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HARRISBURG, Pa. – Mike Wishnow and Barb Fortney hope Gov. Edward Rendell’s Task Force for Working Families will boost the issue of financial literacy to the next level. Wishnow, senior vp/communications and marketing for the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association, and Fortney, CEO of LANCO Federal Credit Union in Lancaster, have both been named to the task force. They are specifically members of a subcommittee looking at financial literacy. “There has been a great deal of progress on the awareness front,” Wishnow says. “When I started doing this about six or seven years ago financial literacy was not a very well-known term. However, most credit unions were in the financial literacy business long before the term was developed. “People who have had trouble recognize the need. Whenever we put together a program, it is not difficult for me to find a young 20-something who will get up in front of a group and say, `I ruined my credit when I was 18 or 19.’ “Slowly but surely, state by state, school district by school district, there is a recognition financial literacy is a set of life skills our kids desperately need before they go out into the real world,” says Wishonw. The other three subcommittees will focus on increasing incomes, building assets and preventing financial abuse. There can be overlaps among the four subcommittees, but the members don’t want gaps, Wishnow states. The fact someone sits on one subcommittee doesn’t mean they won’t have input to the other three. Before joining the PCUA 10 months ago Wishnow was press secretary at the Pennsylvania Department of Banking, where he became very involved in financial literacy and founded the Pennsylvania Jump$tart Coalition. He has retained his role as president of that group. Wishnow’s former boss, Secretary of Banking William Schenck, is one of the co-chairs of the task force and evidently thought Wishnow’s credentials made him a natural for the subcommittee. Gov. Rendell has also established an Office of Financial Literacy headed by Jump$tart coalition vice president Hillary Hunt. “I think the reason I was tapped was because of my involvement with Jump$tart, not necessarily because I was a credit union person,” Wishnow indicates. “Barb, on the other hand, was tapped because she represents the credit union movement. The credit union movement, at least here in Pennsylvania and I believe nationally, has a reputation for serving the underserved and working class families,” Wishnow indicates. “So I think the credit union movement got a seat at the table in the person of Barb Fortney, and Jump$tart got a seat at the table in the person of me who also happens to work for credit unions.” Fortney adds that LANCO FCU has a community charter, so the membership represents a variety of people and LFCU has been very involved in promoting financial literacy. In addition, although the credit union isn’t large, it does offer a full-service menu. The subcommittees will hold hearings throughout the state to hear testimony from working families. A report is due in spring of 2005. Wishnow sees some political realities involved. “We have to come up with a set of practical recommendations that are going to be close to budgetarily neutral. This is not about creating new programs or agencies or offices. We have to work within existing resources in state government, and those resources are vast. We do need to coordinate the resources to deliver them to people who need them,” Wishnow says. Fortney adds her own perspective. “I’m going to be interested to see if they can be organized enough to put a real marketing plan together whereby people know where to go for financial literacy information and are comfortable seeking out that information,” she says. People facing financial challenges often find it difficult to admit they need help, Fortney continues. People are more comfortable if they can call on the phone and talk for a while, rather than meeting in person. “There’s no one answer. If we’re open to trying a lot of different things, I think we’ll be much more successful. You want to do television marketing. You have to break it out into pieces, into basics. Do you have a budget? Are you sure you know what a debit card and credit card are?,” Fortney says. “There are wonderful ideas and wonderful programs. I think the governor’s task force is coordinating it all together and supporting one thing.” -

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