Client Story – Keya Jest

November 17th, 2017 by

“Forget it, this is never going to work, I’m a convicted felon and nobody wants me!” 

This feeling of hopelessness haunted Keya Jest for years.  Substance abuse and addiction resulted in an extensive criminal background.  For many, this would have been the end of the road, but Keya overcame her addiction, and she looked forward to a new beginning. Regardless of being substance-free for two years, Keya’s criminal background was a barrier to finding a good paying job. Keya’s outgoing and sunny disposition helped get her many job offers, but once the employer completed a background check the offers were rescinded.

In 2016, she learned about Step Up’s Chatham Apprentice Program (CAP). At the time, she was working two part-time, low-paying hospitality jobs and barely making ends meet while pursuing a degree in business management at Savannah Tech. Despite her busy life, she made the time to attend the CAP classes, and now says it was one of the best decisions that she ever made.

CAP’s curriculum includes soft skill training, mock interviews, financial education, and legal assistance.  The mock interviews introduced Keya to the details that make a big difference when meeting a potential employer, such as poise and professionalism.

“During class, I was tired of doing all the interviews but once I walked into a real job interview, I was so thankful for the practice,” says Keya. “I carried myself with confidence.”

Keya also learned vital financial skills such as building credit, saving for the future, and choosing a bank account from the financial education provided by Consumer Credit Counseling Services. Keya started to dream again, envisioning a wedding and owning a home. But for Keya, meeting Nancy DeVetter of the Georgia Legal Services Program in CAP was a game changer. Nancy worked with Keya to identify eligible records on her background check that could be restricted from public view and explained how Keya could communicate these records with potential employers.

When Keya next applied for a higher wage job it was a different story. Keya explained her history to the employer and provided a character reference from CAP staff.  The employer decided to act outside of their regular course of action and brought Keya onboard.

Keya’s new normal includes being substance-free for three years, a good paying job with benefits that she loves, and being able to take care of her rescue dogs.  Step Up introduced Keya to a pathway to prosperity and she has never looked back.

On October 12, Keya hosted Step Up Savannah’s 12th Annual Meeting. She was spectacular! We are so proud to have her as both a CAP graduate and friend.

Do you want to see more people find their pathways to prosperity? Step Up needs your help to continue this important work. Please take a moment to donate today. 

 

 

Georgia Work Credit can help working families step up

January 27th, 2017 by

By Jen Singeisen

Too many in our community struggle to step up into the middle class, even as they strive to do all the right things to work their way up the economic ladder. More than a quarter of Savannah’s residents live in poverty. Many neighborhoods have seen jobs vanish and incomes fall over the past three decades. When hardworking people can’t get ahead, it weighs down the economy as a whole and undermines our community’s ability to thrive. At Step Up Savannah, we engage all sectors of the community to improve the economic mobility and financial stability of families. Helping people step up benefits us all; studies show a strong link between broad-based opportunity and economic growth. Low economic mobility and financial stability are community-wide issues that diminish our overall economic potential.

While there is no silver bullet for the complex challenges facing families today, but state leaders do have some proven tools at their disposal. This legislative session, our state lawmakers can enact a time-tested policy with strong bipartisan support to give an economic boost to working families.

Today is EITC Awareness Day, a chance to recognize the enormous impact the national Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has on our community. Created in 1975, the EITC is a federal policy that cuts taxes for low-wage workers like cashiers and nurses, providing a wage boost for families moving toward the middle class. In 2017, about 32,000 Chatham County families will claim the national EITC, bringing in nearly $100 million to our economy.

Georgia can build on this success by enacting a Georgia Work Credit, a state version of the EITC. To be eligible for the credit, Social-Media-Templates-EITC-Day (1)_Page_3recipients must work; making this a great incentive to keep folks in the workforce.  Many are seeing this as a viable alternative to raising the minimum wage. A Georgia Work Credit would provide a tax break up to help working families make ends meet. Evidence from the EITC and other states shows that a Georgia Work Credit would help families in Chatham County work their way to the middle class by making key investments, saving for a rainy day and making sure bills get paid. A Georgia Work Credit would also help children as research has shown that the EITC is linked to healthier babies, better school performance and higher earnings later in life. More than helping individual families, the Georgia Work Credit would also pump over $8.7 million into our local businesses.

The General Assembly should take a page from our Chatham County Legislative Delegation and take a serious look at the potential of a Georgia Work Credit as a vehicle to provide a bottom-up tax cut to working families. A Georgia Work Credit would help build the middle class, impart lifelong benefits for children and provide a pivotal step up the economic ladder for thousands of families in our community.

Why should Georgia have a state EITC?

January 29th, 2016 by

In honor of #EITCAwarenessDay, learn how a state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would positively impact our state and community.

 

How a state EITC would benefit families –

A state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would provide a bottom-up tax cut that would benefit more than a million Georgia families and put an estimated $270 million back into the pockets of working Georgians.County EITC Map Branded

More specifically it would benefit:

  • An estimated 770,000 working mothers and 410,000 working
  • An estimated 80,000 military veterans and their
  • An estimated 2 million children.
  • Over a million Georgia households representing 6 million Georgians.

Georgia should create a state Earned Income Tax Credit to help Georgians with jobs afford the basics and work their way into the middle class.

  • The tax credit lets low- and moderate-income working families keep more of what they earn to help meet basic needs and pay for things that allow them to keep working, such as child care and transportation.
  • This helps families as they get a toehold in the workforce or deal with temporary setbacks like having their hours or pay reduced or a family breadwinner laid off.
  • For families with very low wages, the credit increases with each dollar earned, which encourages them to work more hours. That additional experience in the workforce can lead to higher pay and better opportunities. The tax credit phases out after recipients reach a modest income level.
  • This tax credit offers working families a hand up by encouraging and supporting work and reducing use of public assistance. It’s a modest investment that can make a big difference in the lives of working families.
  • If someone doesn’t work and pay taxes, they can’t receive this help. It only goes to people who earn income through low-wage work, most of them raising children.

How a state EITC would benefit small businesses, local economies and Georgia’s future workforce.

  • The Earned Income Tax Credit boosts local economies across the state by helping low-wage workers keep more of their income, which they spend at local businesses to buy groceries, pay for car repairs, or afford child care.
  • And businesses like this tax credit because workers who can pay for basic necessities are more dependable employees because they can better afford reliable transportation to get to work and child care for their kids.
  • The EITC is a proven tool to strengthen tomorrow’s workforce because young people receive an outsized benefit. Research finds that children and young adults in families receiving the EITC do better in school, graduate high school and attend college and succeed in the workforce.

To view full report: the case for a state Earned Income Tax Credit

Download Georgia Budget & Policy Institute’s State EITC Fact Sheet

ABOUT NATIONAL EITC AWARENESS DAY


EITC Awareness Day is a national grassroots effort to draw attention to the Earned Income Tax Credit and the enormous positive benefit it has on working families across the country.

 

Tax Time = Time to Save

January 20th, 2016 by

Did you know that retirement is the only thing you can’t borrow money to do? Tax time provides a great opportunity for people
retirementto start saving for the future, which will be here before you know it. Even setting aside a small portion of your refund is a great start. For those who haven’t found an easy way to save, myRA (my Retirement Account) is a great place to start. This tax season, tax filers can get on the path to more secure retirements and, if eligible, take advantage of the Saver’s Tax Credit with myRA.

What is myRA?

myRA is a new starter retirement savings account developed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. It may be a good savings option for many tax filers, especially for those who don’t have access to retirement savings plans at work — like small business employees, part-time and temporary workers, and the self-employed. myRA is a Roth IRA1 that was designed to remove common barriers to saving and make it easy to get started. Saving with myRA is simple, safe, and affordable:

  • No cost to open, no minimums, and no fees
  • No complicated investment options
  • No risk of losing money
  • Backed by the U.S. Treasury
  • Savers choose the amount to contribute1
  • Money deposited is available when it’s needed2

Tax filers can make the most of their federal tax refunds with just three simple steps:

  1. Open a myRA account before filing a tax return by visiting myRA.gov or calling 855-406-6972.
  2. Provide the appropriate myRA account and routing numbers (111925074) to your tax preparer and indicate the amount of the federal tax refund that should be directed to the myRA account. If depositing a refund into multiple accounts, Form 8888 will need to be completed.
  3. Ask your preparer if you are also eligible for the Saver’s Tax Credit. Individuals may be eligible if they contribute to certain types of retirement savings accounts, like myRA.

Need help getting your taxes prepared? Contact the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at Neighborhood Improvement Association to find a free tax preparation site near you: 912.447.5577 or www.niacdc.org


1Annual and lifetime contribution limits and annual earned income limits apply, as do conditions for tax-free withdrawal of interest. To learn about key features of a Roth IRA and for other requirements and details, visit myRA.gov/roth-ira.

2Interest earned may be withdrawn without tax and penalty five years after your first contribution if you are over age 59 ½, or if you meet certain other conditions, such as using the funds for the purchase of your first home.

Celebrating a Step Up Partner, Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Savannah Area, Inc.

November 24th, 2015 by

CCCSSINCE 1965, local non-profit Consumer Credit Counseling Service of the Savannah Area, Inc. (CCCS) has delivered money management solutions to individuals and families. Their nationally certified counselors provide expert advice to help increase the financial knowledge of clients while helping them solve financial problems and achieve their goals.

CCCS consists of seven staff members committed to improving the financial health of members of the Savannah community. John Wills (right), executive director of CCCS, has served on Step Up’s Board of Directors and as the board chair in 2014. Richard Reeve (left) is the director of Financial Education for CCCS and works alongside Step Up in several different capacities.

How They Make a Difference

CCCS changes people’s lives by teaching them how to manage their debt, build their credit, prepare to buy a home, or avoid foreclosure through financial counseling and education. Find out more about CCCS  – www.cccssavannah.org

Workplace and Community Financial Education

Step Up Savannah and CCCS work together to provide a comprehensive menu of financial education for employees at worksites_RBC7498throughout Chatham County. They also offer workshops at public libraries and community-based workforce development
programs. Classes focus on applied learning, giving participants the opportunity to immediately use new knowledge and change behavior. For example, in a class about credit reports, participants pull their credit report, learn how to read and interpret it, and dispute any errors. In addition, workplace-based financial counseling means individuals can address critical financial concerns such as debt repayment, identity theft, foreclosure, or home purchase.

Using surveys and individual meetings with HR/program staff to identify the biggest needs and topics of interest to employees, Step Up and CCCS have offered popular classes such as “Improving Your Credit Score,” “Spending Plans,” and “Grow Your Savings.” They rely on an independently developed unbiased curricula called Smart Cents, the FDIC’s Money Smart program and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) Foundation’s modules for classroom education.

Step Up and CCCS were recognized for their employer-based work by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) in its Platforms for Prosperity national contest in 2014.

Life Line Loan

_RBC7552In the spring of 2015, Georgia Heritage Federal Credit Union (GHFCU) partnered with Step Up and CCCS on the new Life Line
Loan, an employer-based loan program. Life Line is an affordable small-dollar loan ($300-$1500) available through employers that sign up with Georgia Heritage. The program is coupled with on-site financial education to ensure employees develop a better understanding of how to manage credit and debt. Loan payments are made through payroll deduction, and GHFCU reports loan payments to the credit bureaus to establish a positive credit history. Once the loan is paid in full, the loan payment amount continues to be withdrawn from payroll and deposited into the employee’s savings account until they opt out, allowing employees to build an emergency savings fund.

Five employers have signed up for the program– Chatham County, Chatham Area Transit, Goose Feathers Café, Hospice Savannah and Senior Citizens, Inc.– but it’s open to any employer.

Chatham Apprentice Program (CAP) Financial Education

Richard holds three 90 minute presentations that cover budgeting, creating financial goals, maximizing income, priortizing expenses, and understanding credit for each CAP class. In addition, he provides individual on-site credit review.

“Through partnerships and collaborative efforts,” Richard says about CCCS’ relationship with Step Up, “we can have a deeper and more meaningful impact in our community. Our relationship has allowed us to market and network our agency better, connected us with other national agencies and funders, and gotten us linked with policy work.”


Do you want to make a difference in your community? We can help you. Fill out our Commit to Action form here and together we will create opportunity in Savannah.

Images courtesy of Blake Crosby Photography.

Celebrating CAP Graduate, Joyce Moore

October 21st, 2015 by

joyceJOYCE MOORE, known as “Mama Joyce” by her fellow CAP participants, has a nurturing spirit and warm smile that makes everyone she engages with feel accepted instantly.The spirit that encouraged her fellow CAP participants was developed nearly 40 years before as she raised five children in Savannah’s Yamacraw Village. Even as a young mother, Joyce was committed to education, earning an associate’s degree in Child Growth and Development, then pursuing a career working with children.

As her children grew and started families, she continued to work in childcare and further pursued her education. She had to stop, however, to care for her mother who was suffering from Alzheimer’s. After her mother’s death, Joyce moved into her son and daughter-in-law’s home in Savannah. She reached out to the unemployment office but was discouraged by the limited help they could provide.

Her long-time friend, Trudy Jones of United Way 2-1-1, told her about CAP. CAP not only helped Joyce find employment, but also helped her see herself in new way. She relays her story about a class exercise where students are asked to stand before a full-length mirror and prompted to try to see themselves as an outsider would. She said this was eye-opening as she had never stopped to consider who she was or how people viewed her. What she saw reflected in the mirror was the image of a beautiful and strong woman. She says she realized, “I may not be where I want to be, but I am not where I was. And that means a lot.”

As a CAP graduate, Joyce is following her passion again now working at Wesley’s Lady Bamford Early Learning Center. She hopes to move out of her son’s house by the end of the year and find a place of her own. She dreams of one day owning a home where her grandchildren (all 39 of them!) can visit and be encouraged and nurtured by Mama Joyce.

About our Chatham Apprentice Program

The Chatham Apprentice Program (CAP) is a workforce training program that teaches employability skills, individualized coaching, and employment placement for low income individuals facing multiple work barriers. CAP is a collaboration among Chatham County, Step Up Savannah, and community-based organizations; it is funded by Chatham County and United Way of the Coastal Empire. The most recent CAP classes are part of a newly designed program called “E3” for Educate, Empower, Employ. E3 works through partnering with community organizations and area employers, such as DIRTT, whose employees volunteer to conduct mock interviews with CAP participants.

Do you want to make a difference in your community? We can help you. Fill out our Commit to Action form here and together we will create opportunity in Savannah.

Images courtesy of Blake Crosby Photography.

Celebrating CAP Graduate, Malcolm Chaplin

October 9th, 2015 by

malcolm picMalcolm Chaplin is a Savannah native and graduate of Johnson High School. He completed CNA classes and received a culinary arts certificate at America’s Second Harvest of Coastal Georgia. He has worked  as a dishwasher or line cook for local restaurants but as their profits fluctuated seasonally, so did his hours. It became increasingly tough to find a position that paid more than $8 an hour and a consistent full-time schedule.

Before enrolling in the Chatham Apprentice Program, he was laid off as a dishwasher and banquet server from a fine dining restaurant. Over the next year he worked sporadically as a painter while searching for another job in the hospitality industry.

In the fall of 2014, Malcom saw a CAP flyer at the West Broad Street YMCA and applied. He gained confidence as he learned and practiced critical skills that prepared him to interview successfully for higher paying jobs. He said He appreciated applying his new skills in mock interviews and receiving immediate feedback. He also benefited from financial counseling offered through CAP. He was able to pull his credit score and subsequently take control of his debt. As a result his credit has improved significantly.

After graduation, CAP staff stayed in close touch informing Malcolm regularly about opportunities and encouraging him to apply. Within three months, he found a full-time position with Café Bon Appetit at SCAD. After only seven months on the job, he was promoted to lead supervisor of receiving and prep, earning $10 an hour plus full benefits. At his prompting not long after, his sister followed in his footsteps and graduated from CAP. She too is now employed by Café Bon Appetit.

Step Up program offers employer-based low-interest loan program

July 7th, 2015 by

Article written by Jan Skutch for  Savannah Morning News

When those out-of-the-blue bills hit, home workers are frequently left with few options other than high-interest rate lenders.

Under a new program recently rolled out here, Step Up Savannah Inc. is joining forces with Georgia Heritage Federal Credit Union and Consumer Credit Counseling Services and a list of employers to offer employees an easy-to-access “small-dollar loan program.”

The plan is employer-based and offers employees between $300 and $1,500 at a reasonable rate, repaid through a paycheck deduction. And a bad or no credit score is not a bar to getting the loan.

“It’s open to all employees,” said Robyn Wainner, Step Up’s director of Asset Building & Financial Empowerment. “We understand that many folks need money if the car breaks down or kids need money for summer camp,” Wainner said. “We really are trying to provide an alternative to people who don’t have alternatives.”

The program is accessible through the employer’s human resources departments and based on simple criteria — the employee works there at least six months and is in good standing, she said. The loan is processed through the credit union individually with the employee getting money same day or 24-48 hours, Wainner said.

“They pay the loan back through direct payroll deductions” over a six- to 12-month period, and the consistent payments work to improve the employee’s credit as he or she goes. An added benefit of the program is that once the loan is repaid, the deductions that had been coming out of the employee’s paycheck can then go directly into a savings account until the employee opts out.

And the program allows the Consumer Credit Counseling Services to assist the employee with financial education efforts to make improvements down the road. Robby Glore, vice president for operations at Georgia Heritage Federal Credit Union, said the program “fits like a glove for us,” adding the credit union’s motto is “People helping people.”

“We are a local credit union serv ing Bryan, Effingham and Chatham counties,” he said. “The only bond we have is with the employers.”

He said the credit union has money to lend, pointing out that the institution’s money comes from its members. Georgia Heritage offers 16.9 percent annual percentage rate for payroll deductions, 18 percent for cash repayments, as opposed to 187.5 percent annual rate for car-title loans, Glore said.

“Based on a $1,000 loan, I can save them $1,100 a year over the alternative finance companies,” he said. “This is a whole lot cheaper interest rate.” “These are people who really need that money,” Glore said.

In addition to the interest savings, the program offers participants a way “to get back on a sound financial footing,” he added. Officials said the program is available to all employers. The largest partner on board is the Chatham Area Transit Authority and its 236 employees, CAT marketing manager Shalonda Rountree said the program offers them an opportunity to “encourage participation by employees whose credit history would not allow for approval from traditional loan programs, and who may resort to obtaining extremely high interest and fees by resorting to alternative or car-title loans.”

“Since the introduction of the program at the end of May, the Life Line Loan Program has been a huge success,” Roundtree said, adding that 27 employees have already applied to participate. One of the employers early on in the program was Hospice Savannah and its 205 employees.

Ron Williams, Hospice human resources director, said his nonprofit attended a seminar in March at the Savannah Morning News and saw the program as having potential “for it to be a good benefit for our employees.” Hospice officials were seeing employees facing unexpected “financial binds” to look to their retirement accounts to make up shortfalls, he said.

“We wanted them to have another option so they would not have to go to their retirement for extra money,” Williams said. “Every employee is eligible for the loan program. The credit union will pull credit reports but your credit score does not prohibit you from getting a loan.

Since we rolled it out two weeks ago “at least five or six of our employees have already applied for loans and several more have asked about the program,” Williams said.

“It seems to be” working for the employees, he said.

Do they seem to like it? he is asked.

“Yes, they do.”

Credit Union Hero

May 28th, 2015 by

It’s not often that a financial institution is a protagonist. But in Savannah, Georgia Heritage Federal Credit Union came through like a hero this year, working with Step Up to create a new loan product aimed at low-wage employees.

More than 60 percent of Chatham County residents have sub-prime credit; thousands of residents remain stuck in a cash-based economy (albeit some by choice, others due to mistakes or, yes, bad choices) and at least 10 percent are completely unbanked. Many — truly untold numbers, since there is no straightforward way to count these individuals — are working full or part-time. For several years, Step Up staff and our partners have tried to identify ways to connect our working poor, some barely a paycheck away from poverty, to public benefits they’re eligible to receive that effectively boost their earnings. A significant opportunity has existed among thousands of wage-earners who find themselves in need of a small-dollar loan but who don’t have credit or whose bad credit translates into exorbitant interest rates.

When a life emergency or unanticipated need pops up, most employees ask for payroll advances, borrow from retirement plans, or turn to the unregulated car title loan industry.

Step Up has urged banks and credit unions to consider offering a safe loan product through area employers. Georgia Heritage recently stepped up. Employers can now offer through the credit union loans of $300-$1500 to those who have been employed in good standing at their companies for 6 months or more. No questions asked, no fees, and monthly payments are determined by the credit union and borrower, with amounts processed through payroll deduction. Credit scores are not part of the determination process and payments are recorded at credit bureaus so these employees can build a positive credit record. Further, once the loan is repaid, the auto deductions continue with payments going to the employee’s savings account. They can easily opt out of course but once individuals get accustomed to not having that $50 or $100 available, they typically keep it up, and in this case building savings.

Chatham Area Transit, Hospice Savannah, and Chatham County are employers who are on board, or just about, with the Life Line Loan. Step Up will be gathering data to document what works– or doesn’t– about this loan product. But we know that it won’t bury in more debt those who can least afford it, like the car title loan.

To learn more about our Life Line Loan, contact Robyn at rwainner@stepupsavannah.org

The ATM Revolution

January 5th, 2015 by

I recently came across an article in the Savannah Herald, The ATM Revolution by Alicia Scott, owner of Introspect Consulting Group, about the “ATM Revolution”. It was the first time I’d heard this term and found myself drawn to it.

The article provides a brief overview of what is considered the ATM revolution. This term refers to the emphasis and vast popularity of virtual spending and online banking. The Revolution includes the influx of Automated Teller Machines and the increase of credit cards and debit cards to make purchases. She offered cautionary advice about one aspect of the Revolution—spending your money through virtual channels—that resonated strongly with my own experience.

In particular, Scott discusses the dangers of the ATM revolution. The act of spending is virtual without money ever being exchanged physically. This phenomenon caters to convenience and fosters complacency. As a result, people are less likely to manually balance their checkbooks, therefore the skill is lost and forgotten. Online banking and check registers should co-exist and the best practice is to incorporate both tools.

Scott’s statement “The ATM revolution has erected a veil between our money and our eyes by enabling us to spend money without physically seeing it leave our hands” resonates with me because I am guilty of plastic spending. I rarely have cash on hand and I am familiar with and frightened by the veil Scott speaks of. I have long stopped manually balancing my checkbook and primarily track spending via online banking. I agree that manual check register balancing and online banking tracking should be combined for the most comprehensive financial outlook. I guess I should add manually balancing my checkbook to my New Year’s resolution list!

In the article Scott encourages parents, guardians, mentors and the like to teach and encourage tracking spending and creating a physical budget. In line with Scott’s message, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the FDIC promote financial literacy for children. The initiative consists of resources and tools for children Pre-K through college. Please visit http://www.consumerfinance.gov/parents/ for more information.