#TrustPlusatWork: PerkUp President Benjamin Allen
Bringing cash assistance and personal finance coaching to New Orleans hospitality workers
TrustPlus spoke with PerkUp Financial Health president Benjamin Allen about bringing cash assistance and personal finance coaching to low-income hospitality workers in New Orleans. Ben suggests the industry may not rebound until 2022 and is working with public and private partners to support workers until tourism bounces back. Using an innovative technology platform, PerkUp offers free financial wellness tools and the chance to earn prizes by achieving financial education milestones, improving savings and credit behavior over time.
We together with TrustPlus went out to our philanthropic partners and through our own pockets came up with nearly a million dollars of charitable funds to distribute to employees in New Orleans, in the hospitality sector in a series of financial grants, $200 per month per individual for three months of $600 total, per furloughed, or laid-off employee. We began offering those financial grants last month in November, and we’ll be offering them to the same individuals in December and January. Hopefully we can pull together some more assistance for next year, as we continue to struggle with COVID here.
The companies that are participating in this program are large hospitality companies including Hyatt corporation, Hilton corporation, the largest restaurant group here in New Orleans. So they’ve been affected even more than a lot of other companies in sectors and other cities. And we don’t expect this sector to bounce back probably until 2022. I think if you look at the hospitality sector and other cities that have a large tourism base or foundation, it’s going to be the same. So we are looking at ways to continue to provide different types of programmatic assistance to furloughed workers all the way through next year.
Why is personal finance coaching important?
It’s even more important than usual because there are quite a few specific financial issues that have come up as a result of COVID that people don’t fully understand because it’s new. For this program, the coaching was just introduced last month. It’s being communicated to all the grant recipients that it’s available for free and more importantly it gives them some topics that they can call to ask about such as tax implications related to COVID assistance. What sort of tax implications will COVID assistance have for you next year, whether you’ve received additional unemployment benefits or financial grants or a variety of other things you may have received? So we’re trying to give individuals some specific topics that resonate so that they understand exactly why they should be talking to a financial coach and they are in the process now of scheduling those appointments.
What are you hoping to learn through this cash assistance plus personal finance coaching benefit?
We’re working with Duke Common Cents Lab and Washington University to determine the efficacy of what we’re doing. Every month there’s a survey that each recipient fills out to talk about how they’re using the assistance money. And they’re identifying essential categories where they are spending the money. And then we also at the macro level can track how the funds have been spent for those types of essentials not on an individual, but on a macro group level to determine how the assistance is actually being utilized.
We realized as part of the various services and products that we wanted to provide to employees that it takes a broad range of partners, and financial coaching was an important part of that mix. There is so much that can take place with the live one-on-one financial coaching that can’t be communicated in text or some type of video online. You need to be able to talk to somebody. So we were working with CFSI, which is now Financial Health Network, and they introduced us to several organizations that are providing financial coaching. We met with each one and we got to know sort of their culture and their approach. It was a little bit of the Goldilocks process. I tell Justine (Neighborhood Trust CEO), you know, every time I talk to her: I just love working with TrustPlus; it’s a perfect fit. We now know most of the professionals in each organization and we know each other personally now. It’s just been a really great partnership, and we’ve got a lot of exciting plans to go forward.
You’re creating innovative products to support low-income workers through the pandemic?
We aim to come up with innovative products for people who may be temporarily out of work, and temporarily maybe 12 months, but it could be a very low interest loan that has deferred debt service for six months or 12 months to give them a chance to actually get back into the workforce and be able to start repaying it. So those types of products are the things that we’re trying to pull together for next year, because we realized that we’re going to be working with some people who may not be back in the workforce for some period of time. But they will be, it just may not be next year.
I think when you look at the population we’re serving which is a lower income population, their needs, more so than other workers, are just not being addressed by the current banking system and financial services sector. So that’s why we wanted to go out and make sure that we could provide those things that they cannot get at a fair price in the open market. Because, right now those individuals more so than any other working group are being cheated on payday loans, they are incurring huge expenses and overdraft fees. They don’t know the best way to go about saving money for emergencies. The traditional banking sector just doesn’t provide support for them whatsoever. And so by working with credit unions and partners like TrustPlus we’re able to address some of the biggest areas where lower-income workers are spending in excess of what’s fair.
TrustPlus is now offering financial coaching services for free to small businesses and their workers, as well as providing critical resources to protect workers and families impacted financially by COVID-19. Learn more about our relief efforts. Text RELIEF to 646–349–5959 to sign up to speak with a coach today.