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Arkansas Career Pathways Initiative (ACPI)
Southern piloted the first career pathways program in partnership with Southeast Arkansas College and the Arkansas Association of Two-Year Colleges. The pilot represented a new model for delivering post secondary training to low income adults by providing intensive student counseling and support services. Subsequently, Southern, in partnership with the Governor’s Office, helped lead Arkansas’ participation in a National Governors Association policy academy which eventually provided state funding to replicate career pathways programs at every two-year college in Arkansas. ACPI is now a $12 million per year initiative of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education with 25 colleges participating.
The Aspiring Scholars Matching Grant Program (ASMG)
Based on a proposal from Southern, the Arkansas General Assembly authorized creation of ASMG to provide an incentive for lower income Arkansans to save for their children’s college education using the state’s 529 college saving plan, known as the GIFT Plan. ASMG provides a state-funded match, up to $500 per year, to the savings lower-income families deposit into a GIFT Plan account. GIFT Plan accounts can be used to pay for qualified college expenses and investment earnings are not subject to federal or state income taxes.
Learn more about the Aspiring Scholars program
Individual Development Accounts (IDAs)
Southern has led the efforts to create and expand the state’s IDA program. IDAs are matched savings accounts for lower income families to save to buy a home, make improvements to their home, pay for postsecondary education, or start a business. Southern led efforts to create the program and increase state funding for it from $550,000 to $1.84 million a year, including Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) resources. Including tax credit dollars, IDA funding is now over $2 million annually.
Need-based Financial Aid for Adult Students
Southern in collaboration with key higher education policymakers helped increase funding for the Arkansas Workforce Improvement Grant program from $500,000 a year to $3.71 million a year. The program provides scholarships to working adults who are at least 24 years old, are enrolled at least 3 credit hours, and demonstrate financial need. See the Arkansas Department of Higher Education for more information.
Minimum Wage Increase
Southern helped lead Give Arkansas A Rai$e Now, a coalition of faith, community and nonprofit organizations that successfully advocated for an increase in the state minimum wage to $6.25 an hour effective October 1, 2006—the first increase in the minimum wage in nine years. Arkansas was the first state in the South to legislatively increase the minimum wage to a level higher than the federal minimum wage. Arkansas’ minimum wage remained higher than the federal minimum wage until July 24, 2008, when the federal wage increased from $5.85 an hour to $6.55 an hour.
Southern is a founding member of Arkansans Against Abusive Payday Lending (AAAPL), the coalition that has led the successful efforts to build public awareness of and eventually eliminate abusive payday lending practices in Arkansas. On March 18, 2008, Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel ordered payday lenders licensed and regulated in Arkansas to cease operations based on two Arkansas Supreme Court rulings which indicated payday lending violates the Arkansas Constitution’s cap of 17 percent annual percentage rate on consumer loans. Today there are no payday lenders operating in Arkansas. www.StopPaydayPredators.org
Refund Anticipation Loan Regulations
Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs) are short-term, high-cost cash advances against a consumer’s anticipated income tax refund. Southern helped support passage of a new state law requiring detailed oral and written disclosure requirements for providers of RALs. The law also prohibits RAL providers from charging fees other than those associated with the bank offering the loan, unless the same fee in the same amount is charged to all customers, regardless of whether they are taking out a RAL. The National Consumer Law Center in an April 2010 report judged Arkansas’ law one of the nation’s strongest state laws governing RALs.
Housing Trust Fund
Southern is a founding member of Housing Arkansans, a coalition of diverse affordable housing practitioners and stakeholders that have successfully advocated for the creation of a state housing trust fund program to support a wide range of affordable housing development activities. The coalition collectively designed a trust fund program for the state which served as the basis for legislation that was passed to create an Arkansas Housing Trust Fund. The coalition is now focusing on building public and policymaker support to establish an ongoing, dedicated revenue source for the new trust fund program. www.housingarkansas.org