BOISE, Idaho – Groups involved with the First Accounts program here, including the Idaho Credit Union League, will stage a financial fair December 13 in Nampa to provide a wide variety of information plus the opportunity to actually open accounts on the spot at credit unions and banks. Three days later a train the trainer session will prepare 16 more people to encourage the state’s minority residents – especially Hispanics – to use mainstream financial institutions. The effort is part of the Economic Power Project’s First Accounts program in Idaho. The program got underway in 2002 with a grant from the U.S. Treasury Department. Nine western leagues joined with the Washington Credit Union Foundation through the National Credit Union Foundation to apply for a share of that grant. Of the $532,000 awarded, $38,000 went to Idaho. Recently Fannie Mae chipped in an additional $20,000. Founding members of the Hispanic Financial Education Coalition here include U.S. Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), the ICUL and the Idaho Migrant Council. ICUL President Alan Cameron explains the program was implemented in Idaho with the hiring of a Spanish-speaking financial educator, Terrie Olivera. The 16 new outreach workers will leverage her efforts. “We have already reached more than 400 people through this process and established a number of accounts for `unbanked’ people who didn’t have an account with any financial institution,” Cameron says. “The goal is to bring people who have not relied on the mainstream financial system into that system so they can free themselves from high-cost credit sources such as payday lenders and title lenders and free themselves from the high cost of transferring funds from the U.S. to other countries. The percentage I have seen is that 43 percent of these folks transfer money regularly to their home country.” The program has its challenges, Cameron indicates. “The biggest challenge is building a level of trust between the Hispanic community and credit unions. That community has a traditional lack of trust in financial institutions. That has caused the program to move more slowly than we anticipated than it would,” Cameron says. “It has also caused us – which is a good thing – to become much more involved in the Hispanic community. For instance, we have participated since the start in a coalition that has built up independently of the First Accounts program. The coalition includes banks, credit unions, government entities such as HUD and the USDA, the local Hispanic business association, the Hispanic Cultural Center and the Idaho Migrant Council.” Cameron notes the Fair Credit Reporting Act amendments just passed by Congress establish a Financial Literacy and Education Commission. The responsibilities of that commission will include reviewing all the various state and national efforts at boosting financial literacy and developing a strategy for the best way to carry out that task. Cameron adds it has been apparent to people already working on financial literacy there are lots of groups striving to provide such education – but not in an integrated way. “Our goal was to identify all those efforts and bring them together so there can be a coordinated approach. I think we’ve been successful in doing that,” he says. But he’s convinced work remains. He cites the fact approximately 9 percent of Idaho’s population is Hispanic, but the ratio of Hispanic credit unions members fall considerably short of that figure. -

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