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Strengtheningrural familiesAffordable Car Ownership Programs:Transporting Families towardFinancial Stability and Successt h ea n n i ee .cas e yfo u n d at i o nLiving on a Wisconsin tree farm, Elizabeth Grobmanthat you have a car. If you have that car, you are ablerelies on a car to get to work, to college, her son’sto participate in the whole society.” doctor, and the grocery store — all many miles away.But when her 14-year-old car broke down in the winterJumpStart is among about 160 nonprofit programsof 2006, she couldn’t afford the, in both cities and rural communities, thathelp low-income working people obtain cars to sta-“I thought I was going to hit bottom again without abilize or improve employment. Some programs alsovehicle,” says Grobman, 44, of Wheeler, Wisconsin,provide financial education that helps families budget,population 317. A low-wage earner and divorcedavoid predatory lenders, save, and develop other assetsmother of a teenage son and two adult daughters, shethat promote long-term economic self-sufficiency.felt desperate.By helping low-income families acquire affordable,But with help from JumpStart — a nonprofit programreliable transportation, the car programs help themthat helps low-income families get reliable and afford-connect to work and meet other family obligations. Thisable cars — today Grobman owns a two-year-old in sync with the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s effortsThe car allowed her to travel to a better-paying job andto help low-income families meet their immediate andto keep attending classes to become an administra-long-term financial needs. And it reflects the Founda tive assistant. “I am real excited,” says Grobman. “Iftion’s guiding principle on behalf of vulnerable children:it wasn’t for JumpStart, I’d be stuck in this little townChildren do well when their families do well, and fami-doing nothing, just trying to go to school or catch alies do better when they live in supportive communities.ride. I feel so good about myself.”Car programs can make an important contribution toSince opening in 1998, JumpStart has helped 250building Rural Family Economic Success (RuFES). Thisfamilies in a seven-county rural area buy late-modelfamily-centered approach pursues three goals simul-vehicles. “A car impacts all aspects of life,” says Petertaneously — helping families to increase their incomeKilde, executive director of West Central Wisconsin(“Earn It”), stabilize their finances (“Keep It”), andCommunity Action Agency, Inc. (West CAP), whichacquire assets and build wealth (“Grow It”).runs JumpStart. “It doesn’t just solve the problems ofhousing or child care or how to get to work. The waythe infrastructure is built in America, the assumption isn“Earn It” focuses on job readiness, good jobs withbenefits, and helping families fill gaps by takingadvantage of supports like tax credits.

n“Keep It” focuses on affordable options for trans-But the programs are not widespread, funding is lim-portation, child care, housing, health care, goodsited, and many have long waiting lists.and services; building family financial managementskills; and combating predatory financial practices.n“There’s still more need than there are cars,” saysMargy Waller, project director of The Mobility Agenda:“Grow It” emphasizes helping people save and accu New Ideas for Low-Wage Work, at the Center formulate assets; attracting business to communitiesCommunity Change, in Washington, D.C. “The twoand supporting entrepreneurs; improving commu-biggest barriers employers see to retaining low-wagenity amenities; and promoting economic develop-workers are child care and transportation. We havement strategies linked to the regional economy.a federal funding stream for child care and an existing set of providers. We have nothing like that on theCar programs help families advance in all three areas.transportation side.”They help families “earn” income by providing reliabletransportation to better jobs. They help families “keep”One-fourth of families earning 25,000 or less don’tmore of their income by providing affordable vehicleshave a car. And, often when low-income people try toat a reasonable interest rate. The newer vehicles helpbuy a car, they don’t have good credit so they can’tthem avoid unexpected, high-cost car repairs thatqualify for conventional loans. They may go to preda-can undermine their financial stability or drive themtory lenders selling cars at inflated prices, with steepto “quick fixes” such as payday loans or other moneyinterest rates and payments. Or they may pay moretraps. Car programs help families “grow” their earn-for insurance and get an aging, unreliable gas guzzlerings by helping them establish the platform (of earn-requiring sudden and costly repairs.ings, savings, and consistent budgeting) upon whichfuture financial stability and success can be built.Programs Struggle toMeet Demand for Affordable CarsMost low-income car ownership programs started inthe wake of the 1996 welfare reform law. Without transportation, welfare-to-work wouldn’t work. Welfare recipients are more likely to find a job and increase earningsif they have access to a car, national studies show.For most rural residents,cars are the only viable transportation option“You can’t live in a rural community without transportation being an issue, so some of the cutting-edgeefforts to help low-income families obtain cars havecome from rural America,” says Miriam Shark, a Caseysenior associate overseeing the Foundation’s ruralagenda. “Low-income families want to work and getahead. But they can’t if they’re unable to get to theirworkplace and around their communities. By helping rural working families obtain a reliable car and asound financial grounding, low-income car ownershipprograms help them work toward achieving long-termfinancial self-sufficiency.”Basic Components for aFamily-Friendly Car Ownership Program1. A program or agency that serves working familiesand that can generate and respond to the demandfor cars, car loans, or financial counseling.2. Cars: quality used cars, low-cost new cars, ordonated cars, including inspection, repair and warranty, or other assurance of reliability and manageable repair costs.3. Funding to help make car loans affordable and forthe administrative costs of the program.

Even in big cities with public transportation, many lowwage workers need a car, but the need is particularlyacute in rural areas where residents commonly mustdrive long distances to reach jobs and reasonablypriced shops or services. About 40 percent of ruralcounties have no public transit service, according toa federal estimate. In rural America, particularly, carscontribute to consistent, dependable work attendance.“The need for a car for low-wage workers and for public policy to support access is universal,” says Waller.“But in rural areas, if you do not have a car, you don’tFrom its Ideal Auto lot, JumpStart sells late-model carseven have the choice of a two- or three-hour bus rideat below-market prices to low-income working familiesbecause it just doesn’t exist.”not eligible for its loan program.Newer Cars Help Families Move Forward 8 an hour to be able to pay off a car loan that’s typi-Higher-quality cars offer dependabilitycally 7,000, with a 140 monthly payment, plus 20 perand fewer last-minute repairsmonth escrowed for routine maintenance and repairs.In Wisconsin, JumpStart helps families like ElizabethGrobman’s get a low-interest car loan and a high-qualitycar. Vehicles are typically one to four years old, and areexpected to last five years. The cars come from IdealAuto, a car dealership West CAP created to increaseaccess to affordable, reliable vehicles. Ideal Auto buyscars at wholesale auto auctions, passing on the savings.Late-model cars offer the lowest cost per mile in safereliable transportation, says Executive Director PeterKilde . And newer, higher-quality cars, in particular,help families move forward because they offer morestability and fewer unpredictable and costly repairs.Kilde attributes JumpStart’s success to “the psychological impact of having a car that works for you, thatAt the end of the loan, unused escrowed funds arereturned to the family, becoming an asset they canuse as they want — including as a down payment fora newer car. By offering this unusual and importantfeature, JumpStart not only helps make car ownershipmore affordable but also helps families build savings,in keeping with Casey’s RuFES framework.A JumpStart family receives a 1,500 forgivable loan touse as a down payment. Then JumpStart helps the familyget preferred-rate financing, typically a five-year loan at 7percent interest, from a partner credit union or bank. Thefamily also pays a 250 one-time fee into a pooled fundused to cover major repairs during the loan period.gets you to all the recreational and educational andTo reach a broader clientele, JumpStart also sellsenjoyable activities, as well as to work. And a car thatcars from its Ideal Auto lot at below-market prices toyou feel good about owning. People are ashamed oflow-income working families not eligible for its loanrunning around in some old beater.”program. JumpStart has been replicated in otherJumpStart clients must be eligible for TemporaryAssistance for Needy Families (TANF) and are typicallyon the upper end, income-wise. They need to earn aboutWisconsin and Minnesota communities, including theWhite Earth Indian Nation.***

Bonnie CLAC in New Hampshire provides low-inter-Bonnie CLAC’s main income source is the 800est loans for new cars. The loans are about 10,000fee each car-buying client pays (and rolls into eachor more, with monthly payments of around 200. Duecar loan). Money also comes in from sales of otherto higher payments, Bonnie CLAC’s low-income clientsdonated cars, financial fitness training offered to othertend to be higher-income than used car program residents, and foundations. The programhas helped more than 700 New Hampshire andTo make new cars more affordable, Bonnie CLACVermont residents buy new cars and has expandedPresident Robert Chambers convinced two dealers toto three additional New Hampshire locations. Bonnieoffer clients base model cars for only 100 over theCLAC’s expansion — including efforts to serve moredealer’s invoice price. Bonnie CLAC also made a dealrural clients by doing more outreach with nonprofits inwith a regional bank, and later with two credit unions,rural communities — boosts the organization’s ability toto offer low-interest loans.become financially self-sustaining by increasing its vol-Over the past four and one-half years, Bonnie CLAChelped clients obtain 836 loans, with an average interest rate of less than 6 percent (the current rate is 6.8ume and decreasing its reliance on charitable contributions, says Chambers. “Once we have perfected thismodel I envision this as a national organization.”percent). This amounted to more than 12,000,000 inloans guaranteed by Bonnie CLAC.Budget counseling is a key component in the overallsupport provided to customers. (CLAC stands for “carDonated Cars MovePeople from Welfare to WorkCars aid the success of TANF recipientsloans and counseling.”) Before guaranteeing a loan,After receiving training through West Virginia’s wel-most clients must take a “financial fitness” class andfare-to-work program to become a home health aide,receive counseling to learn how to budget and estab-Renee Hughart, 20, of rural Greenbrier County gotlish good credit, which dovetails with Casey’s RuFESa job providing in-home care and shopping for a dis-“grow it” strategy.abled woman. But when Hughart’s 1987 car gave out,Chambers believes that new fuel-efficient cars aremore dependable and need fewer repairs than usedcars — and that new cars make more sense, given theprice of gas. The average rural worker will reduce thedemand for gasoline by about 36 gallons per monthshe was in trouble. Pregnant, and having a two-yearold son, she needed a car for work and to get to doctors’ appointments. As a single parent earning 5.25an hour, and without strong credit, she’d have troublebuying another car.when driving a new car. This represents substantialEnter the Good News Mountaineer Garage based insavings for clients with long daily commutes.Charleston, West Virginia, which sold Hughart a 1993Many clients who are not ready for a new car purchase spend several months driving and makingpayments on “bridge cars” that the program lends tocar for 1 in the late winter of 2006. “It’s made a verybig difference,” says Hughart. “Now I can get where Ineed to go.”them for 225 a month. This helps them get used toNot everyone can qualify for programs like those ofmaking car payments and build a good credit history.Bonnie CLAC and JumpStart, so some car programsAnd when clients finally do purchase a car, Chambers’have been organized to address the needs of lower-research shows, their credit scores go up.income populations. The Good News Mountaineer

Garage is one such effort. It provides donated usedthat we will ever meet the demand,” she says. “But wecars almost free of charge — typically a 1994 car withcan put a dent in it and we can start with people who120,000 miles that, if well cared for, lasts about twoneed to get off welfare. If these folks aren’t trained andyears. Under the supervision of the Garage’s licensedworking when their five years are up, they have no wel-mechanic, welfare recipients in an auto repair trainingfare and no job.”program help repair the donated cars and provide discounted service.***Low-income car ownership program participants not“An older car is more affordable for poor people,” saysonly increase their earnings and decrease their depen-Barbara Bayes, executive director of the program which,dence on government assistance but also becomesince opening in 2001, has provided over 400 cars pri-more involved in their communities, according to amarily to TANF recipients. The hope is that, after using2006 impact study of the Good News Garage, basedthis car to move ahead financially, a family can purchasein Vermont. The Good News Garage also repairsanother car, perhaps with a conventional loan.donated used cars and gives them to TANF recipients.In 2005, the Garage focused on expanding its car“They get and keep their jobs much better,” says Chiefdonation program statewide — switching from oneExecutive Officer Chris Hendrickson. “Their financialoffice, serving five predominantly rural central coun-situation gets better and quality of life issues improve.ties, to five offices. Funded with state-managed welfareThey are able to take their kids to school and after-dollars, the expansion was a response to new federalschool programs.”rules requiring greater welfare-to-work participation.States that don’t comply could lose millions in fed-An impact study, commissioned by the Department oferal funds. “In West Virginia and a lot of rural states,Housing and Urban Development and the Universitytransportation is the biggest issue in getting higherof Vermont, found that:participation in work and job training,” says Bayes.“Jobs have shifted. They aren’t where poor people live,particularly service jobs. They’re not in housing projects and in the country where it’s cheaperto live.”n60 percent obtained employment after receiving thecar;n83 percent attributed their ability to keep ajob to the car they received;Cars are the missing link that allows people to remain living in affordable ruralGood News Mountaineer Garagecommunities and yet be able to work. “Ifmakes donated used cars availablepeople can’t get to the training and getcertified and get to the job, they can’t doalmost free of charge. Under theit,” says Bayes. “We see it as economicsupervision of the Garage’s mechanic,development — one job at a time.”welfare recipients in an auto repairBayes estimates that her program meetsabout 10 percent of the need low-incomefamilies have for a car. “I don’t knowtraining program help repair thedonated cars at discounted rates.

Questions to Ask before Starting aCar Ownership ProgramnnnnnnnWho are we going to serve — TANF-eligible/welfareto-work, very low-income, or low-income workingfamilies?What is our goal — to provide a temporary transportation solution or a longer-term solution?What kinds of cars are most appropriate for ourcustomers — functional older cars, higher-qualityused cars, or new cars?Will we provide cars free of charge, low-interest carloans, or an IDA matched-savings program?How should we offer financial education and creditrepair/building? How about budget counseling,escrowed funds/savings account components?to-work participants. Some other low-wage workersreceive cars for the cost of repairs, usually less than 1,200. “We have a long waiting list of low-incomepeople who don’t meet the eligibility requirements,”says Hendrickson.While about 65 percent of the program’s funding comesfrom state and federal funds, about 30 percent comesfrom selling some donated cars. But covering operatingcosts and getting enough safe and reliable donated carsare constant challenges, says Hendrickson.Guiding Clients through theCar-Buying ProcessUsing the car purchase as avehicle for providing financial educationAre there local businesses or other partners thatwould supply donated used cars, less expensive usedor new cars, or low-interest loans?For Natalie Kochte, being required to make a budgetCould we utilize state welfare funding or other public funding?way,” says Kochte, 36, a divorced parent of two chil-as a Ways to Work participant was a helpful nudge.“You know it’s stuff you should do. But life gets in thedren who lives in rural Tuscarawas County, Ohio.Having to travel 20 miles on sometimes unplowednnn73 percent attributed increased earnings to havingback roads to get to her administrative assistant’sthe car;job, Kochte received a loan through the program to78 percent were more hopeful about their future andpurchase a used car she feels safe in. “I don’t make atheir children’s future;lot of money and my credit isn’t the greatest. There’s97 percent reported a change in community partici-no way I could get that loan on my own,” says Kochte.pation.“This will also help build up my credit.”Founded in 1996, as one of the nation’s first low-Participants must develop a monthly budget andincome car ownership programs, the Good Newsattend a vehicle maintenance and money manage-Garage is an affiliate of Lutheran Social Services ofment class that addresses how to evaluate and buy aNew England. It was the model that inspired the Goodused car. They also learn how to open a bank accountNews Mountaineer Garage’s donated car program.and the importance of establishing credit, in keepingGood News Garage locations have since opened inwith Casey’s RuFES “grow it” strategy.Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut.Families soon learn to watch their budget so they canDuring the past ten years, the program has givenmake their car payments. “They don’t want to loseaway about 2,400 donated and repaired cars. Thethat car,” says Fred Weingarth, a loan coordinatorpriority, in part due to funding rules, is serving welfare-

with Personal and Family Counseling Services in Newpay a moderate-size car payment. Affiliated with thePhiladelphia, Ohio, which runs the program. The reli-Alliance for Children and Families, Ways to Work isability of the car also helps them to better control theirbased in Milwaukee.expenses and settle into a financial routine. “We talkabout the short-term goal of making that car paymentUnlike most existing locally based car programs, it isevery month. The longer-term goal is to start a savingsa large-scale program with a network of 51 offices inaccount to improve their lives not only during the two25 states. It partners with local and national financialyears they have their loan but in the future.”institutions. In 2004–2005, more than 3,000 familieswere served by Ways to Work across the country, withAn unusual feature of the Ways to Work program 8.5 million in loans and a repayment rate of over 90in this Ohio community is that participants receivepercent.a grant from Tuscarawas County Job and FamilyServices of between 100 and 2,000 for a car down“Employment, budgeting, using your money responsi-payment.bly, and changing habits is what we’re all about,” saysFaulkner. “Cars help make it happen because they helpThen they receive a loan financed by the program’sthe income go up.”partner bank. Loans for car repair or purchase rangefrom 500 to 3,000, with monthly payments of 25to 140. The family typically gets a 1996 to 1999car, which lasts four to five years. To better ensurethe car’s quality, Weingarth himself drives it andCar Program Approaches VaryBut they share the same goal of helping familiesconnect to work and overcome povertyapproves the purchase. “We have a small commu-Many other well-regarded low-income car owner-nity,” he says. “I’ve gotten to know the dealershipsship programs also serve rural clientele, such asvery well. They know if they give us a bad car we’reCitrus Cars in Barstow, Florida, and Many Motors innot going back.”Oxnard, California. Vehicles for Change is located nearUnlike a car donation program that serves very-lowincome families, “Ways to Work is for the workingBaltimore, but the program serves families in rural andurban areas of Maryland and Virginia.poor and to keep those folks from losing their jobsEach program has a different approach. Some pro-and having to go back on welfare,” says Jeff Faulkner,grams like Dollars to Dreams in Phillipsburg, NewWays to Work president. “We see thisas a preventive measure.”Jersey, operate by providingIndividual DevelopmentWays to Work doesn’t directlyprovide cars to its families. Instead,it helps them secure a subsidizedloan to buy a car in the marketplace.A Ways to Work loan enabledNatalie Kochte to buy a reliableThe program is targeted to familiesused car for transportationthat need a reliable car but can’tto work — and required herget a conventional loan because ofcredit problems or lack of funds toto make a budget and attendmoney management classes.

Accounts (IDAs), matched savings accounts earmarkedcar — as long as it’s reliable — than a new car that’sfor car purchase.more expensive and depreciates in value more quickly.Rural residents make up the bulk of the 55 Dollars toAmong the most promising programs, says MargyDreams participants who have set up IDAs for the pur-Waller, are those that “offer both a car they know ischase of vehicles. They also must take a financial literacydecent and some kind of financing mechanism thatand car-buying course. “It’s not just about buying a car.may come with wraparound services in building creditIt’s to get them financially savvy so they understandand financial literacy.”more aspects of financial scams and their potential vulnerability to predatory lending activities,” says DeborahDespite their differences, low-income car ownershipMeade, director of the Phillipsburg program offered sinceprograms across the country are networking, sharing1999 by the Northwest New Jersey Community Actioninformation, and contemplating borrowing each other’sProgram. “Families have had their lives changed becausemethods to reach more low-income families. They’renow they have a car that secures more of their future.”also trying to generate more public awareness to spursupportive public policy. And families who have ben-Despite the help low-income car ownership programsefited from the programs are seeing that a car can helpprovide, federal funding — primarily from TANF and Jobthem “earn it, keep it, and grow it,” as they work towardAccess and Reverse Commute (JARC) funds — remainsfinancial stability and a better Some state and local governments havestepped in with support but budget cutbacks have hurt“We’re all in the same boat,” says Peter Kilde ofsome programs. Other programs rely heavily on philan-JumpStart. “If we can make enough of a unified casethropic funding.that this is a great and cost-effective way to help peopleget out of poverty, everyone’s a winner.”There are differing perspectives about whether usedcars or new cars are best for low-income family pur-Everyone including Elizabeth Grobman in ruralchase. The main drawbacks of used cars are, of course,Wisconsin. “I’ve got a nice car sitting out in the yardtheir age, limited lifespan, and the fact that they arethat makes me want to strive and work harder everyfinanced at higher interest rates. There also are con-day to pay for that car and build that credit for latercerns about higher operating costs and the specteryears,” she says. “I can get a good job now and get myof unpredictable and high-cost repairs. But othersson what he needs. I’m going to make it. I’m going toargue that low-wage workers are better off with a useddo this.”The Annie E. Casey Foundation is a private charitable organization dedicated to helping build betterfutures for disadvantaged children in the United States. It was established in 1948 by Jim Casey, one of the founders of UPS, and his siblings, who named the Foundation in honor of their mother. The primary mission of the Foundation is to foster public policies, human-service reforms, and community supports thatmore effectively meet the needs of today’s vulnerable children and families. In pursuit of this goal, theFoundation makes grants that help states, cities, and neighborhoods fashion more innovative, cost-effective responses to these needs. For more information, visit the Foundation’s website at 2006, The Annie E. Casey Foundation.Writer: Betsy Rubiner. Photography courtesy of groups depicted. Design: InForm.

for cars, car loans, or financial counseling. 2. Cars: quality used cars, low-cost new cars, or donated cars, including inspection, repair and warranty, or other assurance of reliability and manageable repair costs. 3. Funding to help make car loans affordable and for the administrative costs of the program.

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