Let’s Bank on Napa!

I had the pleasure of speaking with Michelle Laymon, Family Economic Success Manager at Cope about the financial program, Bank on Napa. She explained to me that many Napa County low-income residents are financially under-served. There are a few reasons for these obstacles to financial services: language barriers, lack of knowledge or distrust of banks, or undocumented status. Many are unbanked (do not have a bank account) and spend considerably more of their money on expensive alternative banking options such as check cashing or payday lending services than they would on regular banking fees. Others are under-banked, and have an account but still utilize expensive options for paying bills such as money orders and cashiers checks. “…unbanked customers spend at least two percent of income to access alternative financial services, spending between $800-$2000 annually to cash checks and pay bills” (Michele Grupe, Bank on Napa Valley). With approximately 26.5% of Napa County residents living with incomes too small to pay all of their expenses, these additional banking fees are detrimental to their ability to utilize all of their income (Michele Grupe, Bank on Napa Valley). As Michelle says, Bank on Napa Valley helps residents hang on to more of their money.

What is Bank on Napa Valley? Bank on Napa Valley is based on other successful Bank On initiatives (San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento, to name a few), and is a collaborative effort of the Self-Sufficiency Committee of the Napa Valley Coalition of Nonprofit Agencies (Michele Grupe, Bank on Napa Valley). Their goal is to connect working people and families with banking services to fit their needs, helping them to enter the financial mainstream (Michele Grupe, Bank on Napa Valley). The BONV Steering Committee is made up of Cope Family Center as lead agency, Puertas Abiertas, McPherson Family Resource Center, Calistoga Family Center and NEWS. The goal of the BONV committees is to design and provide a minimum of five financial starter and second chance accounts, as well as financial education; soliciting 15 financial institutions to provide the products by the January 2013 launch. At least 100 eligible consumers will be surveyed as to their financial needs. The desired outcome of a program like Bank on Napa Valley is that working families can have access to low or no-cost bank accounts that help them to save their hard-earned dollars, function productively in a financial emergency, and invest in their futures. The financial education provided by BONV will go a long way to support a healthy financial lifestyle such as learning to budget and identifying needs versus wants in a culturally sensitive way.

Local banks are crucial to the success of the BONV program. Sandra J. Re, Vice President/Premier Client Services Officer of Rabo Bank, sums it up by saying, “Our goal is to offer banking services to those who are uncomfortable with the idea of banking. If we can educate people about the services a bank can offer them that can make their lives easier as well as save them time and money, we can make Bank on Napa Valley a ‘win-win’ for everyone.”

By Jennifer Sunseri, Cope Online Organizing Intern

Volunteer Profile: Vanessa Mullally

Vanessa has been a stellar volunteer with us for over two years. Some of her accomplishments include becoming certified as an intermediate Volunteer Income Tax Preparer and piloting a project to build our capacity to help clients connect with local social services. We are truly thankful for all the work Vanessa has done for families in Napa County. She is a fantastic advocate and community builder.

How long have you been a volunteer, and why did you initially choose to volunteer with Cope Family Center?
This is my second year of volunteering. I responded to an advertisement to assist with tax preparation because I like to help people and work with finances.

What keeps you coming back?
I get satisfaction from the work and feel appreciated by staff and clients. I may not be earning a paycheck but I am helping put thousands of dollars in people’s ‘pockets’ that need it and that is tremendously rewarding. Money received by families through Cope’s volunteer tax program helps reduce stress by providing for necessities and also boosts our local economy.

How have you seen your volunteer role evolve during your time here?
This year I achieved intermediate level tax certification so I can prepare more complex returns and provide necessary review of returns our clinic prepares. I’m also helping with a pilot program spear-headed by Michelle Laymon of Cope: I assist clients completing applications for services and programs. Our goal is to free up home visitors to focus on bigger picture goals and activities while volunteers help clients navigate systems, processes, and workflows which are not always easily understood, especially when used once or infrequently – we can help with the learning curve.

Do you have one story you can tell us when you felt you were truly making a difference?
I recently assisted a family with four small children obtain needed funds to move into a safer home. I got goose bumps when I heard the funding was approved and the client teared up. She was worried that her kids would be homeless and was grateful for Cope Family Center’s assistance.

What is one challenge you’ve experienced as a volunteer?
It can be a challenge to stay sharp with tax rules and regulations when you don’t use the information regularly – for example we are preparing back tax returns on an as needed basis currently. However the IRS provides excellent training and materials and we can review charts and flow charts as needed. We discuss more complex scenarios with fellow volunteers, Michelle Laymon, and IRS personnel if needed until there is consensus regarding the correct application of tax law.

What do you enjoy about working with fellow Cope Family Center staff and volunteers?
There is a sense of camaraderie due to common goals. People are caring, intelligent, and possess a sense of humor.

What other work do you do in the community?
I’ve been a crime analyst at Napa Police Department and a computer applications developer and information technology director at Napa Valley College. I am semi-retired now and enjoy technical consulting and providing customer service at Coldwell Banker Brokers of the Valley in Napa, American Canyon, St. Helena, and Sonoma while regular staff take vacation.

What would you say to recommend Cope to friends and family who may want to volunteer?
Cope is a great place to volunteer. Your skills will be matched to needs and you and your efforts will be appreciated. You can choose how much time and energy you feel comfortable donating. Contact Aimee Inglis today!

Bank On Napa Valley Is On a Roll

The Bank On Napa Valley project is rolling! But that doesn’t mean it’s too late to get on board. Contact Michelle Laymon, marketing and outreach chair, bankonnapavalley@gmail.com, to plug in.

What the committees have been up to:

Financial Product Committee has met several times and is connecting with financial institutions throughout Napa County that have a Bank On program through corporate headquarters. They are also working with our local community banks to develop product packages. The chair of this committee is Tracy Calkins at Mechanics Bank.

Data Tracking Committee has met and developed an initial survey that will is being piloted currently through the Family Resource Centers and will help the product development committee focus on the specific needs of our community. This committee is also responsible for data tracking long term to help evaluate the effectiveness of the program. The chair of this committee is Jaclyn Kordell with McPherson Family Resource Center.

Sponsorship Committee has also been meeting and is having good success. This committee is responsible for receiving funds(in-kind, donations, grant funding) and disseminating funds. The co-chairs for this committee are Michele Grupe of Cope Family Center and Rejane Brito of Puertas Abiertas Community Resource Center.

Marketing and Outreach Committee meets later this month!

Why get involved? Check out our earlier post on the Bank On project.

Bank on Napa County Update

Bank On USA is a national project to bring unbanked individuals (those using check-cashing services) into the financial mainstream, removing barriers to open accounts at banks and credit unions. We are excited to be a lead agency in bringing this project to Napa. The program began when EARN co-founded Bank on San Francisco in 2006. Since its inception, this innovative program has helped low-income San Francisco residents switch from disreputable check-cashing services that often charge usurious interest rates to free or low-cost bank accounts. The result: in just four years, tens of thousands of “unbanked” San Franciscans have been successfully brought into the financial mainstream.

Our Family Economic Success program works with families to build assets and financial stability, so we consider the Bank On USA project a great way to improve the lives of families in Napa County. Bank On USA projects can be found in communities nationwide and soon the program will be available in Napa County.

Baseline features of Bank on accounts:
Low-cost accounts
No monthly minimum balance requirement
Open accounts for those with NSF/overdraft histories on ChexSystems of  over one year
Waiver of one set of NSF/overdraft fees per year
Allow acceptable forms of ID, including the Matircula Consular Card and Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
Customer Service

The typical Bank on CA consumer:
Believes they are locked out of the banking system.
Has a fear of discomfort or humiliation when dealing with bankers and may distrust banks.
Is African-American or Latino, may speak Spanish.
Is between the ages of 18-45.
Earns a low wage, although an estimated 25% of the audience earns $25,000 to $45,000 per year.

Bank on Napa County is still in the formative stages, and a project of this scale requires the volunteer participation of banks, credit unions, government, community organizations, and passionate individuals. There are several opportunities to use your skills and get involved. Email Michelle Laymon at mlaymon@copefamilycenter.org to express your interest.