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Pittsburgh selected to develop financial counseling service


November 21, 2017

The City of Pittsburgh and the national Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund (CFE Fund) has announced their selection to replicate the proven Financial Empowerment Center (FEC) model under the new FEC Public national platform.

Pittsburgh will receive technical assistance and a seed grant to bring free, high-quality, one-on-one financial counseling to Pittsburgh residents. The CFE Fund’s FEC Public program is supported by a $7,750,000 investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies as part of their American Cities initiative.

“This is a key initiative to help make sure Pittsburgh offers opportunity for all. On behalf of the residents of Pittsburgh I want to thank the CFE Fund and Bloomberg Philanthropies for this latest charitable contribution to our city,” Mayor William Peduto said. 

“Financial Empowerment Centers are exactly the kind of bold idea that should spread between cities. It is a proven model that helps low-income citizens and we are delighted to be doubling- down on our investment in this initiative,” said James Anderson, head of Government Innovation at Bloomberg Philanthropies. 

“Local leaders know first-hand the connection between family financial stability and community financial stability,” said Jonathan Mintz, president and CEO of the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund. “Mayor Peduto and the city of Pittsburgh are joining a national movement to bring free, high-quality financial counseling as a public service to their residents; we are proud to partner with Mayor Peduto and Bloomberg Philanthropies on this critical work.”

The national FEC Public platform promotes scale and sustainability for the growing movement of professional, one-on-one financial counseling as a free public service. The CFE Fund is seeding additional FEC replication multiple avenues of grant support, intensive technical assistance, and a vibrant national learning community, which will help as many as 50 local government partners plan, launch, and sustain free financial counseling for their residents.

First piloted in New York City under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2008, the FECs have worked with almost 80,000 clients, helping them reduce individual debt by almost $99 million, and increasing their families’ savings by close to $9 million. In addition, a recent CFE Fund evaluation showed that this program works even for residents with very low incomes and other complex financial challenges. Pittsburgh is one of 12 localities selected to receive a grant and intensive technical assistance to prepare to launch a local FEC program.

Financial Empowerment Centers (FECs) offer professional, one-on-one financial counseling as a free public service. At the Financial Empowerment Centers, professionally trained FEC counselors help individuals and families with low and moderate incomes manage their finances, pay down debt, increase savings, establish and build credit, and access safe and affordable mainstream banking products.

At the core of the FEC model is the integration of counseling into other social services, including housing and foreclosure prevention, workforce development, prisoner reentry, benefits access, domestic violence services, and more.

Earlier this year, the CFE Fund released An Evaluation of Financial Empowerment Centers: Building People’s Financial Stability As a Public Service, a three-year evaluation of the initiative’s initial replication in five cities: Denver, CO; Lansing, MI; Nashville, TN; Philadelphia, PA and San Antonio, TX. The evaluation shows the model worked in a variety of city contexts, and clients succeeded in reducing debt, increasing their savings, establishing and improving credit, and opening safe banking accounts, despite deep financial challenges.

The evaluation draws on data from 22,000 clients who participated in 57,000 counseling sessions across the first five city replication partners over 30 months. As further evidence of the program’s success, evaluation findings include: 

• FEC clients succeeded. Overall, these FEC clients reduced their debt by $22.5 million, increased their savings by $2.7 million, and nearly a quarter of unscored clients working on credit issues succeeded in establishing a credit score. 

• FEC clients succeeded despite deep financial challenges. FEC clients averaged annual incomes of only about $21,000; they were twice as likely as all U.S. consumers to have a subprime credit score and half as likely to even have a credit score; nearly 23 percent had no health insurance; and over 60 percent had no savings.

• FEC clients meaningfully reduced debt. While FEC clients began counseling with an average of nearly $29,000 in debt —more than half with credit card accounts, 40 percent with utility debt, and 38 percent with student loans—over a third of clients who tried to reduce their debt succeeded, with total debt reduction at $22.5 million. 

• FEC clients meaningfully built savings. FEC clients were much more likely than average US residents to have no savings, yet overall, almost a third of clients working to increase their savings succeeded, averaging $1,634 and totaling $2.7 million among just those included in the evaluation. 

• Banking status matters. Unbanked FEC clients had a notably more difficult time achieving financial outcomes, underscoring the importance of a bank account. Compared to clients with accounts, they were less than half as likely to increase their savings, and over a third less likely to establish a new credit score, even working directly and repeatedly with a counselor in efforts to do so. 

• The FEC model worked in a variety of city contexts. The evaluation documents replication success across 5 different American cities. Critical, well-replicated features of the model included programmatic emphasis on public-private partnerships, building rapport and prioritizing the clients’ goals, encouraging return sessions, and professionalism through data-driven management and professional training. 


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