As the nation’s low-income households navigate tough economic times, a national program is helping them acquire vehicles to get to work and become financially independent in the process.
Ways to Work, a Milwaukee, Wis.-based program already at work in a score of U.S. cities, was officially unveiled in D.C. April 10 through a partnership with Family Matters of Greater Washington, a local, nonprofit social services organization.
Those seeking Ways to Work’s low-interest loans to buy a used car, must first participate in financial literacy classes. The course work stresses the importance of a good credit rating, shows them how to repair bad credit and forces them to set realistic financial goals, including setting a family budget.
The program also steers participants through the thicket of loan application and car selection—only at selected dealers—as well as making sure that the vehicle clear inspection and is properly insured. Locally, the program will be available to residents of Wards 1, 5, 6, 7, 8 and Prince Georges County communities where household income is less than 80 percent of local median income. Participation is limited to residents who have at least six-month tenure on their jobs, have a distressed credit history and can demonstrate the cash flow needed to repay a car loan.
Launched in 1984, the program was introduced to help combat predatory lending practices and help qualified individuals who are forced to use public transportation, where the crime rate remains stubbornly high.
“Before Ways to Work, I spent almost twice the monthly payment of a car loan on monthly Metro bus and rail and taxi costs just to go to and from work and to attend church and get to the grocery store on the weekends,” Dana Wright, D.C. resident and program participant, said in a statement. “Ways to Work was the only program available to me that not only allowed me to get a car and manage my daily commute, but also helped me restore my credit and manage the financial needs of my family.”
A recent study conducted by the Brookings Institution found that only one-quarter of low-income jobs in the nation’s metropolitan areas are accessible by public transportation. The report also found that workers in low-income urban communities across the country can access only about 22 percent of metropolitan jobs in low- and middle-skill industries.
“With as many as one in six American families living in poverty and the ranks of the underemployed growing every day, families are fighting to hold onto their jobs and maintain their quality of life,” Tonya Smallwood Jackson, chief executive officer of Family Matters of Greater Washington said in statement. “Ways to Work provides access to affordable loans for reliable transportation that can help them keep their jobs and provide a stable home for their families.”
Ways to Work currently has more than 50 offices in 22 states and has helped more than 32,000 families access more than $63 million in affordable loans. Through courses on credit repair and financial education, many participants make dramatic financial turnarounds.
A recent evaluation of the program found that more than half of the participants increased their income and 94 percent saw job advancement. Additionally, many borrowers increased their credit scores and were able to move away from government assistance programs.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray applauded Family Matters for bringing Ways to Work to D.C… “Child care, jobs, groceries, medical appointments and so many other everyday tasks are often out of reach for families without a car,” Gray said. “By linking District residents with access to reliable transportation, it’s much more likely they’ll access higher paying jobs, better health care and child care. All of these outcomes lead to stronger families and stronger communities.”