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Local and State Treasurers Can Build Wealth in Struggling Communities

posted by Nathalie Martin

Sometimes you can beat the door down with efforts to get Federal and State officials to tackle problems, but at the end of the day, locals can best get the job done, quietly and quickly. A story in Monday’s New York Times bears this out.  For example, San Francisco City Treasure Jose Cisneros noticed that families who finally took advantage the of the earned income credit, the country’s largest public benefit program, often had no bank accounts in which to deposit their refunds. This meant losing a portion of this important public benefit to check cashers and others.

Because of this problem, Treasurer Cisneros started a program called Bank On, that helps people on the financial fringes open bank accounts and develop credit histories. This model has spread across the country, leading the Treasury Department to conclude that Bank On has “great potential” to “create a nationwide initiative that attends to the needs of underserved families and works to eradicate financial instability throughout the country.” In 2010, Mr. Cisneros also started Kindergarten to College, a program that automatically opened a bank account with $50 ($100 for low-income families) for every kindergartner in public schools. The city pays for the administration and initial deposits, while corporate, foundation and private donations provide matching money to encourage families to save more. His office even figured out how to open bank accounts for thousands of children without social security numbers.

These and similar effort have now been replicated in more than 100 cities, showing that even mundane public races might make a big difference in the health and well-being of citizens, if not the entire U.S. economy.

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