RACINE ⏤ City of Racine residents struggling with finances, debt, poor credit, and related issues can get free, personalized professional help at the new Racine Financial empowerment center (FEC).
The new center officially opened at a virtual press conference on Monday.
The Racine FEC is the first city-sponsored program of its kind in the state.
Mayor Cory Mason said the new service is “critically important” to three of his priorities on behalf of Racine residents:
- Financial difficulties caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic;
- Address the economic disparities between the city’s white residents and its residents of color;
- And helping to increase minority home ownership.
The Racine FEC program director and two trained financial advisers are working from an office space in the Racine Public Library. They will provide services remotely (online and by phone) for the foreseeable future.
Individual appointments can be made at: (262) 200-0831 or by visiting www.racinefec.org. Residents can have as many counseling sessions as they need, all free and completely confidential.
Residents who set up an initial meeting with a Racine FEC counselor will review their financial picture (earnings, debt, credit history) and discuss goal setting.
“This takes small steps,” said Curtis Szymczak, an FEC adviser. “We are here to be a coach and cheerleader to help him succeed.”
“We anticipate that they will hold hands and listen a lot,” said Xenia Jackson, an FEC counselor who is bilingual in English and Spanish.
She added that she wished her family could have had access to these financial tools as a child.
There could be many reasons for Racine residents to seek free FEC guidance, added Vicky Selkowe, Racine’s manager of strategic initiatives and community partnerships.
These may include:
- Feeling overwhelmed by debt, struggling with a budget, not having an “emergency fund” to cover unexpected expenses;
- feeling intimidated by financial institutions;
- dependence on expensive payday loans;
- have a low credit score;
- And wanting to plan financially for the future.
The new FEC should be able to handle the initial demand for services, but the city will seek additional sponsors from the public and private sectors, he said.
The city matched a grant from the Cities Fund for Financial Empowerment (CFE Fund) of $ 150,000 to launch the FEC with money from a federal block grant for community development, NeighborhoodWorks America and local providers.
Local providers included Educators Credit Union, Associated Bank, Tri City National Bank, US Bank, Johnson Financial Group, and Goodwill Industries of Southeast Wisconsin.
Housing Resources Inc., an area organization that provides education and counseling for home buyers, is the local nonprofit partner of Racine FEC.
‘A big problem’
“This is really important. Racine is adding an important tool to his tool belt, ”said Jonathan Mintz, president and CEO of the CTE Fund, a New York City-based organization that helps local municipalities improve the financial stability of individual households.
“People with financial problems don’t need websites or brochures. They need to talk and get help from other people. ”
The FEC model was first tested in 2008 in New York City. Since then, FECs have helped clients reduce more than $ 160 million in individual debt and increase family savings by more than $ 26 million.
Racine joins a national network of 32 other FECs in communities of all sizes, including Atlanta, Rochester, NY; Polk County (Des Moines), Iowa; Lansing, Michigan and Aurora, Ill.
Mintz congratulated Racine for getting his FEC off to a good start by building a strong referral network with more than 15 local agencies. These include United Way of Racine County, Social Services of Racine County, YMCA of Southeastern Wisconsin, and Gateway Technical College.
Racine FEC staff have already received extensive training. They will have access to a national database created by the CTE Fund to help them develop viable long-term plans for families and individuals.
“It’s not just a grant, but Racine is part of a national learning community,” Mintz said.
The Racine FEC has been in the works for about 14 months. Selkowe and other city staff members identified and developed partnerships that helped leverage the CTE Fund’s investment.
He said the program is ready to go for residents in need.
“It may take you two sessions,” he said. “It may take 10 sessions, but he’s here to help you.”
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