Jan 25 '19

Domestic Violence Recovery Loan Program—Research vs. In-Practice

Credit unions are in a unique position to support survivors of DV.

Holly Fearing

Hello everyone and welcome to the Filene Fill-In. I'm Holly Fearing with Filene. The Filene Fill-In is the podcast where we fill you in on what's been going on here at Filene's home base and out and about in the financial services world. Credit unions have a unique vantage point to see the way financial barriers hold people back day in and day out and they're also in a unique position to do something, to support those most vulnerable. In today's podcast we take a look at the very real and complicated way that economic abuse can keep survivors of domestic violence in their abusive relationships. Thanks to the work being done through the domestic violence recovery loan program, we're not only gaining a better understanding of the complexity of this issue, but also seeing the determination from organizations like Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, to find a solution that supports survivors of domestic violence in obtaining a healthier and more stable economic future. Today, I am joined by Adrienne Adams, Ph.D, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology and member of the Research Consortium on Gender-Based Violence at Michigan State University. Adrienne is also the author of Filene's Domestic Violence Recovery Loan Program Report. In the first part of today's episode, we unpack the research that built the Domestic Violence Recovery Loan Program. Then stay with us through the second half when we talk with Alyssa Baumann, Volunteer & Advocacy Coordinator at MSU Safe Place and Jeff Jackson, Chief Lending Officer at Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, about how the DVR loan program works in practice from the perspective of the support groups that work with domestic violence survivors, and from the credit unions that offer the loan program as a way to live their mission and truly serve the needs of everyone in their community. For these conversations, I am joined by my Filene colleagues, Taylor Nelms, Senior Director of Research and Katie Gaynor, Creative Content and Media Manager. We are fortunate to have today's guests share their knowledge, passion, and expertise in providing a solution that makes all the difference in the world for those who need it. Thank you Adrienne so much for joining us today. Can you start us off by telling us a little bit about your background and a little bit more about what this research is about?

Adrienne Adams

(02:15): So I am a gender-based violence researcher. My area of expertise is looking at the economic effects of domestic violence. So I focus on economic abuse and the impact that that has on survivors well-being, economic well-being and general well-being.

Holly Fearing

(02:33): Great. And the report that you've worked on with Filene is around the Domestic Violence Recovery Loan Program. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that is for our listeners who haven't yet read the report?

Adrienne Adams

(02:48): Yes, absolutely. The Domestic Violence Recovery Loan Program was started a number of years ago now by a survivor of domestic violence in our local community. She recognized a need for survivors to have resources available, to help them recover financially from an abusive relationship. The need was driven firstly from her own personal experience, but then also kind of getting what's available in the community and other people that she knew and recognizing this need, and so she convened a group of service providers and myself to talk about how we might address that problem, and then that's how the domestic violence recovery loan product idea was conceived of. From a group of people coming together and talking about how we might address that gap in resources for survivors in our community.

Holly Fearing

(03:38): It sounds like it's a perfect, innovative idea for the credit union industry to be able to look into a program like this, to see how they can serve more members of the community, especially the most vulnerable members. I wanted to ask Taylor now to help us connect the dots in why Filene is involved in this research and what this means for kind of Filene's pipeline of research.

Taylor Nelms

Absolutely. Here at Filene, we saw this report and working with Adrienne in particular as a unique opportunity to do two things. First, we saw it as an opportunity to study the lives and in particular, the economic lives and financial challenges of survivors, of domestic violence who faced really unique challenges in some ways in the face of really difficult situations, separating from an abusive partner and trying to deal with some of the economic effects of abuse and the economic aspects of abuse. In many ways, financial institutions, including credit unions are already serving survivors of domestic violence and so we think it behooves those institutions to pay attention to the needs of those particular members and particular populations. Secondly, we saw it as an opportunity to explore and evaluate the possibility of supporting survivors directly through tailored products and services. And with Adrienne's background, both in the topical area and involvement in the beginning from designing and implementing this Domestic Violence Recovery Loan Program, there's no better person we think to investigate and evaluate that program.

Holly Fearing

(05:18): Adrienne, you mentioned that this program originated from a survivor. Can you talk a little bit about how having a survivor being such an integral part of this program, the creation of it, what were the things that you discovered through that work and the complications that economic abuse can have on the lives of survivors?

Adrienne Adams

(05:44): Yeah, that's a great question. There are two sources of information to help answer that question about the implications of economic abuse on the lives of survivors and there's my broader research on economic abuse and then also the data that I have collected from the DVR loan borrowers to date, and also from the story of the survivor who started this program. So my broader program of research shows that economic abuse is as common in abusive relationships, as physical and psychological abuse, which are the types of abuse we tend to think of when we think of domestic violence. In one study that my colleagues and I did, 99% of the women that we interviewed who are seeking help for domestic violence had experienced economic abuse in their relationship, so almost all of them. I want to give you a sense of what economic abuse is. What does this thing that we're talking about that is having impacts on people's lives. Economic abuse, it involves controlling another person's access to and use of economic resources. Some of the ways that abusers do this is by for example, keeping their partners from working, from having a job, dictating their spending, hiding money or financial information from them, creating debt in their partner's name, either through fraud or through force. So for example, taking out a loan or a credit card in a partner's name or putting household bills in their name, and then not paying them. Abuse of partners also take or destroy their partner's property. They steal their money. They freeload half of them, which means making them buy them things or assume sole responsibility for all of the costs of living, of daily living. And what the research shows is that the more economic abuse somebody experiences, the harder it is for them to meet their basic needs, such as housing, utilities, putting food on the table. Another important point is that economic abuse is also linked to credit damage. In a recent study that my colleagues and I did, we found that women who had a partner who put debt in their name, were almost six times more likely to have their credit report or credit score hurt by an abusive partner.

(07:48) So that's some of what we know from the research about the effects of economic abuse in survivors' lives and the data that we've collected from the DVR loan borrowers is consistent with this. For instance, we have borrowers whose partner made it difficult for them to stay employed. For example, one person, their partner made sure they had visible injuries when they went to work and this resulted in her losing her job. And when her boss fired her, he said quote, you work around people and we just can't have this. It was a tactic to keep her from being able to stay employed, to have an income and be financially independent. Had other borrowers who were expected to use their money to pay for all the household bills, without any contribution from their partner and if they didn't do so, then they risk physical harm. We had a borrower whose partner broke into her car and her house and stole everything and damaged her possessions, which, you know, if you have all of your possessions stolen or damaged, then there's a lot of expense in having to replace all of those, draining your resources. All of the borrowers for the loan program had damaged credit. Some of them shared an explanation for the credit problems and those who did cited their abuser as a key factor in the credit problems that they were having. For instance, a borrower said that her partner controlled her money and spending to the point that she wasn't able to make payments on her debt, or she wasn't able to even check the balances on her account. And when she applied for the loan for the DVR loan, she was trying to get back on her feet and doing this by starting to rebuild her credit. So that's a bit about what we know about economic abuse and how it affects survivors lives from both the research and from the DVR loan borrowers.

Katie Gaynor

(09:33): Adrienne, this is Katie, thank you for breaking that down. I think that sometimes issues like domestic violence and economic abuse can get really hard to wrap our heads around what kind of an impact this could make on the lives of an individual, especially something that might not be as tangible as a bruise. You know, understanding what these controlling behaviors look like really helps us understand why this kind of a program is so crucial for individuals in our community that are facing these challenges. And I was wondering if you can maybe expand a little bit more on, you know, you've laid out that, you know, some of these women and men that took advantage of this program were finding themselves in a situation where they were denied access to their finances, or they were getting buried in debt that they did not take out on their own. Can you explain and share with us a little bit about what some of the loans looked like for these survivors when you mentioned they were getting back on their feet? What were they trying to accomplish in obtaining this kind of financial freedom?

Adrienne Adams

(10:34): Great question. Yeah, the DVR loan was used for a wide range of needs. Some borrowers needed the loan to repair or get a new vehicle and we know that having a vehicle is incredibly important for being able to get to work. Being able to get to work is incredibly important for having an income and being able to pay for the things you need and being financially secure, right? And so when you don't have a vehicle and you can't work and you're at risk for losing your job, then you're at risk for not being able to put a roof over your head. And so the loan was critical for some survivors being able to stay afloat and not only, you know, kind of prevent that downward slide or the downward slope of not having transportation, so not having a job and losing your house, and help somebody to prevent that from happening for example. The loan was used to help survivors get back on their feet in terms of housing. So being able to pay back rent to avoid risking, losing your housing or paying first month's rent or security deposit, to be able to get into a new house, a new place to live that was safe and free from the abusive partner. Some use the loan to be able to buy furnishings. We had one survivor who talked about having her and her kids living in a place with no furniture at all. So no couch, no beds, they were sleeping, sitting and sleeping on the floor and the loan allowed them to be able to furnish their place. So improving their quality of life in that very meaningful, important way. We had survivors who paid on back debt. Debt that was draining their resources, maybe were higher interest rates and so on and, you know, for example, medical bills was something that was cited by survivors being able to pay back medical bills. And then also we had somebody who was able to pay a divorce attorney to divorce their abusive partner because of the domestic violence recovery loan. So I think the loan supports survivors getting back on their feet in the short term, by helping them deal with an immediate need that is making it more difficult for them to move forward. So getting housed, getting transportation, avoiding borrowing from a payday lender, which can exacerbate debt problems or divorcing their abusive partner. In the long-term, the thinking is that the loan would help people get back on their feet by helping them to rebuild their credit. We know that credit is incredibly important for accessing the things that we need, including housing or paying for a large emergency expense you wouldn't have money for otherwise. Even to get a job. So the loan is intended to help provide access to the things that we need in life and credit is important for that, right?

Taylor Nelms

(13:10): Adrienne, this loan program has gone through a few iterations. Could you speak to how it's changed over time? What are the adjustments that you and the other folks involved in designing and implementing this program? What adjustments did you make to support the long-term financial wellness and well-being of survivors and what adjustments did you make to support the sustainability of the program for credit unions?

Adrienne Adams

(13:36): Yes. So there's been three iterations of the program. So there were changes that were made between the first and the second iteration and now changes that are being put in place after the second iteration, moving into the third. Some key changes that were made between the first and the second iteration include first, having the loan candidates provide an explanation for their negative credit history. The borrower's credit history isn't considered in making the lending decisions, however they want to make sure or try to assess whether the negative credit history had something to do with the abuse or whether there's something in that credit history that suggests that maybe they won't be able to pay the DVR going back, going forward. So they just asked for an explanation in writing, and this was something that the credit union had suggested and then the service providers followed through with it. Also, they moved to having the funds distributed directly to a third party with whom the borrower was doing business. In the first iteration, the funds were distributed directly to the borrower and then the borrower used them as they saw fit. During the loan application process, the borrowers asked what they intend to use the loan for, so there's a specific safety-related need that's been identified. And so what they moved to doing in the second iteration was making sure that the money went directly for that need and the thinking here is that if a borrower gets the money and then uses it for something else, other than what they initially intended, then that initial need is still going unmet, and so then the borrower may be still needing to have to figure out resources to pay that. And so money that could be going to pay back the DVR loans, may be having to go towards, so for example, if it was a vehicle repair, if that vehicle repair didn't get met, they still are trying to figure out money to pay for that. So by giving the money directly to the third party that initial need is being met. Also, they moved to requiring that the borrower has post loan advocacy follow-up or contact with an advocate going forward after they received the loan. So that was something that was recommended in the first iteration, but it moved to being required in the second. And so those changes were put in place and we followed some more loans, and then we learned a little bit more about what was working and what wasn't working, and then going into, after the second iteration moving into the third now, the key change that's been made the central change is that there's now a central organization, the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence. The MCEDSV that is now administering the program and providing financial and advocacy support to the borrowers.

(16:24): So before that, what was, happened in a more diffuse way, there was a variety of advocates in different organizations providing the support as they could to the borrowers. But now we have one organization who is running the program and making sure that the borrowers have access to financial and advocacy support. The financial support, what that looks like is they're depositing 10% of the loan amount into an emergency savings for the borrower. So it's held in an account for the borrower and if they are not able to make a payment, they can tap into that to cover a payment if things get tight one month and then any money that's left in that emergency savings at when the loan is repaid becomes the borrower's money. And then the advocacy support piece, they have an advocate on staff at the coalition, that is following up on a regular basis with each of the borrowers, checking in with them to find out how things are going, if they're having any issues making the loan payments and helping to troubleshoot any shortfalls that they have any given month in you know, paying the cost of daily living, but in also being able to cover the loan. Those are a couple of the key changes that are designed to support the borrowers and also designed to support the sustainability of the program for the credit union, because we want the borrowers to be able to repay the loans so that it can be a benefit to them, but also, so that it's sustainable for the credit unions. In addition to those, the other piece that has been put in place to support sustainability for the credit unions is that the coalition is doing fundraising to be sure to be able to cover 30% of all losses from the program going forward. There was initial pot of money early on, and that was spent through, and they want to be able to continue to do that going forward so that it is sustainable for the credit union.

Taylor Nelms

(18:19): I think that's a really crucial piece, Adrienne, for other credit unions to learn from in many ways, this is a small program, even though it makes an out-sized difference in the lives of survivors for the credit union, you know, in terms of its balance sheet, it's a fairly small lift, but we want to make sure that for the borrowers as well, you know, repayment benefits them because it helps build or repair their credit. And so we want to make sure that the loans are not a burden going forward and are instead of an opportunity and a resource for them.

Adrienne Adams

(18:57): Exactly, exactly. The program was designed to help improve survivors economic security and the last thing anyone wants is for it to actually do the opposite and so that's the central focus in putting any changes and all changes in place that have been made, and why it's important to continue to follow the program and track what's working and what's not working so that additional changes can be made so that it is a resource to help improve survivors economic security.

Taylor Nelms

(19:27): And I think that that's what makes this program so unique is, you know, in many ways Filene's research agenda for a long time has been to surface the lives and livelihoods of consumers, especially and including vulnerable and marginalized populations. But this program really does have both prongs. It looks at the consumer side of things and really tries to delve into the specifics and the specific challenges facing survivors of domestic violence. But it also has this program evaluation side, which is really crucial for us to be able to, as you said, continue to keep an eye on and evaluate the program as it moves forward and thus, to be able to provide credit unions with the resources and information, they need to make a difference to push forward their own mission and values around economic justice.

Holly Fearing

(20:18): And in part two of this episode, we actually are fortunate enough to be able to speak to some of the staff from Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, as well as somebody from a domestic violence support organization to share their stories on how this program actually worked in practice and looking to kind of gain their insights on, you know, from the research to the practice, what changed or what didn't line up with the academic side. And Adrienne, I'm curious from you and also Taylor and Katie from reading the first two reports, was there anything that you found surprising from the research and the concept, and then once it was put into practice, something that you didn't expect in the actual live inaction version of the program?

Adrienne Adams

That's a good question.

Holly Fearing

Or did it work as you expected?

Adrienne Adams

(21:20): I didn't know what to expect in terms of how the service providers would be able to collaborate to effectively operate this program because there wasn't originally a central organization that housed or was administering the program. The success of that was dependent on a group of people, who have very demanding regular jobs who are domestic violence advocates, who are the financial folks at the credit union, you know, the loan officers, the chief financial officer of the credit union, would they be able to come together and operate a program like this in an efficient and effective way. And to a great extent they were, they were able to put in place processes and systems to be able to collaborate and coordinate, to identify survivors in need of the loan, to get people loans, to support them, to the extent that they could during repayment. And then they were extremely committed to making this work. They participated fully and I wasn't sure what that would look like, you know, and like I said, they all have extremely demanding jobs. So I wasn't sure, you know, would this just be something on the side where when they don't have time, they wouldn't be able to do it, but everybody showed up and everybody put a hundred percent in to try to make this succeed. And even a few years in, we're at a place where, you know, the loan repayment rate, isn't what people would hope it or would want it to be, but everyone remains committed to succeeding and finding ways to improve the program so that it does meet survivors needs in the way that it's intended. And I think what drives this is, you know, the survivor who originally started it, you know, her story and the stories of the other survivors that the service providers are working with day in and day out, and them sharing those stories with the credit union folks. The stories of the people that are served and affected by this really are the driving force behind everybody's continued and ongoing commitment to this project.

Holly Fearing

(23:30): And before we bring on the credit union and the advocacy group to share their perspective, is there anything else that we didn't cover today that you feel like our listeners should know about this research or from your perspective, anything you'd like to share before we let you go

Adrienne Adams

(23:49): Let's see, I think the loan program, the DVR loan, the immediate impact on survivors had been as expected. Survivors are getting access to much needed resources to improve their lives, but the longer-term impact has not been as positive. There's too many borrowers who have been unable to make the payments on the loan and as a result, rather than improving their credit, the loan has become another account in negative standing. But I think the important thing, at this point is that everybody that's involved is remaining hopeful that the changes that are being put in place going forward are going to turn this around, and that the loan program will contribute to survivors financial security as it was originally envisioned.

Holly Fearing

Okay. Do you have anything else, Taylor?

Taylor Nelms

No, that's okay. Thanks Adrienne, very much.

Holly Fearing

(24:37): Thank you and we will be back with part two and I believe Adrienne, you'll be joining us again for that one so looking forward to furthering this discussion. Topics like this are nuanced and complex, there's always an element of knowledge that can't fully be transferred through a static report. That's why Filene invites members to attend research events all throughout the year, free as part of your membership, that put you and your leadership teams face to face with the academics, researchers and experts who wrote and conducted the work. This is your opportunity to dive deeper into relevant topics, to gain insights on your specific challenges, to network with like-minded peers and to strategize new and innovative solutions to bring back to your credit union right away. Join us on May 29th in Seattle, August 11th in Boston and September 26th in Austin. Check out Filene.org/events for more details and now back for part two of today's episode. Thank you to Alyssa Baumann and Jeff Jackson for joining us, again with Adrienne Adams here. Alyssa is the Volunteer & Advocacy Coordinator at MSU Safe Place and Jeff Jackson is the Chief Lending Officer at Michigan State University Federal Credit Union. I'm going to start with a question for you, Jeff. When your credit union decided to support the piloting of the domestic violence recovery loan, how did Michigan State University Federal Credit Union review the applications from survivors to borrow this emergency loan?

Jeff Jackson

(26:17): I'll say we had a lot of education and meetings before we really ever got to the application process to try to understand the individual stories. Michigan State University Federal Credit Union's have been a long time supporter of MSU Safe Place and other domestic violence shelters. Adrienne Adams played a critical role in terms of educating us in their plight. The normal credit decision goes something along the lines of reviewing income and then also looking at a credit report. Based on the situation of this population, the credit report always isn't a good indicator of their situation because some of the abuse is also financial abuse. So things that may be indicated on the credit report as being non-payments or credit cards taking out may not actually be the actions of the individual we're evaluating. And then there's also a concept we kind of got due was kind of willingness to partner. So what we did is we got with the shelters, came off of some programming to see if the individual we thought they were willing to partner and that they would be in a good place and had employment. At that point, that kind of stopped our traditional underwriting and then we really leaned on the advice of the domestic violence shelters, the advocate from there, so we could make a credit decision based on that, and that's really where we got to the point where we said credit reports don't really matter in this scenario and that if they're employed or have a way to become employed and make income that we would say yes.

Holly Fearing

(28:02): And that makes me think about, you know, any credit union that's embarking on a loan, that kind of goes beyond the traditional way of looking at credit scores. How did you deal with the natural questions that might come up from leadership and account for the additional risk that you might be taking on?

Jeff Jackson

(28:27): One of the large parts that the MSU Federal Credit Union kind of prides herself on is our mission, and that's really helping our members and our employees become financially successful and realize their dreams. In the general context, that's really talking about auto lending or being able to do something, get their kids braces or something. With this particular population, realizing the dreams is really a different component. We have traditionally given flat-out grants and other types of support to community not-for-profits, so it was kind of a natural fit for us. It was more of a statement we made to our CEO, April Clobes and to the board, and they were in full support of it from the first time it was introduced to us. And then I will say Adrienne Adams, once again was key, having that advocate out in the community that could see the different touch points and connect those, I think is critical to the success of a program like this.

Holly Fearing

(29:29): And what kind of things has your credit union learned about the issue of economic abuse in a domestic violence situation, and how has that really impacted the way you provide your services?

Jeff Jackson

(29:41): Couple things, I'll say Adrienne has really served as a catalyst for a lot of our programs. I think in some of the documents, we talk about relaunching the program and having a 2.0 and a 3.0 of this domestic violence situation. We've always known when granting credit everyone's situation is unique. Everyone has a story, this just takes it, kind of to another level, that's a lot more personal and that we're able to make a positive impact. Because of this program, we've actually launched two other programs. One's the St. Vincent DePaul Loan Program and the other one is the Habitat for Humanity Capital Region Program, and it kind of has some of the same characteristics in the fact that traditional credit decisions aren't necessarily supported by the individuals that have these loans or need these loans. But there is a commonality that you have some type of not-for-profit or advocacy group identifying these individuals and saying they would be a good credit risk, and we've moved forward with those programs as well.

Katie Gaynor

(30:49): Thank you, that's great. I want to switch gears a little bit and kind of go beyond what you were talking about with all this advice and guidance that you've been getting from not only Adrienne, but also from the domestic violence advocates at Safe Place. Can you just expand a little bit more about how crucial those kinds of relationships and partnerships were to not only supporting the internal acceptance and support and excitement around a program like this, which you've now said has expanded into supporting additional organizations and additional populations facing a variety of barriers, but how have these partnerships really supported the success of this program in supporting survivors of domestic violence?

Jeff Jackson

(31:34): I would say the organizations are critical to the success of these programs, because they are really the ones that are able to identify the candidates that qualify for these programs and they're the ones that really do, I'll say the underwriting, meaning they look at the character of the individual to see if this is a good fit for them. The traditional concern from an institution that provides loans is credit risk, and that's means getting repaid. And there's various indicators, that will tell you whether or not someone is in a situation where they're able to make good on a loan. And then the advocates really are the ones that have taken the time, sat down, had the personal connections with the individuals, understand the situation and then are able to make a solid recommendation on whether this loan would be a good program for them. So to say they're critical would be an understatement because without them, there really would not be a Domestic Violence Recovery Loan Program.

Katie Gaynor

(32:33): That's great. You know, after reading the report, we definitely couldn't agree more. These partnerships seem to be just a win-win for both sides of the situation. And Alyssa, I'm hoping that you might be able to talk a little bit about, you know, the relationship that you've seen from a long time supporter, like Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, who has been behind the work that your organization is doing. And now stepping up in this more unique way to provide you know, almost a direct service for the men and women that are supported through this. So I'm just curious if you can share a little bit more about what that partnership was like on your end, when it comes to supporting the individuals that walk through your doors.

Alyssa Baumann

(33:11): Sure, yeah. Well, Michigan State Federal Credit Union has been a huge supporter of MSU Safe Place for years in many different capacities. So this program was really just kind of a natural fit, you know, in terms of them continuing their mission to do good in the community and to support the survivors that we serve every day. So it was, for us, it was just kind of a continuation of the good work that they've done for us and the support that we felt from them in the past.

Holly Fearing

(33:41): I was just curious, I think both Jeff and Alyssa have spoken to about how this was kind of a natural fit and a mission alignment. Jeff, can you talk a little bit more about what really inspired MSUFCU to help tackle the needs of this particular set of the population that's needing financial services in a specialized way? And what advice might you have for other credit unions out there that are looking to either this type of loan or another type of loan, just find those partnerships, what advice would you have for them?

Jeff Jackson

(34:26): I would say our philosophy has always been, we want to champion things with the community. The stronger the community is, the better living environment it is for our members. The better business environment it is for our business members and so there's always opportunity and probably any community for individuals that could maybe need a little assistance on it. We've had a long-term relationship, obviously with Michigan State University being our namesake, MSU safe place. We support about 300 organizations in the community and so really it has been a natural step, but if we can take individuals and give them in any situation in this case, we're obviously talking about domestic violence and put them in a better scenario, a better life situation, they end up becoming better individuals with more opportunities and ultimately better members. Which then reinforces the credit union's mission, which then allows us to expand and help, say the next round of individuals and that's kind of what we want to see. We have a long-term perspective on everything. We don't necessarily pay attention to quarterly or annual earnings goals, obviously those are important. What we look at is doing the right thing for the right reasons, and we've maintained that philosophy for decades, and that ends up being good for everyone, including the community and the individuals that live in the community.

Holly Fearing

(36:00): Alyssa, is this the first time, to your knowledge, that MSU Safe Place worked with a financial service provider to address the issue of economic abuse in this way, like through a loan program?

Alyssa Baumann

Yes, it is the first time that we've worked with a financial institution to address economic abuse and survivors recovering from the effects of economic abuse.

Holly Fearing

It seems like such a solid partnership and almost like a no-brainer to work with financial service providers in this capacity. So I was just curious if you could tell us a little bit more about, you know, anything that you learned working with a credit union for the first time in this capacity, and any advice that you would give to other organizations like Safe Place in other communities that might be looking to find a financial services provider to offer similar option for domestic violence survivors.

Alyssa Baumann

(37:05): Yeah, I think it's definitely an important partnership. I would say most of the survivors that we work with have some sort of financial abuse that they've experienced, or some sort of financial challenges that they're trying to overcome in terms of rebuilding credit or trying to reduce debts or those types of things. So really in terms of the population we're working with, this is a really important partnership and important resource for them to have access to. And so in terms of other communities, I think it is really important to pursue this type of partnership or this type of program or a similar program, just because there's such a need for this population and a lot of the effects of the economic abuse that people have experienced are sort of long ranging. Like they're not things that are going to be resolved quickly. So, you know, having these ongoing relationships and having access to programs that can really assist people in, you know, making financial improvements in their lives, that can really have long ranging effects for them, you know, and very positive impacts.

Holly Fearing

(38:09): Yeah, I can imagine there's probably a lot of credit unions being mission-driven organizations as they are out there looking to be able to serve this kind of a need in their community. And there's probably also advocacy groups and support groups out there looking to, or hoping that there's a credit union out there that could do something like this to help with the issue of economic abuse. And, you know, it makes me wonder, like, what are ways that communities, where there's those two parts in them already can just get connected. Jeff, do you feel like it's more the credit union reaching out to the community groups, or do you feel that it's the community group that needs to reach out to the credit union first?

Jeff Jackson

(38:59): I'll make a statement and I'll say the Michigan Credit Union League has also been active in this relationship in the sense that there's an advocate at the Michigan Credit Union League who was involved in some of the initial conversations, helped identify MSU Federal Credit Union, I think brought Adrienne Adams and myself together and then through that partnership, we were able to work on things. I will say, there's a lot of time that needs to be invested from the credit union standpoint to really understand what you're getting into and that's an important aspect of it. But once again, when you go back to the mission of the credit union, and I'll say all credit unions, the idea is to help people, people helping people, so I think that fits in nicely. To have ultimate success, you need the credit union and some people within the credit union able to support it, but then you also need someone like MSU Safe Place who can advocate for individuals and identify those individuals. So you really need an internal and an external champion to make a project like this successful, especially if you want it to be sustainable. And I know we've had very good communication between the three of us in order to make sure that we're taking on the proper risk or serving the proper people and that we make it a viable, sustainable loan program. And I know we're still working on trying to achieve those goals.

Adrienne Adams

(40:26): One thing I would add to reinforce what both Alyssa and Jeff has said is from an outside perspective, looking in on this partnership between the credit union and domestic violence service organizations, it seems to me that this program wouldn't work without the partnership. I'd say the MSUFCU couldn't do this program without the DV organizations and the DV organizations could not offer a loan program without the credit union. That it only works because of the partnership.

Katie Gaynor

(40:57): I'm wondering if you guys can share a little bit about the impacts that you have seen both within your credit union and the community within the individual survivors. You know, you both have talked a lot about the long term impacts that this has made even the short term impacts this has made, and you both have referenced how critical it is. You know, Jeff, you mentioned that it's not just, you know, supporting one person, but you're supporting the entire community as a result. And Alyssa, you mentioned how this is such a need, a real need for survivors in these situations. And just wondering if you guys are willing to share some of the impacts that you have seen personally, or that your members or your other advocates have been able to experience because of this partnership.

Jeff Jackson

(41:38): I can start if that's okay. I would say there is the direct benefit of helping the individual and because of privacy laws, we don't get to see that as directly as the advocates do. What I will say though, is we have a lot of talented employees at the credit union, and then we have a lot of people in the community that know we support and offer this loan. And what that does is it creates visibility for the various domestic violence recovery shelters that we deal with and partner with, which I believe helps it when we do some type of fundraiser for them, or they're asking for volunteers to help and then at the end of the day, I think there's additional financial donations that go to that. So maybe there's not a very direct benefit to one individual that the credit union gets to see, because we're really dealing just on the financial standpoint, but I think overall the partnership is positive and then it helps the shelter from a visibility standpoint and it creates more awareness. And I believe probably changes some people's behavior, for the positive when they know these types of programs are out there.

Holly Fearing

I would like to know now kind of where do we go from here? So a question for all three of you. Jeff, where does the credit union see this loan program going and growing from here and Alyssa, what is the next iteration of this for MSU safe place? And then Adrienne what comes next with this research?

Jeff Jackson

(43:16): I'll say the credit union will continue to support the loan and we'll try as many times as needed and as many different versions of it to make sure we can get something that's definitely sustainable. And it's also been kind of a catalyst for other loan programs to help other groups. There's a relatively low interest rate and I know that's in the report that Adrienne prepared and then it's very flexible terms, and the criteria for getting a loan is definitely approachable. So we're in it for the long haul, we'll continue to help and support, and Adrienne always presents wonderful ideas and challenges to try to get us to think a little bit more and move a little bit more and be more creative, which I think is beneficial for all parties.

Holly Fearing

(44:03): And Alyssa, where do you see MSU Safe Place going next with this work? Just continuing the partnership like Jeff said, or is there anything bigger or more expansive that you're looking to do?

Alyssa Baumann

I definitely see us being involved in whatever the next iteration or iterations of this project are. There's definite value in the partnerships that we've had and also in the connections we've had with the other domestic violence service agencies and other service providers in our community and kind of partnering with them to make sure we're reaching as many survivors as we can, and offering them, you know, as many opportunities and as many resources as we're able to do.

Holly Fearing

(44:46): And Adrienne, can you tell us about where the research goes from here and maybe a little bit about how other credit unions might be able to get started in this work if they're interested?

Adrienne Adams

(44:55): Sure, yeah. A main change that was made since the second iteration of the program going into the third is that it's now administered by the Michigan Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and by that, I mean, they're acting as a central body for administering or operating the program and supporting the survivors who receive a loan. So what we're looking to do in testing the effectiveness of the key changes that are being made is give at least 10 more loans and continue to track who's getting a loan, what it's being used for looking at their experiences with repayment, how successful folks are at repayment, and then if they are, where are they able to be successful? And when they're not, why not, and identify additional things that may need to be put in place to continue to bolster the program. And then also continuing to track the effects on people's lives, who received the loan. That's one of the key things that we want to pay attention to is what does this mean for people? Is it having effects on their lives in the way that we all hope and intend it to? And so that's kind of the broad strokes of where the research is going to go. There's some bigger picture questions also that we want to be able to answer around, for example, the sustainability of the program. You know, as Jeff said, what does a sustainable program look like? What are the elements of that? And how do we know what's going to work and what's not going to work and not only in our communities, but in other communities as well. As far as what other credit unions could do, I think you mentioned this earlier, finding ways to partner with the domestic violence service organizations in your community is a place to start. And I don't know if that means DV organizations reaching out to the credit unions or vice versa, but just finding ways to make that bridge and coming together to talk about the needs of people in their respective communities and what they could do together to support the people in the communities that the DV organizations are serving and that the credit unions are serving that maybe they don't realize that they're serving. Right? Because I think in all communities, there are people who are receiving services in all kinds of settings who are experiencing domestic violence and people are not aware of it. So I think just finding a way to come together and have those conversations is a place to start.

Holly Fearing

(47:08): Yeah and this podcast is actually one of those. So if any of our listeners has made it this far, they've already done that recommendation. And I know Filene will be involved as the research continues and we will be putting this resource out on our website and we're always available for credit unions that want to learn more and we can connect you to MSUFCU and we can connect you to Adrienne and other support organizations that have gone through this first, so that you can capitalize on the past learnings and, you know, navigate for a more successful effort in a partnership like this. So that's a really great resource for everyone out there. Before we let you all go, I just wanted to ask if there was anything that we didn't cover that you feel like would be important for our credit union listeners to know, or if there's anything else that you would want to mention before we sign off?

Jeff Jackson

This is Jeff, I would just say, there's a ton of people out there that want to do good. Be it from the credit union perspective, any organization and I think when you get people identifying an area where things can get better and you challenge that group of individuals, I think good things happen. So I'll always be thankful for Adrienne, for reaching out to us and kind of, bringing this issue to the credit unions attention and specifically to my attention. So I think it's positive.

Holly Fearing

(48:43): That's great. Thank you for sharing that Jeff.

Adrienne Adams

The thing that I would add is, as we're looking ahead to the third iteration of this program, and we're all very excited and hopeful for what is to come. I think we have some really strong changes that have been identified and are being actively put into place to both of the program in a way that we're able to better support survivors in repayment and have folks who are more successful in being able to pay the loan and see the effects on their lives that we are intending for them through this program. So we're all pretty hopeful looking ahead.

Alyssa Baumann

(49:15): And I think I would just add, you know, when embarking on this type of endeavor, just to see it kind of as a journey that there things you might think you know, that you find out something different as you go along the way, or, you know, things you learn and things you can improve upon and changes that can be made. So it's definitely more of a journey than just, you know, check things off a list and be done with it. And I think that this project is better because of all of the people and all of the input that has gone into the project. You know, everybody's been really thoughtful about, you know, when there are changes being made or when there are improvements, or when things need to be switched up. So I think all of that work and collaboration has really come to create a product that's a lot more valuable, and that has a lot of community input.

Holly Fearing

(50:01): I want to thank all of you so much for sharing your stories and your insights and your knowledge with us today. I know this topic isn't always easy to talk about and you know, the work that you're doing is life changing. It is literally life changing and this program really gives hope to people and it gives a strategy for that hope. And so I just want to say thank you for the work that doing and for sharing your stories with us today.

Adrienne Adams

You're welcome, thank you.

Jeff Jackson

Happy to.

Alyssa Baumann

Thank you.

Holly Fearing

(50:36): All right, that's it for the Fill-In folks. Thanks again for listening. This episode of the podcast is endorsed by our research team to give Filene members and listeners an opportunity to dive deeper into our latest report on the Domestic Violence Recovery Loan Program. Taylor, Katie, and I want to, once again, thank Adrienne, Alyssa and Jeff for sharing all that they did with us. I hope you've been inspired to bring this program or one like it to your credit union, to deepen your support of your community, and more purposely live your credit union mission. If you like this episode, please do rate us on Apple Podcasts so more people can find us and make sure you're subscribed to the Filene Fill-In podcast so you can keep up with what's going on at Filene. You'll find us on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, SoundCloud, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you want to get in touch about today's show, email me at [email protected] or find us on Twitter at @FileneResearch. Until next time, thanks everyone.