Three years in, the city's Financial Empowerment Centers show big results - Generocity Philly

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Feb. 22, 2016 12:46 pm

Three years in, the city’s Financial Empowerment Centers show big results

A three-year grant enabled Clarifi and the Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity to offer free, one-on-one financial counseling to 9,000 individuals and families.

The Jefferson family, who received assistance from a Financial Empowerment Center.

(Courtesy photo)

Three years ago, the Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity and financial counseling nonprofit Clarifi received a $3.3 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies and Living Cities to help alleviate poverty in Philadelphia.

With that grant coming to an end, Clarifi says the program that resulted from it was successful — almost $8 million-worth of success. They did it by offering “financial counseling with a more hands-on approach,” as Clarifi’s Counseling Program Manager Elaine Jones describes it now. 

Jones works with Philadelphia’s six Financial Empowerment Centers — the products of that initial $3.3 million investment. The centers provide free, one-on-one financial advising and are located within nonprofits Congreso, Community Legal Services, ACHIEVEability, People’s Emergency Center and Impact Services, as well as within the city’s Municipal Services building. Usually, Jones said, people come in wanting to improve their credit or manage their debt.

In the past three years, the centers have served 9,000 low- to moderate-income individuals and families. The other numbers provided by the nonprofit debt management organization are impressive:

  • $7.8 million in clients’ combined reduced debt
  • $957,000 in clients’ combined savings
  • An average of 42 points in increased credit scores

Part of the program’s success is due to the accessibility of its work, Jones said: Counselors, who are Clarifi staffers, are placed where civilians are already receiving social services. The financial help is worked into the existing services. Clarifi also hosts outreach events and has a hotline number for potential clients.

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The other part is its personalization. On the debt management side of their work, counselors will actively negotiate repayment plans for clients or work to get old debt eliminated, Jones said. On the saving side, it follows two steps:

  1. Getting money into safe bank accounts — Jones said many of the centers’ clients had been using check cashing and other unpredictable financial services with high fees. Clarifi helps them move to safer banking methods. 
  2. Holding clients accountable — When encouraging clients to save, Clarifi occasionally asks that bank statements be shown to counselors so they can track progress and push them to meet their goals.

Both the city and Clarifi are committed to continuing the program when the grant runs out at the end of this year and are currently looking for funding to do so, Jones said.

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