REAL Solutions Moves To NCUF

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The Filene Research Institute is turning over its REAL Solutions pilot program to the National Credit Union Foundation, which intends to take the low-wealth outreach program national.

Credit unions in three states-Wisconsin, Ohio and Maryland/D.C.-along with their respective leagues, have been piloting the program that has been used to devise a variety of ways to reach out to low-wealth households, such as the StretchPay alternative to payday lending in Ohio, involvement in the Voluntary Income Tax Assistance program in Wisconsin and others.

"Our original plan was to test some of these ideas and then hand it off to someone else," explained Filene Executive Director Bob Hoel. "Transferring REAL Solutions to the NCUF, means a higher level of resources and visibility for the program."

NCUF plans to implement REAL Solutions at some 2,000 credit unions in 33 states over the next three years, committing $1 million to the project each year.

"This is going to be the signature program of the foundation," said NCUF Executive Director Steve Delfin. "When I came on board two years ago, our board was looking to do something where we could show impact, where we would really move the needle. When we saw REAL Soutions, it seemed to hit all of the criteria we were looking for: offering aid to low-wealth individuals and families, where we could take something that's already working and bring scale to it."

In addition to the $3 million the NCUF is committing to the program over the next three years, the foundation is also looking to larger foundations, such as the Ford Foundation, to offer grants.

Filene will continue to be engaged in the program, and Lois Kitsch, who is the program director for REAL Solutions will be transitioning from Filene to the NCUF.

Online Resource Center Planned

One of NCUF's goals in taking on REAL Solutions is to create an online resource center offering best practices on anything from how to offer a a viable alternative to payday lending to how to keep members from using refund anticipation loans at tax time. "We want to develop best practices in these areas, show what's working, and what's not."

The existing REAL Solutions programs that have been piloted are already seeing results. In Wisconsin, for example, the league reports that its credit unions have been so successful offering alternatives to payday lending that the payday lenders themselves are feeling it where it hurts: their own wallets. "They have taken to offering 'specials' because they have seen some of their business siphoned off," said the league's Jim Drogue.

Among the other goals NCUF has for REAL Solutions:

* Host a national institute, the first of which will be Aug. 23-25 in Pittsburgh, giving CUs a chance to learn best practices in low-wealth outreach from each other, as well as from payday lenders, check-cashing stores, and the like.

* Establish a national, branded CU payday lending product called the "Credit Union Stretch Pay Loan."

* Develop a database demonstrating the many ways CUs serve their communities. (c) 2006 The Credit Union Journal and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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