The Nusenda Foundation today announced that Prosperity Works Founder and former CEO Ona Porter has been named the recipient of this quarter’s Financial Education Innovator Award.
“The intention of this recognition program is to showcase those in the community who are dedicated to increasing economic mobility for their fellow New Mexicans, and are carrying out innovative strategies that improve financial well-being in their communities,” said Nusenda Foundation Executive Director Robin Brulé. “Ona’s long-time commitment to economic equity and financial well-being has helped New Mexico families achieve long-term financial security; her additional support of unbanked New Mexicans during this COVID-19 pandemic ensured that people could quickly access money they needed during this critical time without exorbitant fees.”
Statistics provided by Prosperity Works show that 11.4% of New Mexico households are unbanked, compared to 7.7% nationally. Other critical factors are present in New Mexico — race, income, and education — 12.6% of Hispanics, 51% of people making less than $30,000 annually, and 30.5% with less than a high school diploma are unbanked in the state.
When the federal government announced it would issue stimulus checks to most Americans as part of its relief efforts in response to COVID-19, Prosperity Works, under Porter’s leadership, reached out to credit unions across the state asking for two things: to cash federal checks, with no fees, for unbanked people; and to quickly open accounts for people so they can access money safely. Through Porter’s advocacy, credit unions throughout New Mexico were willing to cash CARES Act stimulus checks to non-members for no fees, according to the Credit Union Association of New Mexico.
“There is always someone or someplace that will cash your check, but at what cost? Some will take as much as 10% of the face value of the check. Others will put their money on a cash card that can only be used at their store,” Porter said. “Each of these (practices) is exploitative. Not only do they take control of the (unbanked customers’) money, they say they are doing a favor for the marginalized and it denigrates their humanity.”
“Marginalized people are intimidated by financial institutions,” Porter added. “Getting their information primarily from each other, they think that banks are not to be trusted and can take money from your account for any reason at any time. It is interesting to see what happens when someone has a bank account who didn’t previously. They feel included in something important. They feel trusted. When combined with financial education or coaching, they learn how important a financial institution can be in helping them manage their finances and build a credit history. The relationship may substantially improve their financial stability and give them hope for their family’s future.”
In addition to working with credit unions to ensure a safe way for unbanked individuals to access their stimulus dollars, Porter and her team have also worked with homeless service providers, community-based organizations, and health councils across the state, asking them to encourage their clients to contact local credit unions to access their funds.
Prosperity Works was particularly concerned for communities like McKinley County, where there is a hotbed of predatory lending services.
The Nusenda Foundation will be recognizing a Financial Education Innovator on a quarterly basis; nominees are accepted year-round and can be from diverse backgrounds, such as community organizations, nonprofits, and education and government sectors. For information on the Financial Education Innovator program and to submit a nomination, visit: nusendafoundation.org/innovators.
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