NEW YORK (9/29/14)--Two credit unions that have partnered with community agencies focused on serving the immigrant population have received grants from the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions.
Ascentra CU, Bettendorf, Iowa, with $342 million in assets, and Lower Valley CU, Sunnyside, Wash., with $64 million in assets, were selected for the Northwest area immigrant asset-building initiative, designed to connect low-income immigrants with quality immigration services and safe, affordable financial products.
Grantees for the initiative were selected by the federation, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, and the Northwest Area Foundation.
In Iowa, the partnership between Ascentra CU and the Diversity Service Center of Iowa (DSCI) was a natural fit, according to Alvaro Macias, community development manager. Both organizations had heard about the work the other was doing and knew their respective reputations for serving the immigrant community.
The Muscatine, Iowa, area has a diverse population that includes immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, Macias said. Last year, 78% of DSCI clients were of Latino descent, while the other 22% consisted of people from Vietnam, Ukraine, Syria, the Philippines, Guyana, China and Palestine.
"The immigration costs have increased tremendously," Macias told News Now. "A lot of the people applying don't have well-paying jobs, so the fee might be as much as 10% of their annual income."
Application fees range from $465 for employment verification, to $595 for naturalization, to $1,070 for citizenship. Some require an additional $85 biometric fee.
The first client who benefited from the grant program was a couple whose husband was a U.S. citizen and his wife. She wanted to start the process to get a Social Security number so she could begin working and contributing to the household income, Macias said. They did have some funds to cover the costs, but with the grant program filling in the last amount, "together we made it happen," he said.
Together, Ascentra and DSCI are using the $37,500 in grant money to provide staffing and start a pool of collateral for the loans.
DSCI now has a part-time employee--an immigrant who went through the process--to assist other applicants.
For participants, the credit union provides financial education about how to build a credit score, create a spending plan and raise money-savvy kids, he said.
The credit union holds $24,500 of the grant money as collateral. "We tell the borrowers that it is important to follow through and pay back their loans," he said, adding, "If they don't, it takes away from the opportunity for others to use the program. It's a 'pay it forward' mentality."
The structure--a pool of money that is loaned, paid back and loaned again--makes the project sustainable, Macias said. "It will have a lasting effect."
In Washington, the grant will support citizenship clinics, where immigrants have access to financial education and application financing from the credit union and immigration legal services from OneAmerica and La Casa Hogar.
Cathie Mahon, federation president/CEO, said, "Partnerships between credit unions and local community organizations are proving effective in the efficient delivery of services that help low-income consumers achieve financial independence."