The city’s Financial Empowerment Center, or FEC, is a municipal program that provides financial resources to city residents free of charge which has been active in the Elm City for several years. As opportunities for federal monetary support for residents have increased during the pandemic, the center has “stepped up,” New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference.
The FEC was launched by City Hall in 2016 under former Mayor Toni Harp’s leadership as part of an “overall strategic vision to build the financial stability and knowledge of New Haven residents with low incomes,” according to the FEC’s website. The center provides resources such as tips on saving money, building resumes, landing jobs and, in pandemic times, managing stimulus payments. On Wednesday, representatives from the center, along with members of the community, gave a run-down of what the center provides and how it can continue to spur economic prosperity post-COVID-19.
Present at the press conference was John Murphy, a principal at the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, who has “given detailed technical assistance to our staff to make sure we’re successful,” according to Mehul Dalal, the city’s community services administrator.
“The New Haven FEC has helped ensure that New Haveners have successfully navigated the financial impact due to COVID-19,” Murphy said at the press conference. “And now the program can help ensure that New Haveners continue to not only recover, but thrive in a post-COVID economy.”
FEC representatives said the press conference was particularly necessary after the recent passing of the American Rescue Plan, which is projected to bring $94 million in federal funding to New Haven. With new funding in mind, Dalal said the center wanted to remind the city of the services available to them. The center, Dalal noted, offers free one-to-one financial counseling to Elm City residents to address “a range of financial challenges and needs.”
This type of counseling has resulted in a variety of outcomes for residents. For Corinthian Hamilton, who has lived in New Haven for over 40 years, it has led to a change in his life path. Corinthian expressed gratitude to the FEC for helping him get a job, build a financial budget, file his taxes and obtain his stimulus check.
“Not only that, they helped me stay focused, stay goal driven,” Hamilton said. “The FEC has helped me focus on the long-term goal. I may sometimes feel like I’m down by the wayside or feel like I’m fine where I’m at, I’m stuck where I’m at. FEC just had my back and helped me see a long-term goal — to see a career, not just a job.”
Elicker said on Wednesday’s that the center’s activities — providing more equitable access to services for all New Haveners — fits in with City Hall’s goals under his administration.
The American Rescue Plan gave Americans their third stimulus check, and the Elm City’s Coronavirus Assistance and Security Tenant Landlord Emergency Program this year has aimed to provide up to $3,000 to eligible low-income families for housing assistance. However, New Haveners sometimes struggle to actually obtain these funds, Elicker said.
“Over the past year, we’ve faced unprecedented challenges as a community,” Elicker said. “And when you think about the way that we as a city have responded to the pandemic, it really reflects the values of our leadership in the city. We have focused on equity and making sure that individuals and communities that have historically been underserved have the resources that were needed.”
Elicker gave several examples of providing the city providing resources to underserved communities — such as food provisions, providing internet access and electronic devices to New Haven Public School students and the rehousing of over 350 people during the pandemic. He added that the city has offered many COVID-19 testing pop-ups and, more recently, vaccination pop-ups. Elicker called the Financial Empowerment programming “just one other example of the focus on equity and making sure that people have the support that is needed.”
Murphy noted that the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund works with over 100 local governments across the U.S., representing over 75 million people. He said centers like the Elm City’s have helped reduce over $100 million in consumer debt, and come from the observation that historically, efforts to increase financial literacy awareness “wasn’t enough to meet those residents where they were in a true crisis moment.”
According to Murphy, FECs across the country have carried out over 267,000 financial counseling sessions.
“We found that being financially empowered doesn’t just mean that someone knows what to do, but that they know how, when and have the ability to act,” Murphy said. “We know that this sense of empowerment builds confidence by applying financial knowledge, skills and resources to reach their financial goals. And that builds financial capability and in turn builds greater financial security for them. And for the city.”
The American Rescue Plan took effect on March 11.
Owen Tucker-Smith | firstname.lastname@example.org