Growing Your Child Account Program: Funding and Policy Opportunities: Joe Antolin

October 8, 2015

Joe Antolin, Director, Asset Funders Network

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Below is a full transcript of this video presentation. It has not been edited or reviewed for accuracy or readability.

Joe Antolin: So I’m Joe Antolin, I’m the director of the Asset Funders Network. And I want to thank Ray and the Federal Reserve as well. And sort of keeping with the theme, I probably need to point out that we have a children’s savings project that we just launched that’s with a former CFED employee, Ray Brice Lacord [phonetic 00:00:27] is back there. So we keep these connections, and for a long time, a colleague of mine was Lucy Mullany, so I love that Justin called out the only other program in her work, because frankly without her work, nobody else was paying attention to those issues.

So I talked a little bit about AFN. It’s an affinity group. Most of my life I spent either as an advocate, or in government, or a grant seeker. I had no idea what an affinity group was until Benita was among some of the other funders that talked to me about this. And an affinity group is essentially a place for funders to be talking to each other about the purpose of that affinity group to sort of get a sense of the lay of the land without having the person who’s seeking the grant trying to convince of why they should fund that program.

Our mission is to help members and other funder’s advance, invest in ways that advance economic security and financial stability for loan modern income households. And the approach that we do that is to try and educate funders about what other funders are doing, or what practitioners are doing to sometimes challenge their assumptions, to elevate what are best practices, or what look like promising practices to achieve a particular goal, to influence the idea of aligned funding or collaborative funding, because a lot of times a single funder can’t do it and it takes multi people to play the role. And really, the bottom line is to grow the investment in vehicles that work to make a difference.

So our CSA project is really an attempt to implement that framework into what it is that we’re doing, and talking with funders. And I just think that today has been fascinating, because it has given me a better picture or reinforcer into the questions. CSA’s clearly are intriguing, right? But are they intriguing because they give agency and voice to community residence, the way Clint talks about? Or is it because they can do something about racial equity, in which case we probably need to be thinking about how are we going to implement more CSAs in communities where there’s a lot more people who are of color than the current mix? Or is it this idea of child well-being that we started today with? Which is an important sort of both political and institutional idea that I think of foundations would go to. I loved Willy’s idea of a tangible hope. And in part, I have to say that I got through college from what Kilolo talked about, which was the survivor benefit on social security. That helped to pay for my way through college. And the fact that that doesn’t exist now, and we don’t have any vehicle that replaces that is part of the effort that we’re talking about. So for me, it’s personal, too.

The other things that are intriguing about it is this multiplier effect. I mean, how many different things can it connect, and can it actually improve the stickiness of the outcome? And too much funding doesn’t think about the stickiness of the outcome. It’s really focused on what’s the return on the investment on the outcome that I funded you for to get in this moment? So I think that that expands the conversation. We want to explore with funders, those who are interested in this, or those who espouse some of those things that I just mentioned are intriguing, but are not investing in CSAs, what’s holding them back. Because it may be structural, it may be not understanding, or there may be issues that we need to really, you know, give some thought about. It might also be that they’re interested in a particular population. It might be a foster care focus, it might be single parents focus, they might want to work with kids that are zero to five, or kids that are school age, or really only work with teens, and they don’t see the connection, right? And so helping them to sort of make those connections with advocates like Colleen, who will be helping us to do this, and Benita, is, I think, one of the roles that we’ll be playing now and down the road.

I think the other question is where is it that our foundation, or philanthropy, or a financial institution thinks it ought to be playing? They may want to seed the Children’s Savings Account from the beginning, but a lot of them are not going to want to do that, and are not going to want to do that thinking it’s a 17 or, you know, 18 year return, and I can’t wait that long. My board doesn’t have that interest. So is it about incentives? Is it about a time limited role? Is it about a particular population? And we want to not only explore that with funders, but every time some foundation, some community foundation, some family foundation is taking a step in one of those directions, make sure that people know about it. Because that helps, among the funder community, helps to reinforce that this is a place that they can be going.

I think the other issue that I need to hear a resolution to, and I think is both a strength and a weakness of Children’s Savings Accounts, is that it serves so many different purposes. You know, so is it about the aspirational effect? Is it about educational readiness? Is it college readiness? Is it college completion the way Motts looking at it? Is it community activation? I think that’s what really caused the Indiana effort. Is it about, you know, closing the wealth gap? Making an investment to restore some semblance of equity and opportunity. And I think that at some point philanthropy is going to start in picking one or two or those is sort of the main things. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but AFN wants to be part of the catalyst for the conversation, it helps those move along.

Some questions about does the vehicle matter? I think I heard pretty compellingly today for the first time that it’s a both/and opportunity as opposed to an either/or opportunity. That’s actually a big step forward, and will be helpful. I think that the question of does public funding, do you have to have it? Does it make a difference if you have it or you don’t have it? And depends on where it is that philanthropy wants to play, but I think ultimately at scale, some form of public funding will be necessary. The thing is between now and when Congress is no longer on fire, you know, what are we going to do in each of the cities, and states, and communities?

And then I think one of the challenges that we have, and it’s a research challenge, is what are the meaningful measures, intermediate measures so we’re not waiting 20 years? Or even in San Francisco’s case, it’s still going to be another 15 years or close to that. Before we’re talking about college completion, understanding. So that set of measures is an important one. Willy talked a little bit about that. And the other thing that I think is really important for us in our conversation is, is 25 dollars enough? Is it a 500 dollar, you know, is that the right amount? What is the purpose if it’s college completion? How does this tie to college completion? There are public policy questions there, and some financial investment. It’s a program design. It’s what are funders willing to fund? But all of that’s kind of racked in.

And then the last thing is for those—as we sort of get a robust set of funders who are investing in this, there’s an awful of foundations that won’t invest in public policy advocacy. But there are some who will. And we think that the case can be made as more investors are doing this, as more funders are involved in this process. And you’re seeing the outcomes, that those who are willing to invest in public policy advocacy will see that as a strength in a platform to help the advocates who are out there be able to move this forward more effectively. And that may be a straight strategy in the mail, so it would be a federal strategy.

So if any of you are funders who are not affiliated with AFN, not on our mailing list, please see Rene out there or me before you leave. Or unless you don’t object, we’ll just put add everybody who’s not already on our mailing list to the mailing list from the list that you had out here. And if you don’t like it, opt out, right?

Female: Thank you, Joe.

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