A Report from the Desk of the Vice Chairman, John Hope Bryant
January 22nd, 2008, for me was a dream come true. After years of advocating on behalf of the poor and the under-served, encouraging the President of the United States to act, on behalf of all Americans, the President called a first ever White House meeting on the state of financial literacy in America on April 25th, 2007, in the Roosevelt Room. The first ever meeting was hosted by the President and included U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson and U.S. Treasurer Anna Cabral. Then top aide Karl Rove also sat at the round table, and White House staff sat against every wall of the Roosevelt Room. My point is that it was a serious meeting, with serious people. Part of that "serious people" group included my colleagues in the fight for financial literacy and silver rights in America, including my friend Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, President and CEO of the Charles Schwab Foundation and a leading expert in financial literacy for youth and adults. Others present included David Mancl of the State of Wisconsin and Jump$tart Coalition, Ted Beck of NEFE , Rev. Dr. Robert Lee of Fresh Ministries, David Chernow, then President and CEO of Junior Achievement Worldwide, and Harriett May, President and CEO of Government Employees Credit Union. At the conclusion of this more than one hour meeting the President asked Treasury Secretary Paulson to review our ideas and to return with recommendations of "what the government could do."
Less than a year later, on January 22nd, 2008, President Bush signed an Executive Order establishing the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Literacy, and in so doing he established financial literacy as the official policy of the federal government. I repeat, the policy of the federal government. Significant and historic.
In a brilliant move the President asked financial guru Charles Schwab, chairman and CEO of Charles Schwab & Co, to serve as Chairman of the President's Council, appointing 19 members from across the nation to serve as distinguished Members of the President's Council. I was asked by the President to serve as Vice Chairman, serving with and under Mr. Charles Schwab, and I was honored to accept. The Members of the President's Council will serve two sitting U.S. presidents before now and 2010. Dan Iannicola, the Deputy Assistant Secretary and Director of the Office of Financial Education at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, serves as the executive director of the President's Council and the incredibly talented and hard working staff at the Treasury Office of Financial Education serves as a valuable backbone for the President's Council work.
The 2008 State of the Union Address
Within a week of the President signing the Executive Order, the President again cited the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Literacy as a central component of the nation's economic priorities in the 2008 State of the Union Address, which can be accessed by you at http://www.whitehouse.gov/stateoftheunion/2008/initiatives/economy.html.
Getting to work
I am happy to report that the President's Council wasted little time getting to work, as it called its first public meeting under the leadership of Chairman Charles Schwab on February 13, 2008, held in the Cash Room of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The meeting was filled to capacity with interested individuals, from all walks of life, filling every seat. At this first meeting we took immediate action on five important initiatives which the Treasury Office of Financial Education had done significant work on preparing for our consideration in short time. The five approved initiatives were:
- MoneyMath, our Treasury and President's Council approved middle school curriculum.
- A high school awards program for seniors who excel in financial literacy.
- An unbanked initiative which will be rolled out in 7 U.S. cities.
- An honor roll program for employers who agree to teach their employees financial literacy.
- The first national research on the true state of financial literacy amongst all Americans.
Within two weeks of our first public meeting the President's Council publicly announced the rollout of MoneyMath, under the leadership of President's Council Members Laura Levine of Jump$tart Coalition and Dr. Robert Duvall of NCEE, and with help from Deputy Assistant Secretary Dan Iannicola and Citi, which has agreed to underwrite the costs of the initial printing of the MoneyMath Curriculum.
Soon, Chairman Schwab and I will embark upon an outreach initiative to get as many middle schools and school superintendents as we can across America to agree to incorporate MoneyMath into their learning plans over the next 2-years.
Financial Literacy Corps
On the heels of MoneyMath came an initiative that I was and remain particularly passionate about, namely the creation of a domestic Peace Corps for financial literacy volunteerism, or what I call a Financial Literacy Corps. In short order, I was encouraged to see the White House Office of USA Freedom Corps take up this challenge and within two weeks, we saw the White House announce USA Freedom Corps' Financial Literacy Volunteerism Initiative, available today at www.volunteer.gov. And, while I applaud their efforts as Vice Chairman at this time, it is my objective to place this initiative before the full President's Council during our next public meeting in hopes that they will adopt it as our own, establishing the President's Council Financial Literacy Corps. That said, no matter where it sits, it is available to every American who wants to help make America "money smart" today.
Simply log on to www.volunteer.gov and you can sign up to become a volunteer, right in your own zip code specific neighborhood, for (1) children in schools or non profits, such as Operation HOPE's Banking on Our Future and Junior Achievement, or (2) to teach adults financial literacy, which is Chairman Schwab's individual passion, or (3) if you have expertise in mortgage or credit, agree to counsel your fellow American dealing with the growing subprime mortgage crisis.
My goal here is to recruit, train and field 25,000 volunteers across America, to serve as financial literacy educators and to double as invaluable mentors too, showing the kids I care about that "they can do or be anything they choose." I want these kids to see you, in that classroom, and after an hour session to say to themselves, and ultimately to proclaim out load, &q uot;I can be YOU!" That's breaking the back of poverty, by giving young people a sense that they are indeed somebody, and a positive role model to show them the way. Can you give me one hour a month, or 12 hours a year, to change the lives of others? I think so. Go to www.volunteer.gov and sign up to be a Financial Literacy Volunteer in April, during Financial Literacy Month, and Operation HOPE, Junior Achievement and others will do our job by populating the site with area specific volunteer opportunities. Spread the word.
A Financial Literacy Town Hall in South Los Angeles
Taking the message of financial literacy empowerment to the local level, I was proud to join HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson, as we focused on the housing crisis and its connection to financial literacy, for a town hall meeting in South Los Angeles on March 5th, 2008, at our Baldwin Hills-South Los Angeles HOPE Center, and later at West Angeles Church of God in Christ. Secretary Jackson and I were joined by my friend Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who echoed his support for financial literacy education, and his desire to make sure that Los Angeles, my home city, is a leader here.
Financial Literacy and the Subprime Mortgage Crisis
The Operation HOPE sponsored Mortgage HOPE Crisis Hotline, announced in partnership with Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti and with the support of Mayor Villaraigosa, has taken in more than 14,000 calls since January 18th, 2008, from Los Angeles area homeowners alone. We were proud to announce on March 5th but one of our mortgage turn-around success stories; a family who we were able to restructure their 30 year loan from an 8% adjustable rate that had increased to 13%, back down to a 4.5% fixed rate, over 30 years. I remember telling my staff that I wanted one of THESE loans myself! My team did a good job for this family, and I am proud of them. In addition to the Mortgage HOPE Crisis Hotline, available to individuals across America in need at 877 592 HOPE , we are also encouraging individuals to contact our friends at HOPE NOW at 888 --- HOPE, who are also standing by to help individuals suffering under this mortgage crisis. We are all in this together, and unfortunately, there are more than enough problems to keep all of us busy.
A Financial Literacy Town Hall in Oakland, California
On March 6th, 2008, President's Council Chairman Charles Schwab, myself as Vice Chairman, and Member Don McGrath, Chairman of Bank of the West and a resident of Oakland, joined Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, California State Assemblyman and California Assembly Banking Chairman Ted Lieu, U.S. Treasurer Anna Cabral, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson for a first ever Financial Literacy Town Hall featuring a U.S. Treasury Secretary in the history of our great nation. Situated in a proud, low-wealth, high-pride, dignity-rich city where foreclosures are rampant, the town hall was standing room only and extremely well received by residents and leaders and media alike. I was also personally proud that the event was hosted by Bank of the West and our Council Member Don McGrath, at a joint Bank of the West-Operation HOPE branch which we call a HOPE Center, located in a low-wealth Oakland neighborhood.
This gathering, which included all races, socio-economic classes and varied political persuasions, proved to me that which I already instinctively knew, but it was nice to see underscored by others; that financial literacy, silver rights and economic empowerment is a non-partisan issue, deserving of bi-partisan support. And that is precisely why I was pleased to issue a statement supporting a recent Wall Street Journal Op-Ed co-wrote by former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, who stood together in unified voice to call for financial literacy, asset building and bank accounts for the poor. This is an American issue, and I applaud their vision in seeing it. Within a week of their joint Op-Ed they also announced their plans to launch a "Bank on California" to bring these and other financial services to the poor of the 5th largest economy in the world, California. As I like to say, "Ph.D's are good, but Ph.Do's" are better.
Secretary Paulson not only did a great job on this day and brought dignity to this issue, but he insisted on moderating the town hall session himself. If he handles the economy the same way he handled that town hall, hands on, then we all should feel good that we will get through these economically challenging times just fine.
As we wrapped up this great day we jointly presented a Presidential Volunteer Service Award to Gayliene Omary of Bank of America, who serves as an outstanding HOPE Corps volunteer in our Banking on Our Future Program and has given more than 20,000 hours of volunteer service time over the course of her life. Gayliene gives us all hope.
Later that evening, the three California appointees to the President's Council were honored to be hosted by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco Chairman Tim Chrisman for a reception featuring the President's Council agenda at San Francisco's magnificent and one-of-a-kind City Hall. U.S. Treasurer Anna Cabral and the Mayor gave moving keynote remarks that evening, each in their own way driving home the importance of financial literacy empowerment in our local communities and across the nation.
Already, I have met with people I respect and admire, and people who can help advance this agenda; from the mayors of Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco, to the director of the U.S. Office of Thrift Supervision, Director John Reich, whic h regulates all thrift and loan financial institutions across the nation, to the president of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank, President Lockhart, to FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair, who is simply brilliant and is working hard to help insure that responsible lending to the poor and the working class continues long after this mortgage crisis is over. I have vowed to work closely with Chairwoman Sheila Bair in this regard, starting with a conference she will be hosting in coming weeks. And in coming weeks I will be reaching out across America, engaging and meeting with leaders from government, community and the private sector; coming to a community near you.
The President's Council's mission is to help (1) increase financial literacy in our schools and in the workplace, (2) to help insure that individuals understand the financial agreements they enter into, (3) to increase access of the unbanked and underserved to mainstream financial services, (4) to help increase private/public partnerships, (5) to provide research, analysis and reporting on the state of financial literacy nationally, (6) and with respect to all of this, to advise the President of the United States and he Secretary of the Treasury on financial literacy policy, and helping to insure American economic competitiveness.
This we must do, …and you can help.
Look for more exciting results from the U.S. President's Council on Financial Literacy in the weeks and months to come.
To find out more about MoneyMath go to http://www.publicdebt.treas.gov/mar/marmoneymath.htm.
To find out more about the Financial Literacy Volunteer Initiative go to ttp://www.usafreedomcorps.gov/about_usafc/newsroom/announcements_dynamic.asp?ID=1798
To find out more about the U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Literacy go to http://www.treasury.gov/offices/domestic-finance/financial-institution/fin-education/council/index.shtml
Together, we can make a difference. Help us be the difference we want to see in the world.
Onward with HOPE,
John Hope Bryant
Chairman, Operation HOPRE
U.S. President's Advisory Council on Financial Literacy