Financial Literacy for Everyone: Florida’s My Money Program

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Individuals with disabilities make up approximately 12.9 percent of Florida’s population; 9.9 percent of working aged individuals in the United States (18-64 years old) have a disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Yet, individuals with disabilities experience significant disparities in employment and participation in the workforce, per the American Institutes for Research. In Florida, 18.2 percent of individuals with disabilities are employed, while those without a disability are employed at a rate of 60.5 percent (U.S. Census Bureau). The National Disability Institute shares that many individuals with disabilities would like to find employment, but are concerned that it could impact their disability and medical benefits.

At the Florida Department of Financial Services, we wanted to find a way to help bridge this gap. We gathered together with other organizations and asked, “What can we do to ensure Floridians of all abilities have an opportunity to achieve financial independence?” In 2016, this group of individuals and organizations helped develop and then encourage legislation that included a financial literacy program to be delivered by the Department of Financial Services, a comprehensive curriculum geared towards teaching the A to Z of personal financial management specifically for individuals with developmental disabilities.

The financial literacy program also carried a stipulation for Qualified Public Depositories, or QPDs. Most banks in Florida are Qualified Public Depositories. The requirement stated that all QPDs in Florida must link to the program on their websites, and any branch that serves the public directly must also have brochures available upon request.

We had some very specific goals for this program. We wanted to build a program that would teach individuals with developmental disabilities important financial skills, and we wanted this information to be presented in an effective way that would actually have an impact on individuals’ lives. We wanted it to be a program that would provide information and empower individuals to be able to take on more responsibility with their money, to make sound financial decisions and to provide resources for their families, caregivers and support providers. We also wanted to ensure that we received guidance from organizations and stakeholders who serve individuals with developmental disabilities. We developed a workgroup of representatives from state agencies, non-profits, community based care organizations and more who ensured the language and format were the most appropriate for the audience.

We also wanted to make the information accessible to anyone. We knew our user base would have a broad range of abilities, so we looked for ways to serve each need. We determined we needed to make the program self-paced, to provide closed captioning, to develop an intuitive user interface, and to use language that was simple and straightforward.

Finally, we wanted the program to be accessible from anywhere a person had an internet connection, so we determined we would need to use software that was responsive to the device its viewed on such as a desktop, laptop, smart phone, tablet or another internet-connected device.

The program that resulted from these partnerships and the passing of Florida’s House Bill 7003 (2016) is My Money. My Money is a three-step, interactive, video-based program containing information from very basic to more complex financial matters. Step 1 covers money basics, such as the value of money, the difference between needs and wants, what a bank is and does, and being safe with money. Step 2 covers what banks can offer individuals, what to look for in a financial institution, different sources of income and types of expenses, how to make a spending plan, and debt. Step 3 covers some of the more complex issues, like government benefits, employment, and saving and investing. Step 3 also includes the resource clearinghouse, a collection of materials and programs that can be useful to individuals who have a developmental disability.

The website also includes two videos that can help parents, guardians and support providers teach the information and find resources for themselves and their loved one with a developmental disability. The first video has educational materials that correspond with the lesson found in the “Me” section of the My Money Program. It also has tips on teaching money management skills and tools to support the teaching process.

The second video provides information on a variety of agencies, organizations and programs that are available to individuals with developmental disabilities at the federal and state level. Specifically, it explores avenues for finding employment assistance, ABLE accounts and other investment options, and information on organizations or agencies that can help family members, guardians and support providers find a variety of services across the state of Florida, including assistive technology, educational support, legal representation and more.

While many individuals receive financial assistance from the government, there are far fewer resources that provide educational assistance targeted toward individuals with developmental disabilities on a statewide level. My Money empowers individuals to make smart financial decisions using the monetary resources at their disposal, whether from work-related income or other sources. It also offers a central location where individuals with developmental disabilities and their families, caregivers and support providers can find many resources in one place and descriptions of how those resources can help them.

The acceptance and use of this program so far has been phenomenal. QPDs are sharing our program, and many have reached out to be sure their links and program information are placed in a location that will reach the most individuals. Additionally, though credit unions are not QPDs and are not required to share information on the program, we have partnered with the League of Southeastern Credit Unions to be sure that all the credit unions in the state are aware of the program and have the materials to share if they want them.

My Money is also being used as part of the Arc of Florida’s partnership with Vocational Rehabilitation to host job trainings across the state. At these workshops, the Arc presents a portion of My Money to participants and provides individuals and their caretakers, family and support providers with brochures to continue the learning process at home.

While we thought the answer to our original question, “What can we do to ensure Floridians of all abilities have an opportunity to achieve financial independence?” would be complicated, in truth, it’s proven to be quite simple. We can provide the necessary resources for individuals to learn about money on their own. We can provide resources for families and support providers to be able to assist individuals with developmental disabilities take on more financial responsibility. And, we can bring together a list of the great products and services that are available in one central location so that individuals and their families know where to look if and when their needs change. In this way, we can help make financial literacy more accessible to everyone.

This article was provided by the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Consumer Services, which oversees the financial education initiatives. For more information on My Money and the Division’s other financial education programs, visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com/Division/Consumers/FinancialLiteracy.htm.