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Summary

Household finance in the rural South is incredibly dynamic with the highest rates of poverty and the highest number of persistently poor counties in the country. However, rural communities face increasing challenges in recruiting and retaining the diverse human capital needed to facilitate community financial literacy and collaborative/supportive institutional networks.

Situation

UGA Extension empowers individuals with the knowledge, skills, and tools for effective management of financial resources for long-term well-being. Financial capability means making informed and effective decisions about the use and management of money. From understanding credit cards and mortgages to saving for retirement and other long-term goals, personal financial decisions impact the economic well-being of individuals, families, and communities. Low levels of financial capability are evident across the U.S. and in Georgia, especially among young people and low-income households (median household income was estimated at $53,500 in 2016). Wilkes County’s median household income was estimated at $32,000 in 2016. Nearly half of respondents in a 2015 FINRA survey reported trouble keeping up with monthly expenses and had no money saved for emergencies or retirement. A total of 45,777 Georgians filed for bankruptcy in 2017, up from 34,018 in 2015 (66,187 in 2012). Research shows a correlation between low financial literacy and: financial choices that can block a low-income household's pathway to the middle class (17.8% of Georgians were below the poverty level in 2016 in comparison to 22.8% of Wilkes county Georgians were below the poverty level in 2016); an increased vulnerability to frauds, scams, and predatory lending practices; high levels of indebtedness; lower wealth accumulation; and less retirement savings. The need for financial education is not limited to these high need audiences. All consumers need information about financial decisions specific to various ages and stages of life. Middle- and high school students need basic information to start them on the right path. Young adults need to know about renting vs. buying a home and financial decisions related to starting a family. Saving for a child's education, retirement, and other long-term goals pose new challenges, with managing risks, investing for long-term goals such as retirement, and information about insurance, living wills, durable powers of attorney, and estate planning becoming more important over time. As laws regarding health insurance continue to change, consumers are confused and need information to help them make informed health insurance decisions. . In 2015 there were 18% of consumers under the age of 65 in Wilkes County without health insurance. One study found that only 57 percent of Americans have a will. Another study found that only 26.3 percent of Americans age 18 and older had an advance directive. This study also found racial and educational disparities in the creation of advance directives and emphasized the need for education to facilitate the creation of these documents.

Response

The Wilkes County Family and Consumer Sciences Agent provided Virtual Income Tax Assistance (VITA), a free program that offers tax preparation and filing at no cost. Working with UGA’s undergraduate and graduate students in the financial planning program and teaching and research faculty; Extension faculty implemented the Virtual VITA project, originally pilot tested during the 2017 tax season. The program is coordinated through local UGA Extension offices by Family and Consumer Sciences Agents. The FACS agent in the Wilkes County Extension office received 6 hours of training and was certified by the IRS to prepare many types of tax returns, including those claiming the earned income tax credit (EITC) and additional child tax credit (CTC). Virtual technology is used to expand an existing Virtual VITA program in Georgia, with these objectives: 1. Provide free one-on-one tax preparation and e-file services to rural communities; 2. Save taxpayers money by not having to pay for tax preparation services and refund anticipation loan fees; 3. Encourage taxpayers to save a portion of their refunds; and 4. Provide tax and other financial information and resources to taxpayers. FACS Agent was referred to and recommended to serve with the CSRA Economic Opportunity Authority, Inc. on the planning committee for the “Making Money Make Sense” mini conference held in both McDuffie County and Taliaferro County to serve residents of each county and surrounding counties. CSRA EOA’s mission to empower people, alleviate poverty, and increase financial well-being, we are expanding our financial literacy efforts through a series of mini-conferences. The timing of the event coincided with the season for tax preparation, thus the goal of the event was to help attendees make well-considered financial decisions before receiving their tax refund. Workshop topics covered for participants were: 1. Credit Score: What it Means, Why it Matters 2. Want to Buy A House? Let’s Talk! 3. Crushing Student Debt & How to Complete a FAFSA 4. Weatherization & Home Maintenance 5. Saving Energy to Save Money: Home Weatherization 6. Prevent Identity Theft: Ways to Safeguard Your Info 7. Accessing Local Resources to Stretch Your Dollars 8. Taking Charge of Credit & Debt 9. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program Partners for the event included UGA Extension, CSRA EOA Inc., Primerica, Home Depot, Augusta Technical College, WorkSource Georgia, Georgia Department of Labor, East Georgia Youth Build, Warren County Family Connections, Healthier Together Taliaferro Coalition, Queensborough National Bank and Trust, Security Federal Bank, Synovus, and the Weatherization Program. In addition to attending workshops, the attendees were also able to visit various vendor tables that correlated to the workshop topics. The FACS agent collaborated with Wilkes County Community Partnership to present “Budgeting Basics” to 14 mothers enrolled in the agencies JumpStart program. Wilkes County Community Partnership is a community-based non-profit organization which works to improve the quality of life for all citizens of Washington-Wilkes by working to reduce barriers and increase positive factors within our county. Specifically the JumpStart program is a home-based early intervention and parent education program for high risk families and their infants, ages 0-36 months, promoting the Parents As Teachers (PAT) Research/Evidence-Based curriculum, parent education, parent support/group connections, life skills, health, nutrition and wellness, adult education, family resource and referral, service coordination, and employment highlights. In the presentation of budgeting basics participants were introduced to why you should budget, spending plans, tracking your spending, tips to decrease spending, determining your income, determining your expenses, gross versus net, and fixed, variable, or seasonal spending. Program was interactive with participants receiving handouts to begin to do list of pay date, wage amount, bills to pay, bills amount. Participants were left with examples of payment calendars, budget boxes, and expense envelopes as additional general methods for budgeting. Appreciation for the program was verbalized and all the participants agreed they would continue using the methods taught. Participants asked for additional copies of handouts to share with family and friends as well as to use in the coming months for themselves. The FACS agent collaborated with Wilkes County Community Partnership Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) program and provided programing to 6 high school graduates enrolled in the program. WIOA is landmark legislation that is designed to strengthen and improve our nation's public workforce system and help get Americans, including youth and those with significant barriers to employment, into high-quality jobs and careers and help employers hire and retain skilled workers. The goal of the FACS agents’ program was to educate on managing expenses, credit, fraud prevention, saving, shopping skills, and financial planning covered through topic “How You Spend Money Makes a Difference”. The 6 graduates were preparing to attend college and/or enter the workforce. At the completion of the presentation each student was asked to complete a 6 question survey. The results of the survey revealed 100% of the audience was very knowledgeable and would definitely use the information after the program presentation. 6 participants reported they would save $150-$199 as a result of participating in this extension program: in response to survey question: “what amount of financial benefit do you believe you will personally receive from this type of information in the next month”. The FACS agent provided financial literacy programming virtually to an adult audience of 40 participants. FACS agent was invited by the IOA PSI OMEGA Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. and provided a program titled “Essential vs. Non-Essential” in sync with Chapter’s Theme: Getting Your House in Order. Topics discussed included teleworking, utilizing community and available resources, stimulus payments, economic food preparation, planning and saving, prioritizing spending needs, what is essential, when your income drops, and watching for scams in lieu of the pandemic. A list of resources was provided to assist in identifying low cost or free alternatives, Internal Revenue Service, SBA small business relief, Center for Disease and Control Prevention. A takeaway for participants were downloading money saving apps to utilize in planning, saving, and budgeting to include Intuit Mint app (has the ability to see all of your bills and money at one glance, create itemize budgets, and allows access to unlimited free credit scoring), GoodBudget app (provides a modern day envelope budgeting method with a budget tracker), and the USDA FoodKeeper app (provides ability to set storage reminders to save on food waste). The FACS agent implemented and created as lead author “Spring and Summer Energy-saving Tips” simple steps with huge impacts temporary publication. FACS Agent worked with Extension state specialist and FACS department head for internal review and approval of publication. The publication on the UGA Extension website for public viewing, has been distributed through the Extension newsletter, printed and hand delivered to over 300 individuals in Tifton County, produced in local newspaper in circulation to 3000 readers, and circulated through social media reaching over 1700 persons. Included in the publication is researched based education providing literature for consumers on operating your thermostat efficiently, keeping your cooling system running efficiently, not heating your home with appliances and lighting, keeping hot air from leaking into your home, using fans and ventilation strategies to cool your home, and using your windows to gain cool air and keeping out heat. This temporary publication was produced in an effort to assist consumers in trimming the cost of their energy bills with an increase in cost as a result of school closings, persons working from home, individuals’ loss of jobs, and issued quarantine mandates. In response to the need to continue outreach efforts and educate the community in spite of the inability to continue face to face programming and office closings. The FACS agent reached audiences through social media postings and disturbed written new articles in local “News Reporter” with a circulation of over 3000 viewers. Topics included: 1) Receiving Economic Impact Payments 2) Census 2000 3) Money Saving Facts 4) Steps to Spending Your Stimulus when you don’t have an Emergency Fund. 5) Financial assistance resources. 6) Spring and Summer Energy-saving Tips. 7) COVID-19 Credit Impact. 8) Does stimulus money affect eligibility for other benefits? 9) Don’t Leave Money Sitting on the Table. 10) FBI Sees Rise in Fraud Schemes Related to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic. 11) Maintaining a Good Credit Score. 12) Maybe not zero waste, but less waste. 13) Saving for Retirement. 14) The University of Georgia Small Business Development Center is committed to helping small businesses of Georgia. 15) What You Should Know About Economic Stimulus Payments.

Impact

February 3rd kicked off the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program in Wilkes County. The VITA program was meant to benefit our community and serviced 27 families compared to 30 families serviced in 2019. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic VITA was unable to continue servicing the community and the program ended. Unfortunately no additional appointments could be accepted and the program abruptly ended mid-March. The VITA program ensured all families with scheduled appointments were accommodated and taxes were completed. Individuals receiving free tax assistance were extremely appreciative. Each family saved an average of $300 for tax preparation. 9 families received the benefit of the earned income tax credit (EITC) totaling $11387.00 and 4 families received an additional child tax credit (CTC) totaling $3099.00. Of the 27 families impacted there were customers who did not receive a refund, those who had to pay back, and low income families receiving a refund. Of the 27 families that took advantage of the VITA program there was a total of $26,041.00 received in federal refunds and $3975.00 received in state refunds for Wilkes County residents. Regardless of the family’s circumstances and obligation to the IRS, of the families serviced, all received the impact of savings on tax preparation. One of the most important components of the VITA site is the focus on SAVINGS! Many of our clients do not have adequate emergency savings fund. 27 families received education on saving strategies, were given the opportunity to commit to saving through the online saving pledge and as a group saved a total of $7012.00 through the Save Your Refund Campaign an increase from $908 in 2019. Other handouts on savings were given to the customers to include budget sheets and educational literature on how and why saving is important. Financial literacy media was distributed and circulated to 3000 readers through news articles in the local paper and through social media post reaching over 800 people in month.

State Issue

Home & Life Skills

Details

  • Year: 2020
  • Geographic Scope: County
  • County: Wilkes
  • Location: College Station, Athens
  • Program Areas:
    • Family and Consumer Sciences

Author

  • Jackson, Ida
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