ECCO helps people help themselves

  • Wednesday, February 27, 2013

There are a lot of barriers that keep people from getting ahead financially. For the working poor, one of the largest is the lack of acquiring assets. At East Cooper Community Outreach (ECCO), we are helping our clients build assets though understanding and practicing money management skills.

Having assets helps us all get through financial emergencies, plan for the future and create opportunities for our children. Assets also help avoid eviction, get better jobs, and send children to college.

The purpose of our asset-building program is to help free the working poor from the shackles of being dependent on outside assistance. Asset building begins by teaching sound family budgeting and money management practices to help them plan for long-term success.

At the annual board retreat last month, I reported the impact of our asset-building programs for our East Cooper families.

These services are provided by our staff and collaborating agencies who work on our campus. The board was amazed to hear the statistics.

The programs report included:

• GED: To get a better job or to continue the pathway of higher education, one must have finished high school. A person without a high school education is much more likely to be in poverty than one with a high school degree. Because of this, we offer GED classes. Last year, 42 people enrolled.

• Money Smart is our financial education class which teaches responsibility in managing money and increasing savings leads to financial security. Many of our clients open checking and savings accounts while and after participating in this class. Two classes each with 16-week sessions are held annually.

• IDA: Another program is the matched savings program called the IDA (Individual Development Account). A matched savings account is a special savings program for people with low incomes. IDA’s can only be used to 1.) buy a home, 2.) pay for college, 3.) start a small business.

• VITA: Preparing our annual income tax is a challenge for us all. Large sums of money go untouched each year that would help the working poor build assets due to confusing, intimidating and time-consuming forms to be completed. VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) is open to any household whose annual income is less than $51,000. One area our IRS-trained volunteers look for is the Earned Income Credit.

The EIC, created under the Ford Administration, is a tax credit for individuals and families who earn low to moderate wages, especially working families with children. The credit lowers or eliminates any taxes owed. In 2012, we helped 115 families save more than $120,000, not including preparation fees saved. The service is currently being offered.

• Benefit Bank: The Benefit Bank’s “one-stop-shop” concept helps connect families to asset-building resources they may not be aware of. It works by qualifying them for and enrolling them in a wide-range of program services and benefits.

It reduces the client’s amount of time and travel usually needed to apply for these programs and assistance. Last year ECCO enrolled 148 low-income families for programs and benefits totaling $287,148. That averaged $3,810 per family.

As I left the retreat that afternoon, I reflected on what ECCO has done and is doing for the working poor of our community. We provide a pathway out of poverty.

The path may begin with food, clothing, or healthcare, changing lives through education and empowerment. We help people believe they can control their destiny by introducing, educating and equipping them with the proper tools.

(Jack Little is the executive director of East Cooper Community Outreach.)

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