Here’s how the Hartford Public Library and its partners plan to help the city’s most vulnerable populations

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Payday loans, pawn shops, check cashing services, and other services that come with high costs, interest, and fees often lead to the paradox that being poor is expensive.

Those living in poverty or near the poverty line often have no or insufficient bank accounts, which can leave them vulnerable to other scams that perpetuate the spiral of poverty.

A new program — which partners with the Hartford Public Library, Liberty Bank, the Connecticut Association for Human Services and the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund — is targeting one of the most financially vulnerable populations by improving banking opportunities for the immigrant and City’s refugee community expanded.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, Library President Bridget E. Quinn and Liberty Bank Vice President of Community Development Glenn Davis were present at the Hartford Public Library on Friday to announce that the Library has received a $487,000 federal grant to support funding and teach financial literacy in the immigrant community with the Building Social Capital: An Inclusive Approach to Immigrant Financial Immigration program.

The program will help people in the immigrant and refugee community navigate the world of financial institutions, which can be daunting for anyone.

“Immigrants may also have other specific challenges, such as tools,” Quinn said. “We are beginning something new that we hope will help communities across the country serve this population and strengthen our economy through the work and access of this population to these financial service tools.”

Blumenthal, who helped secure the grant along with U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, said the grant is a community investment, not a cost. He also noted the important work the library does in the community.

“America has always been the land of opportunity, equal access to advancement,” Blumenthal said. “That’s why people came to America over the centuries. Libraries are a symbolic and practical sign of America, the land of opportunity. … Libraries were community centers, a source of learning and self-expression.”

He noted that his father immigrated to the United States in the 1930s at the age of 17. Back then, Blumenthal said, the banking system was much easier to navigate.

“Today, people need a lot more education, not only to take advantage of opportunities … but also to avoid scams: payday loans, pawn shops, all kinds of promotions and offers on the internet,” Blumenthal said. “Complicated stuff at the end of the day, deceptive and misleading. Financial literacy has become a way of seizing opportunities but also protecting against some of the scams that exist. …Financial savvy is essential in today’s world to seize opportunities and avoid the pitfalls of scams and scammers. In a very difficult economic time, to ensure that consumer purchasing power keeps pace with potentially rising prices.”

According to a press release, participants in the program agree to deposit $50 a month into a savings account at Liberty Bank for five months. The account is managed by the library. If the participant reaches the $250 goal, the money will be transferred to an individual account in their name and they will receive the corresponding $250, the press release said. Participants can then cancel the account. However, if they keep a $250 credit for five more months, they will receive an additional $250 from library donor funds, the press release said.

Participants will meet every two weeks for three hours for financial education and other networking opportunities over the five months.

The program is available to people who have lived in the country for less than 10 years.

Bronin said the matching aspect of the program is “a powerful thing.”

“That helps counteract the fact that so many residents in our community and in our country in our country are unbanked,” Bronin said. “About a quarter of Americans are unbanked. You can imagine that in a community where there is a concentration of poverty and in a community where there is a large proportion of immigrants, the percentage is much larger. To take this opportunity to connect our residents to banks, financial institutions and savings accounts and to provide the educational component of that is really, really powerful.”

American Place at Hartford Public Library proposed and will administer the program, which is expected to start in the spring, Quinn said.

“This is a really critical program,” said Quinn. “We are really looking forward to this program.”

YMCA of Greater Hartford Receives $500,000 Grant

The Greater Hartford YMCA also received a $500,000 grant for improvements and upgrades at its Albany Avenue location, officials announced Thursday.

Lt. gov. Susan Bysiewicz, House Speaker Matt Ritter and State Assemblyman Ed Vargas promoted the grant, which came from the State Bonding Commission.

“The programs and services that our state’s local YMCAs provide are critical to the positive development of our younger generation,” Bysiewicz said in a press release. “Children can interact and have fun with their friends, learn social-emotional skills and coping mechanisms through practice and play, while also being exposed to different and exciting possibilities.”

Ritter and Vargas also noted the importance of the YMCA.

“We all recognize that the Y is a center for family and youth enrichment programs — the programs are vital to our community,” said Ritter.

“Summer enrichment programs are invaluable for the overall development of youth by providing them with opportunities and options to learn, grow and improve problem-solving and social interaction skills that are critical to success,” added Vargas. “I applaud the fine work of the YMCA, which has been a cornerstone of our community for generations and has impacted so many lives in a positive way.”

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