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Researchers from the UNC Center for Community Capital and School of Social Work presented findings on an innovative program that helps low-income working families build savings at tax time during a national forum held Dec. 7 in Washington, D.C.

Center associate director Janneke Ratcliffe, researcher Jessica Dorrance, center research fellow and School of Social Work assistant professor Michal Grinstein-Weiss and School of Social Work research associate Clinton Key participated in a discussion with other stakeholders, researchers and policymakers at a New America Foundation forum, “Social Innovation and Lessons from a Municipally-Based Savings Program.”

High unemployment and other symptoms of the Great Recession have shaken families across the country and exposed a long-term threat to economic security and financial stability – the lack of savings. Over the past three years the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs Office of Financial Empowerment has been testing the idea that low- and moderate-income families can save and invest in their own financial security through an innovative program called $ave NYC. By making the saving opportunity easy, immediate and rewarding, the program caused families to take the first step, saving for future emergencies and improving their economic security.

Researchers, with funding from the Social Innovation Fund, are examining whether a city-based program offered during the tax season can help get families on a path to saving and economic security and whether the program could be replicated effectively across the country.

At the forum, participants discussed the challenges and opportunities posed by this novel, tax time, matched-savings program. Jonathan Mintz, commissioner of the New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs, spoke on the city’s experience with program. Reid Cramer, director of the Asset Building Program at the New America Foundation, led the group discussion on the shared experience of these programs and the lessons available for federal, state and local policymakers.

Here is a summary of the UNC researchers’ findings.

The UNC Center for Community Capital is the leading center for research and policy analysis on the transformative power of capital on households and communities in the United States. Part of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the center offers data and analysis that helps policymakers, advocates and the private sector find sustainable ways to expand economic opportunity to more people more effectively. For more information, visit or call (919) 843-2140.

Topics(s): Debt & Credit, Financial Capability, Financial Inclusion, Savings & Asset-Building
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