On March 8, Georgia Watch, Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, Prosperity Now, and Center for Responsible Lending hosted the first-ever Georgia Financial Protection and Economic Opportunity Summit. Nearly 50 partners from across the state and nation met in Atlanta to learn about the disparities that exist in Georgia related to economic opportunity and financial well-being. Attendees forged new alliances and learned about opportunities to advocate for stronger consumer financial protections as well as the Georgia Work Credit. The group discussed current policy proposals and ways to engage at the local, state and national levels to help provide Georgians with greater financial security.
At the Summit, Georgia Watch officially launched the Georgia Financial Protection Coalition – a virtual, state-wide network of individuals, organizations and groups who share a desire to advocate for safe financial products and fair industry practices. This coalition was created to share stories about consumer struggles, brainstorm policy solutions, and identify opportunities for advocacy at the local, state and national levels to promote financial protections for Georgia families. At the Summit, Georgia Watch presented on the legal framework for predatory lending in Georgia and how title pawn lenders are permitted to charge up to 300% in fees and interest while also holding the title to the borrower’s car. Summit attendees learned how Georgia made payday loans illegal in 2004 – a model protection for the entire nation – and how that crucial law is currently being threatened by the payday lending industry’s efforts in Washington. State-level policy recommendations for protecting Georgians from predatory small-dollar lending were offered and discussed by attendees.
The Summit also focused on promoting economic mobility and strengthening lower-income families through a Georgia Work Credit. Georgia Budget and Policy Institute shared how this well-studied State Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) already helps improve the lives of lower-income families in 29 states and how they are working to bring this economic boost to Georgia’s working families. Studies have shown that enacting a state EITC has positive effects that extend across the entire lifespan including improved infant and maternal health, better school performance and college enrollment, increased work earnings in the next generation, and higher Social Security retirement benefits. Nearly 1.1 million Georgia families, or 2.6 million Georgians overall, would benefit from the Georgia Work Credit.
A goal of the Georgia Financial Protection Coalition is to train community-based non-profits, faith-based groups, Georgia residents and others on how they can advocate for their clients and communities. The Summit included an advocacy training which defined advocacy, discussed why it’s important, and provided tips on how to be an effective advocate. Time was also taken for networking, relationship building, and to hear from attendees about issues that impact their communities, like predatory lending and lack of access to banking services. Belinda, a participant, shared her thoughts on the Summit: “The information shared was enlightening and informative, even if some of the statistics were a little disheartening at times. Learning about the disparities impressed upon me the need to advocate and raise public awareness. I definitely feel informed about what is happening in the legislature and more equipped to advocate for my community.”