On behalf of Woodstock Institute staff and our board of directors, I want to wish you Happy Holidays and thank you for your support over the last year. We had many accomplishments, but I’ll highlight just a few of them:
- We expanded retirement security for millions of Illinois workers. With allies including the Illinois Asset Building Group (IABG) and strong champions in Sen. Daniel Biss and Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, and after many years of effort, we passed the Illinois Secure Choice Savings bill out of the Illinois General Assembly and Governor Quinn is expected to sign it into law in early January. Illinois is the first state to require most employers that don’t offer retirement savings options to automatically enroll employees and forward payroll deductions into a Roth Individual Retirement Account (IRA). Policymakers relied on our 2012 Coming Up Short report, which documents the scope of retirement insecurity for 2.5 million private-sector workers in Illinois.
- We achieved a number of victories that protect consumers from the dangers of high-cost credit. With Reinvestment Partners, New Economy Project, and California Reinvestment Coalition, and other consumer advocates, we got five of six banks out of offering deposit advance products (bank payday loans) through advocacy and enforcement of strong OCC and FDIC rules, successfully urged the Department of Defense to strengthen its Military Lending Act rules to protect service members and their dependents from predatory lending, published the How Banks Sell Overdraft report documenting how banks mislead consumers about their options to enroll in overdraft, and weighed in with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on a variety of issues, including the long-awaited proposed rules on prepaid cards, which will provide the first-ever consumer protections for a wide range of prepaid products and services. CFPB also began implementation of strong new rules on mortgage loans and servicing, designed to avoid another foreclosure crisis.
- We helped protect Illinois workers from excessive payroll card fees that drain their wages. With allies in IABG and strong leadership from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, we passed a strong state payroll card protection law that will help Illinois workers keep more of their hard-earned wages.
- We helped guide the effort to promote recovery from the foreclosure crisis. We documented the extent and impact of “zombie properties” in Cook County in our Unresolved Foreclosures: Patterns of Zombie Properties in Cook County report; convened the Regional Housing Partnership (RHP); and, with RHP partners, hosted a successful forum attended by over 110 regional stakeholders in October at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago on developing a pipeline of homebuyers, helping struggling homeowners and renters, and returning vacant homes to productive use.
- We promoted equal access to credit for business owners. We published a report, Dis-Credited: Disparate Access to Credit for Businesses in the Chicago Six County Region, on disparities in access to small loans to business in communities of color and received wide media coverage. We also collaborated with the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) on its white paper on small business loan data and advocated with the CFPB to adopt strong rules for collection and dissemination of small business data. We continued our tradition of bringing the largest state delegation to the NCRC conference and Capitol Hill.
- We influenced the national regulatory debate. We served on the CFPB Consumer Advisory Board (CAB), chaired its Card, Payment & Deposit Markets Committee in 2014, hosted a fascinating discussion on mobile payments with renowned behavioral economist Dan Ariely, and presented the Committee report and recommendations at the September CAB meeting in Washington, D.C.
- We expanded the range of our online data services to meet the needs of a variety of data users. We upgraded our website to add mapping capability, launched a compendium of datasets from Woodstock and the former Metro Chicago Information Center, and provided hundreds of hours of technical assistance to community-based organizations and policymakers.
This year we also celebrated some staff milestones, including the births of Courtney’s son Colin and Michael’s daughter Edith, Katie’s marriage, and new hire Julianna Nunez’s engagement. With all that going on, it’s a good thing we adopted and implemented a new parental leave policy!
Looking ahead to 2015, we will soon publish reports documenting the impacts of student loan debt, auto title lending, and more. We plan to solidify and expand our community partnerships and bring additional focus and energy to worker economic security issues. We look forward to working with you to advance economic security and community prosperity for low-wealth people and communities of color.