2018 News

Native assets group wins federal grant to seed 270 Child Development Accounts

Christy Finsel, right, assists a grandmother as she signs up her grandson for a Child Development Account. Photo courtesy of ONAC

The Oklahoma Native Assets Coalition Inc. (ONAC) has received a $375,000 grant for its programs to promote financial security for American Indian families in Oklahoma.

The Social and Economic Development grant from the Administration for Native Americans will fund asset-building services and programs in one of the most densely populated areas of Indian Country.

The three-year grant will fund the Oklahoma 529 College Savings Plan’s required $100 opening deposit for 270 Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) for Native youth, according to ONAC.

It also will fund 240 family emergency savings accounts for Native families at $300 per account.

“We are thankful and very excited about the Administration for Native American’s investment in Oklahoma Native communities and our Native-led asset building coalition,” said ONAC Executive Director Christy Finsel, who is a tribal citizen of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma.

Finsel received her MSW from the Brown School in 2004. During her graduate studies, she worked on Native asset building projects for the Center for Social Development (CSD) and the Kathryn M. Buder Center for American Indian Studies.

The $375,000 grant was awarded through the Administration for Children and Families at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

CSAs, also known as Child Development Accounts, provide a nest egg of savings and can positively affect children’s educational development. ONAC administers the largest American Indian-led seeded CSA program in the country, funding 594 accounts to date. It has 19 CSA partners consisting of tribes and Native nonprofits in Oklahoma, Finsel said.

The CSA program helps Native youth save for asset investments, such as post-secondary education. “Parents are quite interested,” Finsel said. “They are eager to jumpstart saving for their child’s secondary education.”

The grant also will help Native families with lower incomes open flexible savings accounts to buffer them in times of emergency, income fluctuation or irregular expenses, Finsel said. The accounts will provide a mechanism for Native families to connect to mainstream financial services that are safe and affordable.

“With this funding, we will provide the initial opening account deposit, and then the families can grow the accounts over time with their own deposits,” she said.

The coalition’s history

ONAC has existed since 2001, after the Center for Social Development (CSD) and First Nations Development Institute held a meeting to determine interest in the development of an intertribal consortium or coalition of tribes that had or were about to start asset-building programs.

From 2001 until 2006, Karen Edwards (Choctaw), a project director at CSD at the time, worked with Native asset-building practitioners in Oklahoma to build the base for the coalition. During the time, CSD and First Nations Development Institute (FNDI) financially supported ONAC. By 2006, ONAC was in a fiscal sponsor relationship with FNDI. With support from the Ford Foundation, FNDI paid Edwards as a consultant once she left CSD to become ONAC’s project manager.

In 2007, a group of tribal representatives met in Tulsa and agreed to become an organized Native-focused asset-building group. The Internal Revenue Service classified ONAC as a 501(c)(3) in 2014.

ONAC hosted its 2018 conference in June, and CSD Director Michael Sherraden was the keynote speaker. Sherraden’s research led to the development of Individual Development Accounts and Child Development Accounts.