Financial Empowerment Center Helps Syracuse Residents Reduce $600K+ in Debt, Increase $300K+ in Savi

Because of Syracuse success at one year anniversary, Cities for Financial Empowerment awards

FEC funding to bring on additional full-time counselor

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh and partners celebrate the one-year anniversary this month of the launch of the Syracuse Financial Empowerment Center (Syracuse FEC). The city service, led by the Department of Neighborhood and Business Development (NBD), provides free one-on-one, professional financial counseling to city residents.

Because of the program’s success in the City of Syracuse, the Center for Empowerment (CFE Fund) announced that it will increase funding to Syracuse in the year ahead to enable the City to bring on an additional full-time professional financial counselor. The CFE Fund is a national organization that works with mayoral administrations to improve the financial stability of lower to moderate income households by embedding financial empowerment strategies in to local government.

“The work being done through the Syracuse FEC has already impacted hundreds of families by providing the kind of financial knowledge and guidance that leads to a better quality of life for many Syracuse residents,” said Mayor Walsh. “The Syracuse community and many partner organizations have embraced the FEC, which is why we have had so much success in our first year. For many residents in Syracuse, having access to this financial resource will help plant the seeds that can lead to financial freedom for future generations to come.”

Funded by the CFE Fund, Greater Syracuse H.O.P.E., the Allyn Family Foundation, and the CNY Community Foundation, Syracuse FEC focuses on helping individuals set personal financial goals and eliminate barriers that inhibit financial stability. Home HeadQuarters and United Way of Central New York are also key Syracuse FEC partners.

According to data in 2018 from the U.S. Census Bureau, 30.5% of city residents live below the poverty line, making the need for targeted, expert help to manage financial resources essential.

The first year goal to have 180 outcomes was exceeded by 360% with FEC clients achieving 575 measurable results. With the help of Syracuse FEC counselors, 244 (42%) clients reduced delinquent accounts; client credit scores were improved by at least 35 points; and 82 (14%) clients reduced non-mortgage debt by at least 10%.

Jasminn Ray, Jenna McClave, Kazmira Pitzrick, and Thom Dellwo, Syracuse FEC counselors, have managed to advise residents consistently since the launch with in-person meetings but also remotely throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Between the group of professional counselors, nearly 2,000 sessions were held with clients. The public health crisis has increased the need for financial advice in light of widespread job loss and disproportionately affected communities of color, making the added counselor crucial to residents’ recovery.

Syracuse FEC client, Brendon M., has received assistance through the Home HeadQuarters location. “My counselor, Jenna, is the best around. She's calm, she explains everything to you that you don't understand, and she has a great game plan. She helps with my ultimate goal of achieving financial freedom for me and my family.”

"Home HeadQuarters is a proud Syracuse Financial Empowerment Center partner," said Home HeadQuarters Chief Executive Officer, Kerry Quaglia. "Every day, we see the tangible outcomes surpass every expectation for the program. To date, more than $600,000 in total debt has been reduced for those City of Syracuse residents who have taken advantage of this amazing and free opportunity. We can't wait to see what year two brings for our community."

On average, clients participated in in 2.4 sessions to improve credit, decrease debt, increase savings and begin banking by opening safe and affordable bank accounts (31 (6%) clients opened new banking accounts). Increasing cash reserves, 104 (18%) clients were able to save one week of their pay or at least 2% of their income.

Greater Syracuse H.O.P.E., an organization helping to address poverty through systematic change, has seen its clients make upward improvement in their credit scores after utilizing Syracuse FEC services. With a goal to reach a total of 150 clients in identified H.O.P.E. census tracts in the city by the end of 2020, 110 (73%) clients have already received support. A significant increase in credit scores for 21 clients by an average of 35 points has also been recorded, in addition to over 30 clients saving an average of $3,000.

“The financial industry is an intimidating place for middle and lower-income individuals and families,” said Ocesa Keaton, executive director of Greater Syracuse H.O.P.E. “High-interest rates, credit denials, and emergencies often result in de-stabilizing families into poverty. The Syracuse FEC is a way to remove barriers and help people transition through financial challenges.”

Meg O’Connell, executive director of the Allyn Family Foundation stated “The Allyn Foundation applauds the work over the past year of the FEC.” O’Connell continued, “The ability for families and individuals to become financially independent is a critical component to our work, and the Syracuse FEC is accomplishing this goal by helping families eliminate debt, repair credit, and build savings.”

A testimonial from a FEC client, Jessica V., stated how she took advantage of the one-on-one counseling to learn how to build her credit score and create a foundation in preparation for homeownership. “The counseling I received gave me much more knowledge on spending and savings tactics. I would highly recommend the FEC to anyone who is seeking to improve their finances or just learn more in general about money/debt handling,” said Jessica.

“The United Way of Central New York is proud to partner in Syracuse’s Financial Empowerment Center. We are committed to the shared efforts to make it possible for every individual and family to become self-sufficient, securing and maintaining education and income to support their basic needs and build wealth,” Nancy Eaton, president, United Way of Central New York, Inc. stated. “We join in celebrating the outstanding first year of implementation of the life-changing work being done through the FEC.”

“The Central New York Community Foundation has been honored to support the Financial Empowerment Center because it has provided much needed support for families as they seek to thrive financially – especially in a time of great economic uncertainty,” Frank Ridzi, vice president of community investment, Central New York Community Foundation stated. “The center provides innovative ways for our nonprofit network of service providers to work together for the common good.”

Remote counseling is available by way of virtual meetings, email or phone calls. To make an appointment, residents can visit www.syrgov.net/FEC, call 315-474-1939 ext.5, or email fec@homehq.org.

PRESS CONTACT: Tajuana Cerutti-Brown

Phone: 315-448-8458

Email: press@syrgov.net

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