Hurricane Katrina pushed Jackson, 37, and her young children out of their Westwego home and initially onto Interstate 10, where they were stranded with hundreds of others. She eventually made her way to Baton Rouge and, a few months later, moved into a nice family home in the suburbs off Siegen Lane thanks to a federal housing program.
It was only a temporary fix. As 2006 came to a close, federal officials arrived to reclaim their property but offered Jackson the opportunity to make the first bid. "We didn't have the money," she recalls. "I mean, we didn't have anything. I was terrified about my kids ending up on the street. We didn't have anywhere to go and housing has become so difficult to find around here."
The situation looked dire when her federal loan application was denied. The Road Home program could have helped, but it was moving at a snail's pace. That's when Jackson reached back deep for a Hail Mary ' a conventional loan from her bank. She didn't get it but discovered an innovative wealth-building program sponsored by the state that helped her close on her house in December.
Through the Department of Social Services and Southern University in Baton Rouge, the initiative matches participants with a bank to explore options for a savings account and to attend financial literacy courses. The program centers on the creation of an Individual Development Account, commonly referred to as an IDA.
IDA programs were originally developed in 1991 by Professor Michael Sherraden through his work at Washington University in St. Louis. Sherraden wanted to create a program that served low-income families on two levels: accumulating wealth and making strategic life choices. With the program's lofty ambitions, growth has been slow. Today, only 30 states sponsor IDAs and, over the past decade, federal and state governments have dedicated a meager $183 million to related initiatives.
The core element of Louisiana's IDA program is a special savings account that helps low-income families save money for a new home. Any money that participants place in their accounts is matched 4-to-1. Louisiana is above the national average in this regard and, due to savings constraints, a participant can walk away with as much as $5,000 in cash by completing the program. Jackson came up with her $1,000 in savings through a job at the local YWCA. Matching dollars are provided by the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
Of course, $5,000 isn't enough to buy a house or even secure a home loan in most instances. That's why partnering banks offer financial literacy courses on building wealth, financing homes and living on a budget. Alexis Anderson, who over sees the program for LA DOTD Federal Credit Union, which serves Acadiana, says when Jackson coupled the training with her savings, it became worthwhile for the bank to take a leap. "It's not just about getting them married up to an asset," Anderson says. "It's about equity, and this is where the education can make a difference. We're not only opening a door for them, but helping them make valuable decisions."
The banking industry could become the face of IDAs in the future. According to a recent study by the Federal Treasury, banks are attracted to the program because it offers them opportunities to cross-sell a variety of other products. After all, successful IDA participants will eventually need additional savings and other credit products to secure their short-term and long-term financial goals. IDAs also bring new customers into banks, but, more important, they keep financial institutions in touch with nonprofit organizations and the community at-large.
It's an uphill battle. Last year, savings rate percentages dropped below zero as disposable income disappeared. To put it into perspective, saving percentages haven't been this low since the Great Depression. One in four Americans is asset poor; one in five has no assets; and upwards to 30 percent have never used a bank. It's no wonder financial institutions and state governments want to help people like Jackson.
The program is designed for working families with at least one dependent child and an annual income that is less than 200 percent of the national poverty level. In all, there's $2 million assigned to the program. About 200 people are enrolled and another 150 can come onboard, says Drew Murray, director of asset building programs at DSS. While anyone from Louisiana can enroll, a large number of participants are from areas devastated by Hurricane Rita in the Lake Charles region.
The fact that the storms have perpetuated the cycle of poverty for some Louisiana residents is among the many reasons IDA money has been confined to home ownership this year. If the state rallies for stronger levees and better flood protection but doesn't address the underlying causes of poverty, nothing will ever be accomplished. "It's such a crucial element in our recovery," Murray says, "but home ownership is also seen as a productive step toward helping working-poor families escape poverty."
Jackson says the IDA program was the only help she could find in Katrina's aftermath. She saved money and made an effort to build her assets, and now she's reaping the rewards. "I just wish there were more programs like this, something that thinks outside the box," Jackson says. "People are working hard to get back on their feet, but it doesn't always work. It takes years to get everything you have, but it's harder to get it back when you lose it. I was tired of pretending everything was OK for my kids ' but now it is."
The fight to clean up Lafayette Parish could get some added ammunition with two ordinances up for votes Tuesday by the City-Parish Council targeting litter-bugs.
By striking a deal to lessen the blow of health insurance changes on state workers, school employees and retirees, Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration lowered the volume of criticism but gave itself and local school boards a new budget headache.
With the airport tax coming up for a parishwide vote in about a week, the Broussard City Council and its mayor have come out in support of the proposal.
Protesters rallied peacefully in several Louisiana cities in the wake of the Missouri grand jury decision not to indict a police officer in the fatal shooting of Michal Brown.
US cities bidding on Olympics; Guard prevents more Ferguson riots; storm threatens travel and more national and international news for Wednesday, November 26, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
The U.S. rep billed LSU for work allegedly performed on the same days Congress voted on major legislation and held important committee hearings on energy and the ACA.
Abysmally low participation by the public has prompted the council to scuttle the 2014 survey with plans to simplify it and try again next year.
The village now says the ordinance will likely be overturned and authorities will more vigorously enforce existing leash laws.
Bill Cassidy cast an early ballot Tuesday, seeking to draw renewed attention to a race that has fallen off newspaper front pages and away from people's minds as they plan holiday meals and shopping schedules.
Battered all night by Baltimore's relentless pass rush, Drew Brees could feel his protection collapsing and Terrell Suggs getting ahold of him as he urgently unloaded a pass to the right flat toward tight end Jimmy Graham.
After a convincing defeat at the polls on Nov. 4, Earl “Nickey” Picard has decided to let bygones be bygones with his former right-hand man Brian Pope, announcing his support for his former employee’s runoff bid to become Lafayette’s next city marshal.
Saturday the athletic department did everything possible to ensure the 2014 Ragin’ Cajun seniors remembered fondly their last home game. Rain and lightning never arrived but turbulence did in the form of the Appalachian State Mountaineers.
Even stranger than the Republican Party’s decision to hold a “unity rally” earlier this month for Congressman Bill Cassidy in a Baton Rouge bar, Huey’s Bar, was the fact that the establishment was named after Louisiana’s most famous Democrat.
Bar Code is not a gay bar.
After failing to pass a medical marijuana bill last year, state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, is telling supporters he will return in 2015 with legislation that focuses on different applications like oils and pills.
Voters, obviously, are not yet tuned into the 2015 ballot, despite the intriguing races it will host.
By now, the story of how longtime LSU coach Dale Brown discovered Shaquille O'Neal has been told many times: Brown happened upon a massive 13-year-old at an army base in Germany, stayed in touch with him and eventually became like a second father.
Fate simply wasn't ready to give the New Orleans Saints a break from longtime nemesis Steve Smith.
Lafayette Police have had a busy day.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will use $130 million in patchwork financing from a tax amnesty program, insurance settlement, uninsured motorist penalties and other excess funds to close most of the state's midyear budget deficit.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said she disagrees with President Barack Obama's actions on immigration, hoping the latest controversy doesn't worsen her campaign difficulties.
Gay-rights advocates challenging Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban announced Thursday that they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case before it is heard by a federal appeals court.
Thinking himself the “son of God,” the man charged with the 2013 killing of an officer of the Chitimacha Tribal Police will not stand trial following a ruling Thursday on his mental competency.
Either Saints coach Sean Payton doesn't want to tip Baltimore off as to who'll start in New Orleans' secondary on Monday night, or he really doesn't know yet.