2012 News

Take your supervitamins with your social services: Developing financial capability

Jonathan Mintz, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), will deliver a lecture, “Developing Financial Capability in New York City,” on February 22 at the Brown School. Mintz leads Mayor Bloomberg’s innovative initiative to reach low-income New Yorkers with financial counseling, credit repair, saving, and other financial services. His recently released report, “Municipal Financial Empowerment: A Supervitamin for Public Programs,” describes how financial empowerment programming can be woven into traditional social services to achieve a “supervitamin” effect. 

“Financial instability is often the primary backdrop for those receiving social services,” says Mintz. “Helping these individuals and families become more financially capable and stable facilitates better success with their presenting social service needs. In addition, these individuals and families may be able to better withstand income shocks over the long term.”

At Financial Empowerment Centers (FEC) throughout New York City, FEC counselors have provided one-on-one financial counseling to more than 13,000 New Yorkers over the past three years. Although some came to the centers specifically to seek assistance with debt and personal finances, others have participated in financial counseling through social services delivered by other New York City agencies.

The impacts of the three-year pilot program in New York City are promising. According to an article Mintz wrote in the Huffington Post, 13,000 FEC clients have paid down a total of more than $6.3 million in consumer debt and accumulated more than $800,000 in savings over this period, even though their incomes averaged only $16,500.

“A stable financial foundation is a fundamental step to fighting poverty, allowing individuals and families to more fully benefit from programs and services designed to help them with other needs,” says Mintz.

Similar approaches are being implemented in San Francisco, San Antonio, Seattle, and other municipalities.

Mintz was appointed Commissioner of the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) by Mayor Bloomberg in 2006. He launched the Department’s Office of Financial Empowerment (OFE), the first local government initiative in the nation aimed expressly at educating, empowering, and protecting those with low incomes so they can build assets and make the most of their financial resources. Mintz is also the founder and co-chair of Mayor Bloomberg’s Cities for Financial Empowerment (CFE) Coalition, in which member cities use their leverage within city government to advance innovative financial empowerment initiatives.

Mintz’s lecture will be held on February 22 from 3:00 to 4:30 in Brown Lounge and will include an opportunity for the audience to ask questions. The lecture is organized and supported by the Brown School’s Center for Social Development and the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.