Consumer Action INSIDER – August 2011

 

Save the Date

What people are saying

The Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs uses the [MoneyWi$e] materials for lectures given by Investigators at local community functions and churches, in our lobby for the public, and to give to consumers who receive one-on-one counseling from one of our Intake Counselors. - Heather Turner, Georgia Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs

Tip of the month: Be smart about the Internet

Before making purchases at unfamiliar online businesses, check complaint records and SSL encryption. Learn more from our Empower U module.

Building up to our 40th anniversary

Consumer Action has provided financial education and advocacy since 1971, growing from a volunteer effort in a church basement to a national organization working on a wide spectrum of key consumer issues. We're celebrating our four decades of success this October with a reception in Washington, DC, and we hope you’ll celebrate with us.

We invite you to join us on Tuesday, Oct. 18, for an evening of drinks, hors d’oeuvres and our annual awards ceremony at the downtown DC Naval Heritage Center. Supporters will learn about our accomplishments, meet our staff and network with fellow consumer rights advocates.

You’ll also meet the recipients of our 2011 Consumer Excellence Awards in three categories. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) will receive our public service award for her stalwart representation of consumers in the U.S. House of Representatives. In the media category, we selected Eileen Ambrose from the Baltimore Sun for her in-depth coverage of key consumer issues. Our community-based organization award will go to the Opportunities Industrialization Center of DC for its dedication to providing quality job skills training and related services to disadvantaged adults and youth.

Consumer Action thanks event underwriters to date: Capital One, TracFone, Microsoft, and Google, as well as the members of our honorary 40th anniversary planning committee, who are networking to make our reception a fundraising success. In mid July, Microsoft held a lunch at its new LEED-certified DC offices in honor of Consumer Action. Executive Director Ken McEldowney and members of the DC-based staff had an opportunity to mingle with new potential supporters and existing corporate partners.

“The staff was blown away by the heartfelt testimonials about the effectiveness of Consumer Action’s work to educate underserved consumers and to help them prosper financially,” said Linda Sherry, director of national priorities. Guests included representatives from American Express, AT&T, the Future of Privacy Forum, Time Warner and Verizon, among others.

Tax-deductible contributions can be made at various levels for the 40th anniversary event. Join us at $15,000 as an event underwriter; $7,500 to enter the Leadership Circle; $5,000 to participate as a benefactor; $2,500 to be a sponsor; $1,500 as a patron; $500 as a special friend, or $250 as a supporter. Visit our event page for a complete list of benefits for each level of support. Those who can’t attend the reception on Oct. 18 can honor our 40th anniversary by making a donation of any amount.

The contributions received during our annual fundraising event allow Consumer Action to create and distribute its quarterly Consumer Action News newsletter and its monthly INSIDER e-newsletter, as well as support its free, multilingual consumer assistance and referral hotline.

To learn more, visit: www.consumer-action.org/40th.

Consumer Action’s WirelessED takes a trip to the capital

Consumer Action traveled to our nation’s capital in July for its first WirelessED train-the-trainer roundtable. WirelessED is our new initiative, sponsored by AT&T, to teach consumers about tools and resources to effectively manage and understand wireless devices and service plans. More than 20 representatives from community-based organizations in the DC area attended the training.

Meeting at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Capitol Hill, participants learned how to help their clients choose the right wireless service, monitor their usage, avoid overages and roaming charges, understand their monthly statement and protect their privacy while using mobile devices.

The program started with an overview of adult learning styles, led by Consumer Action’s Community Outreach Manager Linda Williams. The presentation prepares participants for effective ways of communicating the material to their clients and helps them to run their own WirelessED trainings for colleagues and clients.

Nelson Santiago, community outreach manager, led the “Learning About Wireless Services” segment of the training. He walked participants through key topics drawn from three WirelessEd publications: Choosing and Using Mobile Devices, Using Mobile Data Wisely, and the upcoming International Roaming. Attendees had an opportunity to work in competing teams to help a fictional family analyze a wireless bill, figure out why their bill had grown, and provide advice on how to keep wireless expenses from draining the family budget.

In another activity led by Williams, participants reviewed a detailed description of fictional clients and discussed which wireless plan would be most appropriate for each person or family. The examples included a student traveling to Italy who needed an international plan, and a family who wanted to keep their wireless phone costs as low as possible.

Throughout the training, Consumer Action’s trainers encouraged participants to ask questions and discuss the issues amongst themselves, creating an open and friendly atmosphere. Our train-the-trainer sessions always feature hands-on, interactive experiences and allow participants to network and learn from each other. In a small group discussion afterwards, participants said they enjoyed themselves and had engaged in interesting discussions with fellow community advocates.

Several local media outlets also attended the event, including a reporter from one of the larger Chinese-language newspapers. The reporter came to interview Community Outreach Manager Jamie Woo and to observe the training.

Ken McEldowney, executive director, welcomed participants, noting, “It is our goal to educate as many consumers as possible about the benefits of truly understanding your wireless services and devices. We know that educated consumers make better choices, and we’re glad we can give them the tools and information they need to make informed choices.”

The next WirelessED train-the-trainer session will be held in Oakland, California in September, and two more are planned in Boston, MA, and Hartford, CT.

WirelessED is the latest in the many educational programs that Consumer Action offers to inform consumers across the country better manage and understand their monthly bills. For more information about WirelessED, check out the website: www.wirelessED.org.

Hotline Chronicles: Moving with a Section 8 housing voucher

Genaveev* from Texas contacted Consumer Action to ask if she could move to another state and still be eligible for Section 8 rental assistance (the Housing Choice Voucher Program). While moves are permissible, whether she can “port” (transfer) her voucher depends on income levels and available rentals where Genaveev wants to move. To move out of state, tenants need to consult with the office that currently administers housing assistance to verify the procedures for moving. And the lease must be up, or the landlord must be willing to allow the tenant to break the lease.

The Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) authorizes payments for rental housing assistance to private landlords on behalf of very low-income households, the elderly and the disabled. It is voluntary for private landlords to take part in the program.

Applicants for the Housing Choice Voucher Program can find their own place and use the voucher to pay for all or part of the rent. In addition, the rental must meet certain standards for safety, security and livability. The housing subsidy is paid to the landlord directly, and the tenant pays the difference between the rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program.

Housing choice vouchers are administered locally by public housing agencies (PHAs). The PHAs receive federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to administer the voucher program. When voucher holders need to move out of state, they must work with their PHA, which will help them get a portable voucher and, if necessary, advise them on how to contact a new PHA when they move. Depending on the situation, the new PHA may “absorb” the client or bill the original agency.

Consumer Action Outreach and Training Manager Linda Williams says that there are some key things Section 8 tenants should know when they want to move. “Voucher holders who break their lease do not have the right to port, but victims of domestic violence are an important exception to this rule.” Williams notes that victims of domestic violence can port their vouchers even if they are in violation of their lease.

Williams, who spent 17 years with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles assisting subsidized housing tenants before joining Consumer Action, said that the initial term of the portable voucher is for 60 days with extensions possible up to about 120 days. She warns that voucher holders should not 'sleepwalk' through the transfer process-they should read and understand the porting regulations, ask questions, and seek assistance from their local Legal Aid office, before packing their bags. “When moving to a new city, it may be a challenge to find a unit and have it approved within the time allotted,” says Williams. “It’s imperative that voucher holders understand if and when the voucher time will be extended, when it will permanently expire, and the ramifications of a voucher expiring before they find housing.”

If your lease is up, and you need to move out of state, contact the PHA that handles your current voucher to get a “portable voucher” for you to deposit with the housing agency in the area you move to. Even if there is a waiting list for Section 8 housing vouchers where you plan to move, current voucher recipients with portable vouchers should be able to bypass the waiting list.

To apply for the first time for the Housing Choice Voucher Program, contact a public housing agency. You can find a nearby agency in the phone directory, or you can search online for a public housing agency. You can also seek information about the program by contacting your local HUD Office of Public Housing. Find your office location in the phone book or your local HUD Office of Public Housing.

Since the demand for housing assistance often exceeds the limited resources available to HUD and the local housing agencies, long waiting periods are common for new applicants. PHAs may close waiting lists if they grow too long.

Responsibilities of the tenant:

  • Know the terms of participation in the Housing Choice Voucher Program.
  • Live up to the terms of your lease.
  • Do your part to keep the unit safe and sanitary.
  • Cooperate with the owner by informing him or her of any necessary repairs.
  • Cooperate with the PHA for initial, annual, and complaint inspections.

Responsibilities of the landlord:

  • Comply with the terms of the lease.
  • Maintain the unit according to Housing Choice Voucher Program housing quality standards.
  • Cooperate with the tenant by responding promptly to requests for needed repairs.
  • Cooperate with the PHA on initial, annual, and complaint inspections, including making necessary repairs.

To learn more about voucher portability, visit the National Housing Law Project website.

Consumer Action offers a guide for tenants, “What to know if you rent: A guide to landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities."

You can submit your own consumer complaint or question to our hotline online. Click here to submit a complaint.

*Not this consumer’s real name.

Report on Consumer Action's Managing Money Project

Consumer Action’s Managing Money Project employs Consumer Action’s award-winning multilingual educational materials to promote informed participation in the marketplace by underrepresented consumers with low financial literacy levels. The Project was created with a court award from the Griego v. Rent-A-Center class action settlement.

“We are fortunate to have this funding to conduct outreach and education in California,” said Ken McEldowney, executive director. “Through this and other court awards we are able to fill the gaps in our funding for consumer education and train-the-trainers.”

Working with a California network of credit counseling agencies, cooperative extension offices and other community based organizations (CBOs) that assist clients on a broad range of issues including financial literacy and money management, Consumer Action provides educational resources and tools to help underserved consumers thrive financially. Currently, we have more than 3,500 CBO contacts in the state.

In the fiscal year ending March 2011, the Managing Money Project worked in several areas:

Managing-Money.org website. Our financial empowerment website, established in 2007, serves as a resource for community groups and individuals in California and across the country who seek straightforward, non-commercial financial educational materials. During the year, we maintained and expanded website features including: daily news digests newsletters and special reports, calendar of events, answers to frequently asked consumer rights questions, and links to state and national organizations. The site features a comprehensive library of publications organized by topic.

Publications. Under the project, Consumer Action regularly updates its existing multilingual, financial literacy publications and posts the new versions the Managing Money website.

A comprehensive financial literacy module called “Money Management 1-2-3: Be Smart about Money All Your Life” was created under the project. Available for download in English only, the Money Management 1-2-3 module is broken down into digestible sections geared toward adult learners at key points in their lives.

Last year we added eight new publications on credit reports, credit scores and specialty reports. We also updated “Get Credit for Your Hard Work: Low income working taxpayers may qualify for the Federal EITC,” noting that the program no longer offers Advance EITC payments in workers’ paychecks. However, the credit is still available to eligible individuals and families when they file their tax returns.

One year after the passage of the CARD Act in February, we issued our 2011 Credit Card Survey. The survey features credit card rates, fees terms and industry practices. Click here to access the survey.

A tip sheet called “Basic Steps to Improve Personal Finances,” including contact information for crucial consumer resources, was written, posted on the website and handed out by our training team during outreach events.

We distributed a popular bilingual novella called “True Life Stories” created by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Containing both English and Spanish text, the innovative “comic book” novella relates important financial literacy and housing information in a fun and accessible format that is popular in many Spanish-speaking countries.

Consumer advice and referral. The Managing Money Project helps support Consumer Action’s advice and referral hotline in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Calls and emails are accepted in Chinese, English and Spanish. As part of the Managing Money project, Consumer Action expanded the banking and credit related assistance we provide to consumers. The major areas of concern included credit cards, collection agencies, identity theft, credit reports and auto finance companies. Close to 10% of these complaints were accepted in Spanish and the Chinese dialects of Cantonese and Mandarin.

Community outreach. Consumer Action has four full time, multilingual community outreach and training staffers based in California who conduct train-the-trainer roundtables, give presentations, participate in street fairs and work directly with community group and government agency staff. Much of their work focuses on financial literacy and a portion of their time is supported by this project. Their work is conducted in Chinese, English and Spanish depending on the audience.

In the last fiscal year, the outreach and training staff:

  • Participated in the Continuum of Care Coalition aimed at ending homelessness.
  • Met with the Federal Reserve Bank of Los Angeles about how to best serve the financial services needs of vulnerable constituents.
  • Conducted financial literacy presentations for consumers in collaboration with the Community Action Partnership of San Bernardino.
  • Presented at events at the Homeless Division of the Los Angeles Department of Social Services.
  • Took part in Homeless Prevention Coalition activities.
  • Staffed an exhibit table at the Senior Action Fair in Claremont, CA as well as the One Voice Fair in Watts, California.
  • Presented at the statewide WIC (Women, Infants and Children assistance) conference.
  • Provided financial literacy information in English and Japanese at a Senior Scams workshop (with assistance of a Japanese translator) for clients of Keiro Senior Healthcare, Los Angeles.
  • Gave a Scams and ID Theft workshop to clients and staff of Torres Martinez Desert Cahuila Indian Tribe TANF Program.
  • Led money management workshops to patrons of the Los Angeles Public Library's Paramount Branch using our new Money Management 1-2-3 educational materials.

Media. Consumer Action promotes financial literacy information and advice through the in-language and mainstream media. These include the Spanish-language outlets La Opinion and Univision as well as English-language TV news affiliates in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Chinese-speaking staff conducted interviews with Chinese newspapers and radio and television stations based in San Francisco and Los Angeles, including Sing Tao Daily, Ming Pao Daily, World Journal, Sing Tao Radio, KMTP-TV and KTSF-TV. Consumer Action also disseminated press releases and consumer alerts to reporters, consumers and community groups throughout the state on a wide range of financial issues.

For more information about the Financial Literacy Project, or any other Consumer Action programs, please write to us at: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

MoneyWi$e mini grants 2011: Round one

MoneyWi$e financial literacy partners Consumer Action and Capital One award small grants of $7,500, which we call “mini grants,” to community-based organizations that work with underserved constituents. Consumer Action invites the most successful organizations that have been trained in MoneyWi$e or that use the materials in their programs to apply and the awardees are selected based on the merits of their proposals.

Consumer Action Executive Director Ken McEldowney noted, “Though there are always more deserving organizations than there are funds, the latest round of recipients are well situated to provide effective financial empowerment programs in their communities.”

Neighborhood Housing Services of the North Bronx, Inc., Bronx, NY

Targeting low and middle income families in the Bronx borough of New York City, this agency each year serves about 3,000 households—78% of which are low-income families. With its grant, the agency will educate and coach 60 such households to build their financial capability, establish financial goals and action plans and change their financial behaviors, attitudes and practices.

UCEDC, Union, NJ

A non-profit economic development corporation, UCEDC provides resources and solutions for small businesses. The agency provides its clients with business development services such as loans, business literacy training in English and Spanish, and technical support (mentoring) services to grow business in New Jersey. With its grant, UCEDC will provide two training workshops per month using MoneyWi$e materials at various locations throughout New Jersey. Depending on location, the workshops will be in Spanish or English. Staff will provide 600 hours of individual client mentoring and a minimum of 100 hours for Hispanic business owners as well as collaborate on two roundtable events for business owners.

HOPES CAP, Inc., Hoboken, NJ

Individuals and families, from birth to senior years, receive help in learning useful life skills and knowledge, gaining access to personal and professional opportunities and achieving educational self-sufficiency. To date this year, 78% of the clients HOPES CAP served were at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty Guideline. Under the grant, the agency will offer workshops or one-on-one counseling sessions to 50 clients to educate them on the importance of budgeting, establishing a financial home and basic financial management, and establishing or reestablishing credit. Clients will be guided to creating a realistic and workable plan of action for achieving financial goals such as home ownership, vehicle ownership and starting a small business.

National Council on Agricultural Life & Labor Research Fund, Inc. (NCALL), Dover, DE

NCALL offers housing development services, homeownership counseling, financial literacy training and mortgage default and foreclosure prevention counseling. To date, NCALL has helped almost 7,000 households purchase their first home and more than 900 clients have participated in its Growing Your Money (GYM) Financial Literacy Training program, and over 700 have graduated. More than 350 families have been able to save their homes. Under its grant, the agency will use MoneyWi$e curriculums to enhance its new outreach program targeted to very low income tenants of rental housing complexes. Tenants will be taught to how to develop a spending plan, increase savings and improve their credit scores. The new rental housing outreach component is expected to have 300 participants and 225 graduates through 20 new classes.

Harford Community Action Agency, Inc. (HCAA), Edgewood, MD

Providing antipoverty programs and services to low-income individuals, families, and communities in Harford County, HCAA serves more than 7,000 low-income households annually. Under its mini grant, the agency will provide basic financial education to low-income individuals, including unbanked individuals and those who have chronic problems paying bills and those at risk of homelessness. HCAA plans to provide ongoing one-on-one intensive financial case management to 25 new clients-helping them create detailed budgets, savings plans, strategies to pay off old debts and repair credit and connecting them with community services.

HomeFront, Inc., Buffalo, NY

Each year, this agency serves approximately 1,200 households and individuals, 60% of which live in low- to moderate-income households, with pre-purchase counseling, homebuyer workshops, financial education, foreclosure prevention and financial assistance programs for first-time homebuyers. The agency plans to work with 150 clients to create individual spending plans, help 125 clients establish bank or credit union savings and checking accounts and guide 75 clients in maintaining their bank or credit union savings or checking accounts.

Opportunities Industrialization Center of DC (OIC/DC), Washington DC

A non-profit, community-based organization that offers job training and placement services for youth and adults, OIC/DC serves varied populations, including low-income and/or disadvantaged people, unemployed or underemployed, homeless, youth and adults, recent immigrants, disabled, elderly, ex-offenders, etc. OIC/DC, Consumer Action’s chosen recipient of its 2011 Consumer Excellence Award, will offer bi-weekly financial workshops and presentations using MoneyWi$e materials, offering participants employment development, life skills and social services, case management and follow-up services to promote self- sufficiency and independence. Assistance with opening savings or checking accounts, creating a budget and obtaining at a credit report will be offered.

The Community Foundation Financial Center of Prince George's Community College, Largo, MD

Working with residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland, the Community Foundation Financial Center offers financial literacy education, networking and coaching and free tax services as well as other programs. Under its grant the agency will offer financial information workshops for an estimated 800 participants to help them identify appropriate financial skills to support improved financial management and sponsor a coaching program for up to 60 people to support participants in identifying their goals, developing and implementing plans for improvement, financial growth and attitudinal change.

Empowering Students and Parents, Inc.-Re-entry/Consortium Division, Columbia, MD

The grantee has been serving youth and their families in Maryland since September 2002 to bring them the educational and service delivery tools necessary to improve the quality of life for families and enable them to become self-sufficient, contributing members of their community. ESAP works with men, women and families impacted by incarceration. It created the Reentry Consortium to develop a network of resources and service delivery models to address the unique needs and challenges faced by this target population. To date, ESAP has used MoneyWi$e to educate 500 men, women and children (grades 3 to 12). For its grant, the agency will partner with Coppin Heights Community Development Corporation for a project to serve 13 formerly incarcerated men and women and their families. Two workshops per month will be offered to assist clients in establishing and maintaining a budget, opening savings accounts, ordering and reading credit reports and disputing credit report inaccuracies.

This fall a second round of mini-grants will be awarded for the southern part of the Capital One footprint. For more information about the program, send us an e-mail at: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Web spotlight: A closer look at Consumer Action’s online library

“Where do I go to get my free credit report?” “What can I do if I am a victim of ID theft?” “What do I need to know to open a bank account?” “Is life insurance something I might need?” “Will my wireless device work overseas?” “What’s a prepaid cell phone?”

Life’s questions can become overwhelming but it’s easy to find answers and solid background information in Consumer Action’s multilingual library of publications. Whether you’ve known us for years, or you’re a first time visitor who gets here from Google, a friend’s referral or after attending one of our trainings, the Consumer Action publications library is just a click away and provides solid, trustworthy information at those teachable moments when you need it.

Individuals and community advocates can find what they need in the library. Most of our publications are available in English, Spanish and Chinese. A half a million people access information from our family of websites each year. In addition, Consumer Action distributes more than one million publications annually in five languages via a network of 8,000 community-based organizations (CBOs) nationwide. The materials in the publications library can be read online or printed. Most publications also are offered as camera-ready PDF downloads. Printed materials are available for free bulk orders to nonprofits and CBOs.

Many publications are part of training modules with curricula and activities and can be seen in collections at consumer-action.org/modules. We have more than 25 training modules on consumer issues and personal finance topics. These educational toolkits containing one or more multilingual consumer brochures, course curriculums, question-and-answer background guides for instructors, PowerPoint presentations and classroom exercises and activities.

The publications library can be accessed from any page on the Consumer Action website. From the upper right, you can use the drop-down list of 24 publication categories ranging from automobiles to training tools. To get to the entire collection, click “Publications” on the green navigation bar from any page. (It appears between “Support” and “Newsletters” at the middle of the green bar.)

Each publication you click on contains information about other languages available, ordering if available, and downloads. CBOs and other non-profits can place bulk orders.

Consumer Action welcomes a new face to San Francisco

Rose Chan joined Consumer Action in June as a part-time hotline counselor. She had worked at the San Francisco Ethics Commission, where she provided outreach and advice regarding campaign finance issues to candidates and the public.

Chan holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of California at Berkeley and a juris doctorate (JD) degree from the University of San Francisco (USF). While studying law at USF, she served as the index/survey editor on the Maritime Law Journal, researching and editing maritime-related legal cases.

Conversant in the Chinese dialects of Mandarin and Shanghainese, Chan will work with our hotline team to process online and telephone inquiries. Complaints filed with our hotline have grown during difficult economic times and the hotline data that Chan and her colleagues handle gives the entire staff information about complaint patterns that help us respond quickly to emerging consumer abuses.

About Consumer Action


Consumer Action is a nonprofit organization that has championed the rights of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. Throughout its history, the organization has dedicated its resources to promoting financial literacy and advocating for consumer rights in both the media and before lawmakers to promote economic justice for all. With the resources and infrastructure to reach millions of consumers, Consumer Action is one of the most recognized, effective, and trusted consumer organizations in the nation.

Financial Education. To empower consumers to assert their rights in the marketplace, Consumer Action provides a range of education resources. The organization's extensive library of free publications offers in-depth financial information, while its hotline provides non-legal advice and referrals. Consumer Action also publishes an unbiased Annual Credit Card Survey that exposes excessive prices and anti-consumer practices to help consumers make informed buying choices and elicit change from big business.

Community Outreach. With a special focus on serving low to moderate income and limited-English-speaking consumers, Consumer Action maintains strong ties to a national network of more than 8,000 community-based organizations. Outreach services include training and free mailings of financial education materials in many languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and others. Consumer Action's rapidly expanding network is the largest and most diverse of its kind.

Advocacy. Consumer Action is deeply committed to ensuring that underrepresented consumers are represented in the national media and in front of lawmakers. The organization promotes pro-consumer policy, regulations, and legislation by taking positions on almost 200 bills per legislative session and testifying at least three times per year. Additionally, its diverse staff provides the media with expert commentary on key consumer issues supported by solid data and victim testimony.

Click here to learn more about our staff.

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