Local ‘asset building' coalitions a wise investment

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By bringing together banks and credit unions, human service agencies, businesses and education institutions, here in Walla Walla and statewide, more than 20 local coalitions across Washington have been helping Washington families improve their financial know-how and skills as well as build up their financial assets.

These initiatives, supported in part by a modest investment from the Department of Commerce, are exactly the kind of projects our state needs to move Washington into a long-term economic recovery.

Unfortunately, the governor's proposed budget for the 2011-2013 biennium proposes the elimination of all funding for these asset building initiatives, including the one we have in Walla Walla. That approach at savings in a tight budget is "penny wise but dollar foolish!"

Our lawmakers simply must restore the state funding for these important and fiscally prudent efforts. Washington receives an extraordinary high return for the modest support it provides the asset building initiatives/coalitions.

This year, the state will have spent around $400,000 to catalyze countless community financial education programs, savings campaigns, credit and foreclosure classes, home-buyer programs and tax season support.

This modest investment provides families with the financial knowledge they need to build and retain the fiscal assets that are so crucial to helping struggling families reach economic stability, security and opportunity.

The Walla Walla Asset Building Coalition and our partners connect people in the U-B readership area with a variety of asset-building services, such as access to affordable, mainstream banking; financial planning, education, and coaching; credit and debt counseling; and free tax preparation.

These services leverage several millions of dollars into the pockets of Washington residents and provide the necessary resources to help families build their assets efficiently and effectively. These dollars are then reinvested in our local and state economies through asset purchases, such as homes, sales tax paid as the dollars are spent, on small business development, and in increased community capacity.

Here in Walla Walla County, one of our favorite projects is to increase education and outreach for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. Last year, area households brought back nearly 1.2 million more dollars in EITC credits than they did the year before - that increase alone is more than three times the entire state expenditure on all 20 of these coalitions!

Statewide, the value of the increase in EITC since the first asset building coalition start is in the tens of millions of dollars.

We all know that our elected representatives are operating in a challenging budget environment, and making difficult choices about how to prioritize spending. As legislators work to provide a new vision for serving Washington residents, support for asset building efforts offers a powerful model of long term investment in the knowledge and practices related to using money wisely. It is an investment in the future of our state and in its most important asset - our citizens!

By investing in the nearly two dozen local asset building coalition around the state, the Legislature can help Washington restore the strength of its economic vitality and establish the foundation for widespread long-term economic security. Here in the Valley, we should all strongly urge our three local legislators to fund the state's local asset building coalitions at $826,000 in the 2011-2013 biennial budget.

Let them hear from us during this narrow window of opportunity in Olympia. It just makes good sense!

Jim Barrow is a member of the Walla Walla Asset Building Coalition as well as a member of the Walla Walla City Council.

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