Connecticut Appleseed’s efforts on immigrant finances include spearheading a collaboration of financial institutions, community partners, and state and federal banking regulators that began connecting unbanked and underbanked state residents with mainstream financial services in 2011 – including affordable checking, savings, and credit opportunities. That collaboration, in turn, built on our 2009 survey of immigrants from Stamford through New Haven Financial Access to Immigrants Survey 2009.
When the Ford Foundation agreed to fund a multi-state research project by Appleseed Centers on immigrant use of remittances (i.e., sending money home) in 2015, Connecticut Appleseed eagerly agreed to participate.
The Appleseed network boasts a long history of advocacy on remittances, or money sent by immigrants to family and friends back home. A decade ago, Appleseed began an inquiry into disparities and fluctuations in remittance pricing – finding that intermediaries sometimes charged more than 10% of the remittance in processing fees – and the impact on immigrants. Scrutiny into these fees over the years both within the U.S. and globally helped prompt the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to issue a federal rulemaking in late 2013 to minimize excesses, prevent gouging with remittance fees and provide consumers with better protections.
The Ford Foundation engaged the Appleseed network in 2015 to undertake a multi-state survey project to evaluate implementation of the CFPB’s rule. Given the prominence of remittances among financial issues documented in our 2009 survey, Connecticut Appleseed leaped at the opportunity to collaborate with sister Centers in Nebraska, Texas, Kansas and Washington State.
We were fortunate to gather additional financial support from the Blavatnik Family Foundation, a philanthropy which has generously enabled a great deal of CT Appleseed’s work since 2008. We were also tremendously fortunate to engage enthusiastic cooperation from in-state community partners serving immigrant populations in Stamford (NeighborsLink Stamford), Wallingford (Spanish Community Center of Wallingford) and New Haven (JUNTA for Progressive Action) to publish an early 2016 report on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s 2013 remittance rule implementation.
An important additional dimension of the Ford Foundation grant supported deeper inquiry into immigrant finances in general by means of focus groups. As a result, NeighborsLink Stamford (www.neighborslinkstamford.org) conducted a October, 2015 focus group that revealed scant progress in improving immigrant access to mainstream financial institutions since 2009, surfacing immigrants’ wide-ranging and seemingly-intractable frustrations with their banking experiences.
Our collaborative report on the success of the CFPB’s rule and findings about immigrant finances from our focus groups will be issued to the Ford Foundation in early 2016 (Sending Money Home).