Media Coverage | How One Nonprofit Partners with PA Treasury To Build Wealth Equitably | ABLE today

Jul 3, 2024

By: Sarah Dieleman Perry, Vice President of Economic Mobility at Neighborhood Allies | Read the full article

Sarah Dieleman Perry, Vice President of Economic Mobility, was featured in ABLE today’s July Newsletter. ABLE today is part of the National Association of State Treasurers Foundation and aims to advance financial empowerment for people with disabilities by increasing the awareness of ABLE accounts.

Read on to learn how Neighborhood Allies has helped spread awareness for ABLE accounts!

How can we address the persistent and growing gaps in wealth owned by women, people of color, and those with a disability? How can all individuals and families get ahead? Over the past ten years, and relying on significant partners, we have come up with some ideas.

Launched in 2014 in Pittsburgh, Neighborhood Allies is a nonprofit community development organization. Our activities run the gamut of funding neighborhood development projects like barber shops and grocery stores, building capacity of local developers and small nonprofits to invest in their own neighborhoods, network-building, and running a few of our own programs. One of those programs is Fund My Future PGH, which is focused on Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

The original purpose of this children’s savings program was to expand opportunities for children from low-income backgrounds, increasing their likelihood to attend college and graduate – three times and four times more likely, respectively, according to widely touted research into children’s savings programs. In fact, this very same research also influenced PA Treasury in the creation of Pennsylvania’s children’s savings account, Keystone Scholars.

Since 2017, we’ve added 5,000 families in Allegheny County to Fund My Future PGH. There are three aspects to participation – first, enrollment, which is filling out a simple online form; second, opening a bank account in the child’s name for long-term saving; and third, making regular deposits into that account. We incentivize that deposit activity with a monthly raffle, where 30 families are eligible to win a cash prize of either $50 or $1000 – but only if they made a deposit and no withdrawal that month. We do a lot of communicating throughout the month too – over the years we’ve tried various combinations of voicemails, texts, and emails to remind families to make those deposits. We show up to dozens of community events each year, talking with families and enrolling them on the spot. This particular formula has been honed over the years and was influenced by national researchers on behavioral economics – they helped us determine how to get folks to do something that’s good for themselves and their children, something that they already want to do but haven’t yet made it automatic or part of their routine. Part of that is tapping into the power of regret – our message is, just imagine how you would feel if we call you next month or next year to tell you that you are holding the $1000 raffle ticket but you can’t win because you forgot to make that deposit, as small as $1. Our $1,000 winners all receive $500 cash and $500 in a 529 account with PA Treasury.

We’ve learned that those efforts and even the incentives aren’t enough – some families need extra opportunities to open up accounts so they can start saving. So we’ve formed partnerships with banks and credit unions, so they can promote enrollment with their customers or at events, and we can directly assist participants with account opening – sometimes going as far as meeting parents at the bank or talking with branch managers when there’s any confusion. We arrange field trips to our partner financial institutions for classes of elementary students. And since a family is eligible to win for depositing into any type of account, we also promote 529 accounts and PA ABLE accounts. We have Treasury staff come with us to talk about these savings tools when we make formal presentations to community organizations. And we believe that the population we serve – mostly low- to moderate-income, mostly African American, mostly women – wouldn’t be exposed to these resources otherwise.

In 2022, we received a grant from the FISA Foundation, which is a local foundation with a focus on people with disabilities and women, to create marketing materials and do presentations about PA ABLE and FMF together, so that FMF participants who have a child with a disability will know they can open an ABLE account, save for their child, and be eligible for the FMF raffle each month. Through this grant, we reached out to disability-serving organizations to make sure they know about both ABLE and FMF, and ran an additional $1000 raffle for families that opened a new ABLE account for their child. We learned that these organizations aren’t reaching people of color, and that the organizations we tend to work with that serve people of color aren’t aware of how many of their clients have disabilities. We’re trying to bridge those gaps. Check out this inspiring video of one parent who’s involved in both programs.

PA State Treasurer, Stacy Garrity, with Toni Corinealdi and Sarah Dieleman Perry of Neighborhood Allies.

Whenever we present to expectant or new parents, we always tell them about Keystone Scholars. We meet with new moms a few times each month at an organization called Beverly’s Birthdays that gives support and assistance to struggling expectant parents. We’ve gotten nearly everyone that attends these sessions to sign up for Keystone Scholars. And when she calls the 30 winners on the phone each month, if there’s anyone in the family eligible for Keystone Scholars, you better believe she’s letting them know they need to claim their $100 on PA Treasury’s site. We fully expect that Allegheny County is leading every other county in claiming their Keystone accounts but this hasn’t yet been confirmed by our friends at Treasury.

Our work isn’t done – our next step is to form partnerships with school districts to promote Keystone Scholars to families with children entering kindergarten this fall – since the oldest Keystone Scholars babies are turning 5 this year we think this is a timely message.

I know that each state and local community is unique – there isn’t a Neighborhood Allies or similar organization in every city and county. So it might take extra creativity to identify and engage the local partners that can advance aligned missions. There may be a United Way, or a County Department of Human Services, or a community action agency, that has an explicit agenda to advance equity and reduce poverty; and they may have the staff capacity, the trust of local communities, and the connections with families that are needed by public agencies.

For our part, moving forward, we are interested in finding additional ways that saving with and for children can become part of the culture here in Allegheny County. We believe we have a formula that works – offering information and support, giving regular reminders and encouragement, and providing a variety of tools and resources. What we don’t need to do is convince parents (and other family members) that saving is a good idea – they all want to save for the children they love; but life gets in the way. We help to make saving a higher priority, and a lower barrier – with just $1 they could get $1000 in any given month. And every dollar saved, families are that much closer to wealth-building opportunities.

Top Header Image Photo Credit: Prototyping Larimer Stories by artist John Peña, photo by OPA