City launches effort to boost financial stability

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With an eye toward residents’ economic mobility, the city of Rochester has launched its Office of Financial Empowerment. The launch is supported by a $170,000 grant from the Cities Financial Empowerment Fund.

In support of financial wellness, the office will work with partners by providing financial counseling through community services and promoting opportunities and incentives for homeownership, officials say. It will also assist entrepreneurs in launching, growing and sustaining businesses with access to affordable capital and provide city youth with financial education.

“Financial stability is the foundation of economic mobility,” says Mayor Malik Evans. “It behooves all of us to provide people with the education and resources necessary to successfully reach their financial goals, and the OFE offers numerous programs designed to do just that.”

Some of the city’s existing financial empowerment programs, which previously operated under the Office of Community Wealth Building, have already seen results. The Rochester Financial Empowerment Center has served more than 2,000 clients to increase savings by more than $1.6 million and reduce residents’ debts by more than $2.4 million, city officials say.

Kiva Rochester, which offers zero percent interest loans and other resources and services for small businesses has loaned more than $1 million to nearly 180 businesses. Youth have also participated in financial literacy—150 youth have been part of the city’s annual Summer of Opportunities. More than half of them have learned to split their earnings between checking and savings accounts.

Rochester has also been chosen as one of six municipal governments by the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund for an inaugural cohort of Financial Empowerment Cities. The CFE Fund supports efforts to improve the financial stability of households in concert with local government.

Now working in more than 100 cities and counties, the fund has disbursed more than $60 million to city government and partners, CFE says. The CFE Fund supports cohorts of local leaders, trained in a two-year program. OFE Leaders are trained to serve as the local government’s internal financial empowerment consultants; they bring a financial stability lens to a range of related issues, including racial equity and anti-poverty efforts.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has only underscored the critical role that local government can—and must—play in building residents’ financial stability,” says Jonathan Mintz, president and CEO of the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund. “An Office of Financial Empowerment, with dedicated leadership, is more than the sum of important individual programs—it’s a catalyst for truly embedding financial empowerment work across government.”

The city has also received a couple of grants—$550,201—from Living Cities, a collaborative of 19 of the world’s largest foundations and financial institutions working to close racial income and wealth gaps in American cities. Its belief: “all people in U.S. cities can be economically secure; building wealth; and living abundant, dignified, and connected lives.”

The city of Rochester expects additional grants in the future, officials say.

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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