Denver program’s financial coaching helped thousands stay afloat during pandemic
The Denver Office of Financial Empowerment & Protection (OFEP) helped thousands of city residents better weather the pandemic financially, bolstering the argument for the state creating a similar office to educate and assist consumers, argues a new study from CoPIRG.
The consumer advocacy group released numbers Thursday showing the OFEP, which got its start in 2013 in the aftermath of the last recession, helped Denver residents reduce $1.4 million in debt, boost savings by $227,000, avoid $826,000 in tax preparation fees and improve their credit scores an average of 43 points last year.
“They have a very important combination of strategies” that help consumers achieve financial stability, said Danny Katz, executive director of CoPIRG. “The Denver OFEP was doing good work before the pandemic and that work has continued during the pandemic, helping thousands of people.”
The office combines financial coaching, consumer financial protection, and assistance navigating government and nonprofit resources, along with other services. Key goals include helping consumers get a better handle on their debts, establish emergency savings and eventually achieve homeownership.
Jay Salas, director of the OFEP, said on a news call Thursday that prior clients reported having greater financial resiliency through the pandemic, reflecting the coaching they had received in better times. In short, they had built their own safety nets.
“We didn’t know that a pandemic would throw them into a tailspin,” he said. “It helped them through the ebbs and flows of the economy.”
Many people struggled with the long delays in obtaining unemployment benefits from the state last year. Counselors helped some negotiate with lenders and landlords, who typically provided concessions, said Mariette Candelon, a personal finance coach with the OFEP.
Food banks were an especially important backstop for households unable to afford to put food on the table, she said. And when there weren’t other options, the office provided $1,500 grants for emergency assistance.
“Our clients are so determined. They have so many strengths and skills. I’m impressed by what they can accomplish,” she said.
Salas said the longer-term goal of the office is to replace the narrative of intergenerational poverty with one of intergenerational wealth creation. A key to that is getting renters on the path to owning a home, a task Denver’s surging home prices have made more difficult.
Denver can’t build enough affordable housing to meet demand, he said. More needs to be done to help residents achieve a wage that allows them to afford the market rate.
Katz said Denver’s success offers a strong argument for creating a statewide Office of Financial Empowerment, which Senate Bill 21-148 seeks to do. That statewide program, as proposed, would be under the Colorado Attorney General.
Denver residents interested in receiving OFEP coaching and assistance can call 720-944-2498 or send an email to [email protected]
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