Community Highlights

Oct. 24, 2017

Maryland: Highlights from Hagerstown

Washington County Economic Inclusion Series

The inaugural session of the Washington County Economic Inclusion Series successfully launched on Tuesday, October 24, 2017 at Hagerstown Community College. This regional initiative to connect businesses, community stakeholders, government leaders and financial service organizations focuses on the critical issues encountered by low- and moderate-income residents and information about effective tools that can measurably improve financial well-being. The one day forum, part of a planned series, highlighted the specific financial challenges of households in this Western Maryland community. The program discussed pressing issues including the consequences for the unbanked/underbanked in an increasingly cashless economy, recent research on the effectiveness of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the impact that financial instability can have on mental health.

Kathy Saxman with the United Way of Washington County opened the day’s conversation by presenting the local findings of the ALICE project. The project focuses on households challenged by a cost of living higher than what they earn, ALICE families – an acronym for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed – have income above the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), but not high enough to afford a basic household budget that includes housing, child care, food, transportation and health care. Nearly half of the county’s households, 42%, fall below the ALICE income threshold.

While the ALICE Project numbers were sobering and framed the scope of need, Kelli Tencer, a Success Coach with the faith based, nonprofit coalition Reach of Washington County, spoke to the community’s strategy to meet these challenges. The Financial Education Partnership of Washington County is a collaboration of non-profit organizations to provide financial education services to assist the low- to moderate-income residents in achieving self-sufficiency and stability. The program was recently recognized as the “Best Community Development Collaboration” in the state during the Community Development Network of Maryland’s Annual Awards Luncheon in September.

After presentations on the vulnerabilities of the unbanked/underbanked and the success of the EITC as an anti-poverty tool, a compelling discussion on the disturbing connection of financial instability with mental health finished out the day. Melissa Grober-Morrow of Prosperity Now, Kim Murdaugh of Family Healthcare of Hagerstown, Rick of the Mental Health Authority of Washington County, and Jim Rahley of Soul Haven Wellness and Recovery Center each spoke from their professional experience on the assistance available to overcome a dangerous spiral in which a financial crisis can overwhelm a household member’s mental health and erode hope for economic mobility. The conversation was frank and informative about many effective programs but also emphasized the need for more resources.

“The economic inclusion series has proven to be a positive program in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. and I am pleased that we are now successfully introducing it to rural areas throughout Maryland,” said Peter M. Dolkart, Richmond Fed’s regional community development manager. This full day program was presented in partnership with the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Hagerstown Community College, United Way of Washington County, and Reach of Washington County.

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