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FEDERAL WAY, Wash. – A program to encourage “unbanked and underserved” consumers to access mainstream financial services has been launched across an eight-state western region under the lead of the Washington Credit Union Foundation. Funded with a $532,570 U.S. Treasury grant, the “Economic Power Project” is designed “to get currently unbanked people banked,” said Marilyn Jarmon, project administrator with the foundation and coordinator of the project. “That is our end goal.” The program is one of 15 nationwide, some of which include credit unions. The 18-monthlong program in Washington State, in collaboration with the National Credit Union Foundation, provides free financial education to targeted populations in California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota. Six of the states are targeting the Hispanic population while the other two are focusing on Native Americans, Jarmon said. A financial educator in each state is responsible for teaching the classes. Outreach in the targeted communities is being done through community centers and organizations, community colleges, classes teaching English as a second language (ESL), and churches. Public service announcements have aired on radio stations, flyers have been passed out and newspapers are being encouraged to run stories about the program. A news conference in Yakima, Wash., for example, is scheduled for Thursday (April 17) to get more visibility for the program there. Among those scheduled to attend is Jorge Madrazo-Cuellar of the Mexican Consulate in Seattle, members of the state’s Hispanic Affairs Commission, David Grace of the World Council of Credit Unions, credit union officials including John Annaloro, president and chief executive officer of the Washington league, and state and federal lawmakers. A day earlier, a Web seminar on serving the unbanked Hispanic population is planned by the Washington league and the World Council of Credit Unions. Financial education classes in Yakima began in late February and are being held three times a week, Jarmon said. Attendance averages 25 to 40 people, depending on the venue. In some cases, financial educator Alice Lara will speak to an ESL class as part of that school’s program. “They kind of a get a double whammy there,” Jarmon said. “They get their ESL class plus they get some financial education as well.” The goal of the Treasury Department’s “First Accounts” grants program is to get people to open accounts at insured financial depository institutions. “Whether they go to a bank or a credit union the Treasury doesn’t care,” Jarmon said, noting that the opening class is devoted to a discussion about choosing a financial institution. “We talk about the difference between banks and credit unions, of course promoting credit unions more than banks for obvious reasons,” she said. “It’s been pretty interesting,” she added. “A lot of the class participants have shared some of their pretty negative banking experiences.” Jarmon noted that in Yakima, credit union personnel are volunteering their time in the evenings to come to the class to try to help answer questions. “The class participants have all kinds of questions,” she said. “It’s great to have a credit union staff person there to answer the questions and kind of explain the differences between banks and credit unions and the services that they offer. It’s nice to have them in class just for the benefit of the participants. Also, it helps us promote credit unions because there is a live person who cares enough to be there. That seems to be very well received.” While the initial target audience in Washington is in Yakima, Jarmon said plans are to continue it in the Spokane area and then in western Washington. “There’s a huge demand for what we’re offering,” she said. “Our program is desired statewide.” The project being coordinated by Jarmon is one of 15 nationwide funded by the Treasury Department. Among those who shared in the $8.35 million grant in addition to credit unions were non-profit organizations, a faith-based organization, a foundation, insured depository institutions and a community development financial institution. They were selected from among 231 applicants from 38 states. “We were very pleased at the large number of high-quality and innovative proposals we received,” said Sheila C. Bair, assistant secretary for financial institutions. “Our hope is that these projects will serve as models for others in their efforts to reach the one in 10 American households that are unbanked.” Each of the eight states involved in the Washington credit union program, working through either foundations or their leagues, will be tracking the progress of the classes. In Washington, class participants are given a card which they can present at a bank or credit union when they open an account. Those cards will then be turned over by the institutions to program officials so they can determine the ultimate success of the classes. “We’re keeping track of two numbers: how many people we reach and how many actually go in and open an account in a credit union or bank,” Jarmon explained. The Treasury Department is hoping that the 15 projects nationwide will get more than 35,000 people to open insured accounts at financial institutions. The Washington-sponsored project’s goal is to get 14,100 people to open new accounts. Other credit union programs which received First Accounts grants were Members First Federal Credit Union in Louisville, Ky., The New York Credit Union Foundation, Latino Community Credit Union in Durham, N.C., and El Paso (Texas) Credit Union Affordable Housing. First Federal FCU received a $130,000 grant to help it get 600 unbanked low- and moderate-income individuals in Jefferson County, Ky., and Belle, W.Va., to open insured accounts over a one-year period. The New York Credit Union Foundation (in collaboration with the National Credit Union Foundation), received $765,806 for a two-year project aimed at getting 2,100 low- and moderate-income unbanked individuals into insured accounts. Among the areas targeted are Albany, New York City, Buffalo/Niagara and Tompkins, Washington, Warren and Saratoga counties. Latino Community CU got $1.33 million to connect 6,600 unbanked low- and moderate-income individuals in two North Carolina regions to insured accounts. That project is to run two years. El Paso Credit Union Affordable Housing, in collaboration with the National Credit Union Foundation, received $92,504 for its two-year effort to get 4,000 unbanked low- and moderate income individuals in El Paso and El Paso County into insured depository accounts. -

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