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The Financial Empowerment Center model focuses on a financial counseling and coaching blend. We acknowledge the systematic barriers that prevent some people from achieving success which is why we strive to meet clients where they are. Financial counselors work individually with clients to access public benefits, make referrals to other social services providers in addition to creating a specialized plan to work on their unique financial status. Counselors are able to support their participants through a mix of goal setting and light case management in a direct service provision role and have both a deep technical knowledge of financial issues and the ability to advise people on their financial and personal goals.
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Anyone in Washtenaw County with a need for financial stability resources is eligible to receive services from the FEC. The initiative provides free, professional, one-on-one financial counseling as a public service to all regardless of where the clients is on their financial journey. Other local counseling programs reflect that the majority of households will likely be of low to moderate income.
Clients will engagein services with a coach and focus on specific financial goals they are lookingto achieve. While the coach provides support, accountability and technical financialknowledge, the client will direct how they choose to do this work. Coaching iscentered on the idea the participant is in the driver’s seat with the agencyand ability to create the change they seeking.
The length of thecounseling sessions thus varies depending on the needs of the client. Theaverage client meets with a counselor for 6 months to a year (can be longer orshorter) and has 3-6 sessions to track progress.
Both the FEC Model and the United Way’s approach to this work assumes participants are naturally creative, resourceful, whole and have the agency to make their own financial decisions. This work is not meant to tell people what to do with their finances but support them as they learn and grow in their own ability to manage their financial futures. This model is centered on empowerment and self-agency. The responsibility to follow through lies with the participant and not the coach. The coach simply provides the knowledge, resources and tools for the participant to make their own choices and actions.
The FEC counselorsparticipate in holistic and robust trainings to ensure they are well equippedto deal with the socio-economic issues related to but separate from financialcounseling.. Through the Advisory Board, community partners will providefeedback on the strength of the FEC counselors’ training plan. Other FECs whohave focused on certain populations (people of color, with disabilities,survivors of domestic violence), have received specialized training to morecompetently work with those groups.
Part of the counselor training plan will include resource navigation and cross training with other community partners to ensure they realize when someone is in need of other services and how to refer to the client to accordingly.
To date, five established FEC Centers/12 FEC’s have been established across the nation and have worked with almost 104,000 clients, helping them reduce individual debt by almost $146 million, and increasing their families’ savings by close to $22 million. More information can be found in CFE Fund’s comprehensive evaluation.In Michigan, Detroit has a new FEC that targets those in property tax foreclosure, and Lansing has an established prisoner re-entry program that has reduced half-way house stays by almost a month per returning citizen
Other FECs have used volunteers from diverse backgrounds (including the banking sector) to provide community education, fund raising, and community events support. FEC counselors are paid, and highly credentialed professionals – volunteers counselors are not in alignment with the FEC model.
Other FECs have university/college partnerships focusing on student debt reduction and working with families to establish children’s saving accounts. FEC planning staff will be conducting a community-wide survey to flesh out the need of the county from a resident and organization perspective, including the local higher education sector Suggestions for potential collaborations will be reviewed with the Advisory Board.
CFE has assessed that $300,000 is the average amount needed to start an FEC. Each FEC is unique and the money needed to sustain the program depends on the municipality’s needs – during the planning phase we will determine what our local budget could look like.
FEC will provide quarterly updates to the advisory board members who will then disseminate the information to their networks. We will also publish an annual report that will be available on Washtenaw County Government and the United Way of Washtenaw County websites.
After establishing core FEC services, there’s the option of expanding services to including consumer protection, fraud education, and policy recommendations to local and state elected officials. Changing policies upheld by local/state agencies and court systems which create financial stressors that perpetuate financial instability could be a growth area for Washtenaw County.
As staff receive feedback from the community and Advisory Board on potential program priorities and partners, OCED and County leadership will discuss both immediate and long term funding feasibility. Other municipalities have utilized general operation funds, federal pass through grants, and revenue contracts to support their FECs.