By Frances Liu and Jasmine Thomas, Citi Community Development
There are 41 million people with a disability in the United States, many of whom live in a state of persistent – and often extreme — financial insecurity. More than a quarter of people with a disability are living below the poverty level; only 37 percent are employed, compared to 79 percent of those without disabilities, and half of those who are working earn less than $25,000 per year.
These statistics, troubling as they are, don’t tell the complete story. Many people with disabilities and their families rely on a host of different public programs and care services that have complex rules and strict constraints about eligibility, savings and income. But without consistent, accurate financial advice and information, they risk losing access to these vital resources and going into debt to meet care needs, which can lead to financial ruin or worse. Moreover, they miss out on opportunities to achieve other goals and build stronger financial futures.
Last year, in order to enable municipalities to take this challenge on, Citi brought together the National Disability Institute and the City of New York to launch Empowered Cities, a national initiative to improve financial access, stability and opportunity for lower income people with disabilities and their families. The first municipal program, EmpoweredNYC, is built on the City’s existing Financial Empowerment Centers model and now offers free, specialized financial counseling and coaching designed and tailored to meet the specific needs of households with disabilities.
As part of this initiative, commissioners from 10 mayoral offices and disabilities-focused leaders recently gathered in person for the first time for a landmark convening in New York City. Led by the NYC Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities and hosted by the National Disability Institute with support and participation from Citi, the convening explored how to harness the diverse expertise and efforts underway to take on the most-pressing financial security issues facing the disability community.
The convening made four things clear:
- There are meaningful opportunities to advance economic opportunity for people with disabilities in cities across the country, and many municipalities and their partners are starting to identify local needs and inclusion strategies;
- Inclusion for people with disabilities requires ongoing public awareness and broad collaboration across sectors, far beyond just assigning the responsibility to a single agency or organization;
- There are no “one size fits all” solutions, and people with disabilities must be at the table to co-design new strategies to address challenges; and
- As a financial institution, our role is to listen and learn how we can continue to expand financial inclusion for people with disabilities most effectively, both through continued support for financial education and the design of truly inclusive products and services.
As we look ahead to the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26th, we’re grateful for the opportunity to learn from and work alongside preeminent leaders and experts of the disability empowerment community. We look forward to demonstrating how institutions like Citi can make a tangible difference in the financial empowerment of people and families with disabilities.
* Cities in attendance included: New York, NY; Boston & Cambridge, MA; Chicago, Il; Houston, TX; Los Angeles, and San Francisco, CA; Philadelphia, PA; Portland OR; and St. Louis, MO.