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Saving as a Way Out of Poverty?

September 30, 2009

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - It's like the proverb about teaching a man to fish, instead of giving him a fish to feed him for a day. A faith-based initiative and a network of domestic violence prevention advocates have an idea they believe will help some West Virginians save their way out of poverty.

For those who meet income requirements, special Individual Development Accounts will match their savings three-to-one, as long as they spend one year putting away a monthly sum of at least $25 for a specific goal: education, starting a business, buying a home.

It is an expansion of a program already in place in the Kanawha Valley that has been successful in other states. Michelle Foster, director of the Kanawha Institute for Social Research and Action (KISRA), says the object is to give people long-term habits that can help change lives.

"Regular savings, financial literacy, learning about purchasing an asset - that experience will help to break the cycle of poverty."

So far, she adds, one-half million dollars has been raised though a federal grant, matched by private and corporate funds.

Some of the expanded IDA program funds will be used to help victims of domestic violence. According to Felicia Bush, director of Charleston's "YWCA Resolve" program, domestic violence victims are often kept financially powerless, even when they are the breadwinners in an abusive household.

"You were the provider, but you couldn't control your own funding. The abuser had control of your credit, had control of your bank account - so that you're never part of the budgeting process or the financial planning for the family."

Bush says organizers, including the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, are excited about the three-to-one reward as an effective way to teach empowerment as well as financial independence. More information is available online at www.kisra.org; click the "Programs" tab, and then "IDA Programs."

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV