what the problems are, what I can do, what can be done about it," he said. "It takes the guesswork out."

    Bellmore and Sandene expect more individuals to get health insurance through the exchanges, as penalties continue to rise for those who lack coverage — suggesting, they said, the uninsured rate should continue to decline.