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Oregon Takes Steps to Help Families Save Money

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Oregon already is taking some of the steps outlined in a new Annie E. Casey Foundation policy brief to help lower-income families save money and build assets. (C. Thomas)
Oregon already is taking some of the steps outlined in a new Annie E. Casey Foundation policy brief to help lower-income families save money and build assets. (C. Thomas)
 By Chris ThomasContact
January 22, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. - The wealth gaps in the United States aren't only between rich and poor, but along racial lines - and a new policy brief from the Annie E. Casey Foundation makes recommendations for changing that.

According to the research, when lower-income parents don't have opportunities to save and build assets, children also have a harder time getting ahead as adults.

Oregon has taken some steps outlined in the policy brief, such as allowing families to have some assets and still qualify for public benefits. But Beadsie Woo, senior associate with the foundation's Center for Community and Economic Opportunity, said the typical goal of having three months' income socked away for emergencies is a high hurdle.

"That's a pretty hard goal to meet for any working family," she said. "We're less focused on setting a specific dollar target and more focused on getting people to save some amount of money, to develop a habit and to change their outlook for the future."

The brief suggests that the government could create and fund a modest savings account for every child at birth. It applauds Congress for expanding the Department of Housing and Urban Development's Family Self-Sufficiency program to encourage home ownership.

However, it also notes that from 2010 to 2013, black and Latino families saw their net worth decrease by 34 percent and 15 percent respectively, while net worth increased for white families by 2 percent.

Another recommendation in the brief is that states allow what's known as "prize-linked" savings, giving people chances to win cash prizes when they make a savings account deposit.

The Oregon Legislature has approved the idea, and Lynn Heider, vice president for public relations and communications for the Northwest Credit Union Association, said the rules are being finalized for the Save to Win program.

"You're building up a savings account and perhaps winning a cash prize; why would you not go open one of those accounts? I think that you'll see some credit unions offering the program in Oregon as early as May," she said, "and then, I think you'll see it grow throughout the year."

She said prizes range from $50 to $5,000, and "Save to Win" participants in other states have socked away more than $100 million.

According to the Casey Foundation, expanded access to retirement savings accounts also is needed - and that's what the Oregon Retirement Savings Board is working on this year.

The policy brief is online at aecf.org. Information about Save to Win is at savetowin.org.

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