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Growing Your Child Account Program: Funding and Policy Opportunities: Benita Melton

October 8, 2015

Benita Melton, Program Officer, Pathways to Opportunity, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation

Next: Growing Your Child Account Program: Funding and Policy Opportunities, Colleen Quint  Next: Growing Your Child Account Program: Funding and Policy Opportunities, Colleen Quint

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

Teresa Wilson: All right. My name is Teresa Cheeks Wilson. I’m a Senior Community Development Specialist with the St. Louis Fed based in the Memphis office. And in this session, we will be talking about Growing Your Child Accounts: Funding and Policy Opportunities. And in the panel, we have–and I have to say this, Margaret mentioned earlier that she had the grand slam team. All right, they told me that we have the walk-off win team. Okay. Come one, give them a hand. Remember that the walk-off win team. And guess what? We’re in the ninth inning. All right? We’re in the ninth inning.

So, on this great panel, we have Joe Antolin. He’s the Director of the Asset Funders Network and that’s a membership organization of funders seeking to increase the capacity and investment of grant makers. We also have Benita Melton. She’s with the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and as a Program Officer with the Pathways to Opportunities Program, she oversees grant making for Child Savings Accounts and other opportunities that connect low income children and families with tools for asset building. We, also, have Colleen Quint, the President and CEO of the Alfond Scholarship Foundation. And in 2014, they announced that all Maine resident babies would automatically be awarded a $500.00 Alfond Grant for college. And lastly, we have Carl Rist, the Director of Children’s Savings and a Senior Advisor on Asset Building at CFED. He launched and directed the 1:1 Fund, a fundraising and marketing tool created by CFED.

So, each of our panelist will take eight to ten minutes with their opening remarks. And we’re going to start with Benita Melton. And she has a flight to catch, so she may be stepping out a little early. So, we’re going to start with Benita, and then, we’ll go to Colleen, then Carl, and then Joe. Thank you.

Benita Melton: Thank you, Teresa. And I like how you framed our work. I might have to borrow that and put it on our website, because it’s a lot cleaner, and tighter, and crisper than what I usually come up with. So, it’s great to be here. I apologize the I have to leave early, but airline travel being what it is these days, I think it’s probably advisable that I keep my itinerary and make that flight. I’d like to thank Ray for bringing us together. It’s great to see the interest and energy around Children’s Savings Accounts in the field. And I just have to say, Michael, I’m sure he’s pretty proud of what he sees here, Michael Sherraden. We’ve come a long way from Assets and the Poor.

So, the Mott Foundation, we are a grant making institution. We’re based in Flint, Michigan. We make grants in four broad areas, our backyard, City of Flint, the Pathways to Opportunity Program, which I’m a part of, our Environment Program, and a Simple Society Program. We started in 1926, so we’ve been around a little bit of time. And Mr. Mott owned an axle company in upstate New York, which was one of the companies brought together that created General Motors, so that is part of how the Foundation came into being.

The Mott Board, last September of 2014, approved a new program plan for the Pathways to Opportunity Program, and Success Beyond High School is one of the Program areas, and it’s in that Success Beyond High School portfolio that we do Children’s Savings Accounts. Now, Success Beyond High School looks at how do we try to reduce some of the financial barriers that trip up low to moderate income students as they try to make the path to and through college or post-secondary. And we really do have a broad term for post-secondary, that might be two year, four year, a training or certificate program, so we have a broad definition. And CSAs, obviously, focusing on financial barriers, CSAs is one of the strategies that we support towards that goal.

We were in a planning process for quite some time and that gave us a lot of time to think about the field and the type of support that’s needed to move this idea and programs of Children’s Savings Accounts forward. And we landed on three strategies. One is around strengthening program design and implementation. Second one, advancing children’s savings account policies. And the third one’s around linking to the college completion and financial aid reform movements. And I’ll say just a quick bit about that and stop.

Strengthening program design and implementation recognizes that we’re still pretty early in these programs, in the practice of CSAs, and we’re innovating and more programs are coming online, so how do we collect information, share the innovations, share the strategies that are working in different places, for example, we’ve heard all day long about different things, different programs they’re doing to engage parents. So, how do we found those good ideas and share them with everybody that’s starting new programs, so that we’re not only not reinventing the wheel, but moving the whole field forward.

The CSA policy work is pretty self-explanatory, but I would just add that we’re taking a geographic cut on that. We’re unable to fund in all 50 states, so we’re looking at how do we get good models in each major region of the country and then leverage those models and policies throughout those regions. I don’t know if Anthony’s in the room right now, but I’ll give a shout out to him sort of following the example that the Boston Fed Reserve did with the Maine Program. They took the Maine Program and leveraged CSA policy and practice throughout the entire New England region. How do we replicate that in other regions of the country? That’s the question we’re looking at in policy.

And then, the last one is about linking to the college completion and financial aid reform movements. We funded a group several years ago called Engaged Strategies to do some landscape and change assessment scans for us. They talked to people in 30 states, policy makers, journalists, practitioners, a lot of different people, and they said, you know, there’s a lot of interest in CSAs in some places, not everywhere, and people think of them in all sorts of different ways. It’s a early childhood program. It’s a workforce strategy. It’s an asset building strategy. It’s about financial education. But the place it seemed to get a lot of attraction was around college completion, and that’s partly because there’s heightened attention around post-secondary education in the country right now, around global competitiveness issues. And because of that heightened attention, people are doing things, so you have the Gates and Lumina Foundations with major philanthropic efforts to try to increase post-secondary attainment rates in the country. That’s a train that’s already moving, so we can try to hitch our wagon to that star. Now, mindful of what Justin King said earlier that this is broader than just college completion, but in a pragmatic scale, grant making strategy sort of way, that’s how we’re thinking about the work in college completion.

The last thing I’ll say is that these buckets seem like they’re separate, but in fact, we talk about them separately for strategic purposes, but in fact, they’re pretty interconnected and pretty permeable, so some of the work in design and implementation helps inform our policy work and so on and so forth. Thank you.