The IRC in Silver Spring’s Financial Capabilities (fincap) program has had an exciting first year thanks to generous grants from Capital One. The program offers refugees the opportunity to access credit building and other low interest loans from IRC’s Community Development Financial Institution, the Center for Economic Opportunity (CEO). CEO is designed to offer zero interest and low-interest loans to help clients build credit and access financing to facilitate their integration in the U.S. financial system and climb the economic ladder. All refugees who take a loan receive one on one financial coaching from IRC’s financial coach to learn about the U.S. financial system and improve financial behaviors. When the pandemic hit, the IRC discovered that within a few months, 41% of previously employed clients had been laid off from their jobs and were facing financial insecurity. The fincap program began officially in June 2020 when Sarah Farrall was hired to be the financial coach who would assist clients. Since so many clients needed immediate financial assistance, Sarah started her new position by helping clients to file 2019 taxes to access CARES stimulus checks. After that, Sarah went to work updating financial trainings in collaboration with Capital One training advisors and the IRC fincap team. She also met with clients to determine their needs and the resources available to them and started the loan distribution services through CEO to provide financial resources to clients who needed them. Through Sarah’s hard work and dedication, she was able to meet or exceed the fincap program’s initial goals and objectives. Though this is a huge success, especially commendable given the increased challenges during the pandemic, it is the financial capabilities client stories that really illuminate the great work being done and the huge support the financial capabilities program can provide to supplement all IRC services. Please read on to learn about the success clients have had because of accessing our fincap services.
Ahmad is a refugee from Iran. After graduating from Tehran University, he worked as a journalist and human rights activist for over 10 years. Due to his work, he was detained multiple times and tortured, leaving permanent physical impairments. Since arriving to the U.S., Ahmad has faced many challenges, including health issues, homelessness, and unemployment. With a range of IRC services, Ahmad has been able to access medical care, find employment and secure an apartment. Recently, Ahmad was admitted to American Military University. To be able to pay for these courses, Ahmad enrolled in the fincap program, which assisted him in receiving financial trainings and an $8,000 Education Loan with a low interest rate. Since enrollment, Ahmad has built a 5-year plan with a budget, taken financial literacy classes, and participated in credit discussions specific to his credit history. Ahmad’s education loan will now allow him to successfully attend college, to one day pursue his dream of becoming an officer in the United States Air Force.
Jean arrived in the U.S. from Cameroon in July of 2019. He lives with, and is the sole supporter of, his mother and little sister. Jean was employed in a warehouse when his hours were cut due to the pandemic. Already struggling financially, Jean and his family found themselves in a bigger dilemma when his mother was hit by a truck and severely injured. Struggling to pay for rent and food, a new burden of medical bills seemed unimaginable. Jean worked with the IRC’s financial coach to file taxes and soon thereafter received the $1,200 stimulus check through the CARES Act. Jean was able to put this money towards rent as well as some medical bills. He then worked with Sarah to receive a zero interest COVID-19 Resilience Loan, which provided him with $700 to contribute to other critical family expenses. Now that their finances are more manageable, Jean has created a financial plan for the short term to continue on the path towards financial stability.
Kevin, a client from El Salvador, arrived in the U.S. as a TPS (Temporary Protected Status) holder. After a long wait, his wife and two children were finally able to join him. Kevin spent months trying to save enough money to apply for work permits for his family. Even though Kevin had been working, the family found themselves falling drastically behind on their rent, bills, and other necessities. In Kevin’s first meeting with the financial coach, he confided that he was planning to pay for his family’s work permits by putting a lien on his car. With the help of the financial coach, Kevin was approved for an immigration loan that completely covered the cost of the filing fees associated with the work permit applications. This allowed the family to obtain work authorization, and ultimately through employment, lessen their financial burden. Kevin was also able to set up a flexible payment plan for the loan, paying back a monthly amount that was comfortable for him.
Mario is a 62-year-old refugee from El Salvador. He was working part-time in a warehouse while supporting two family members who are unable to work. Over the past few years, Mario’s vision has been deteriorating, eventually to the point where he was unable to read most writing. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic caused Mario’s employer to reduce his hours. Because he no longer had enough money for his basic expenses, Mario postponed two necessary eye surgeries. Fortunately, with assistance from the IRC financial coach, Mario secured a COVID-19 Resilience Loan, which covered the funds he needed to schedule his eye surgeries.
After the first year of implementing the fincap program in the Silver Spring office, it has become apparent that with basic supportive services and trainings, clients are able to vastly improve their situations and their financial health. As the Silver Spring fincap team looks forward to its second year, it is excited to build upon the momentum generated thus far and to continue helping clients to achieve their financial goals.