Louisianans seek end to cycle of financial failure

Stretching to northeast Louisiana through central parts of the state then southwest and into the capitol region, the steady grip of poverty is the primary concern of Louisiana’s working residents and youth. During a series of listening sessions conducted statewide residents told partners with the  Louisiana Building Economic Security Together, or LABEST,

coalition that policies on housing, education, small business lending, child support arrears, predatory lending, and electoral processes are prohibiting citizens from accessing or maintaining personal income and wealth.

“We are literary in a cycle of failure,” one New Orleans resident said during a November session held with the Lower Ninth Ward NENA association. Nearly everyone in the room nodded, clapped quietly or said “yeah” in agreement. Facilitators of small group discussions challenged them to vet out solutions. They identified a dozen, but the most critical, they agreed, was to have a unified community organization representing various neighborhood associations that could be vocal in addressing elected officials. They said they needed advocacy training and realistic strategies to help the community rebuild schools, attract working people, and open business that will bring good paying jobs. 

Financial literacy and small business sustainability were concerns of residents in southwest and the capital region who met with the  SWLA Economic Development Alliance in Lake Charles and Southern University Center for Rural and Small Business Development Center in Opelousas, respectively. Entrepreneurs spoke up against lenders’ policies that they said seem to allow for discrimination and resistance to their growth. Home owners said the lack of financial literacy makes it difficult to keep their homes out of foreclosures, while workers said it’s difficult to manage bills without falling into the clutch of predatory lenders. Working fathers  were most vocal about the impact of arrears and mounting child support fees  on their ability to parent and stay ahead of the debt. 

Youth and young adults in northeast Louisiana met with The Wellspring in Monroe. They spoke up, questioning the financial state of their schools and it’s impact on preparing them to be successful students. “How can we be better if no one’s teaching us better?” a high school student asked. “Before today, we didn’t know about credit and savings (accounts). Our parents don’t know this.” They agreed that the region’s extreme poverty and high teen pregnancy rates were the results of

education policies that allowed poor performance and social service policies that once helped young mothers stay in school.

“We have the voice,” said a Pointe Coupee resident. “And we believe the advocacy work with LABEST will help us get our leaders attention and change some things.”

For LABEST organizers and regional partners, that is the goal. 

“We will use what we have heard to galvanize advocates, policy makers, nonprofits, and community leaders;  to engage; educate; and empower them. Everyone needs to be civically engaged,” said LABEST state director Joyce James. “The sessions were about answering  the questions and hearing the concerns, as to how can citizens make a change to the policies  and practices that prevent us from increasing wealth.”

LABEST is a collaboration of grass roots, non-profit, and advocacy organizations, policy makers, and community leaders who have the common goal of helping Louisiana residents achieve financial independence. To do so members of LABEST identify policies, promote advocacy awareness, and empower constituents to build economic security over a lifetime. Similar sessions are hosted throughout the nation. Online:www.la-best.org and on twitter @laBESTcoalition

By Candace J Semien
Jozef Syndicate reporter
Follow @jozefsyndicate

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