OFE is committed to our flagship programming – K2C, Bank On and Smart Money Coaching – but we also know that innovation is born from experimentation. OFE uses its policy, research and advocacy to highlight emerging issues and design and test new projects to support financial empowerment,inclusion and racial equity. OFE partners with other city departments to create, implement and evaluate innovative projects to strengthen economic security and mobility for vulnerable San Franciscans. With these projects, OFE seeks to incubate the next generation of financial empowerment programming while sharing learnings with advocates, policymakers, service providers, impacted communities and other jurisdictions.
For more than a decade, under the leadership of Treasurer José Cisneros, OFE has partnered inside and outside City Hall to equip San Franciscans with knowledge, skills and resources to strengthen their financial health and well-being. At the same time, OFE has leveraged its innovations on the ground to model what's possible across the country.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program helps student loan borrowers working in nonprofit or government jobs by forgiving the remaining balance on their loans after they have made 10 years of qualifying payments. In 2022, time limited benefits were offered by the Biden Administration, vastly increasing the number of student borrowers eligible for debt forgiveness under this program. OFE mounted a city-wide outreach and education campaign with the partnership of the Student Borrower Protection Center, SF Department of Human Resources, and many other government and nonprofit agencies, to raise awareness and spark action among eligible student borrowers. Although the temporary benefits aspects of this program have expired, the PSLF program is still available to eligible student borrowers and more information can be found here.
Guaranteed income provides direct, recurring cash assistance to individuals or households with no conditions or restrictions. Similar in concept to universal basic income (UBI), guaranteed income is targeted rather than provided to everyone in a community and has a long history in the U.S. and internationally. Interest in guaranteed income has surged due to the economic crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as greater urgency to address structural racism and violence. Guaranteed income is: accessible and dignified; effective at moving individuals and families out of poverty; efficient; rooted in ideas of abundance, dignity, empowerment; and proven to work. San Francisco convened a Guaranteed Income Advisory Group that was established to advise City leaders on various aspects of Guaranteed Income. The Office of the Treasurer & Tax Collector has supported Guaranteed Income in a variety of ways, including staffing this advisory group, facilitating payments to recipients, providing technical assistance to pilot programs, publishing reports on benefits waivers and advisory group recommendations, and offering financial coaching to recipients.
K2C launched an equity incentive, called the “I Am the Future” campaign designed to accelerate targeted asset-building for students experiencing the greatest barriers to opportunity. To best reach these students, K2C selected 9 elementary schools from SFUSD’s PITCH initiative, a program aimed at closing the opportunity and achievement gaps for students facing systemic and persistent barriers to equity, in particular from the Black student population. In addition to the $50 seed deposit, students were given $150 in their accounts, and could earn an additional $300 by making two separate contributions of at least $5. During its initial launch, the savings of the approximately 1,000 families eligible for the “I am the Future” campaign grew to a cumulative balance of $272,693.20 in their K2C accounts. Despite the pandemic, families in these nine schools saved $16,000 of their own money into their accounts. Family engagement continues to grow, and in many cases exceeds engagement in other schools with much higher income families. OFE published a report detailing the incentive program and initial outcomes in 2022.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit unexpectedly in 2020, OFE made significant pivots in its existing programs and implemented new interventions to provide rapid financial triage to San Franciscans. Our Smart Money Coaching program moved to a virtual coaching model for the first time in its history and coaches worked to connect clients with $20,000 in COVID stimulus benefits. The K2C program made available families’ contributions for those experiencing severe financial hardship who needed to withdraw their college savings for emergency needs. The Bank on San Francisco program leveraged access to safe and affordable bank accounts for the unbanked to be able to receive stimulus funds quickly and securely.
In 2019, OFE partnered with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco to analyze the state of student borrowers in the 9-county Bay Area. Analysis found that although the Bay Area had a lower prevalence of student loan debt than California or the U.S. at the time, regional trends mask dramatic disparities among communities throughout the region. Analyzing student loan debt at the zip code level found wide variance in borrowing and loan balances, and considerably higher delinquency and default in low-income communities and communities of color. Since this report was published, OFE has worked to be a trusted source of information for student borrowers through resources like our Student Debt resource webpage and financial coaching.
Thanks to the contribution of a strong Bank On San Francisco coalition launched more than a decade ago, the percentage of unbanked residents in San Francisco dropped from 5.9% in 2011 to 2.1% in 2015. However, 16.5% of residents with bank accounts continue to turn to high-cost payday lenders, check cashers and other alternative services to meet financial needs (FDIC, 2015). Bank On San Francisco has been reimagined to aid those who face particular challenges accessing the financial mainstream. Bank On San Francisco is a vibrant flagship service.
Smart Money Coaching provides free, confidential, one-on-one financial guidance. The program is available to anyone living, working or receiving services in San Francisco, regardless of citizenship status. Our coaches are fluent in Spanish and Cantonese, with additional translation services as requested.
While San Francisco's youth employment programs have been successful in building work-related skills and career pathways, participants lacked financial knowledge and skills, and often relied on check cashers to cash their paychecks. OFE partnered with the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families (DCYF) and MyPath, a nonprofit focused on paving economic pathways for low-income youth, to integrate access to financial services into workforce programs for youth ages 14 to 24. OFE enlisted San Francisco Federal Credit Union to offer youth a non-custodial account that provided checking, savings and a debit card with no overdraft or monthly fees. Summer Jobs Connect remains a vibrant public-private partnership of OFE, San Francisco Federal Credit Union, MyPath and DCYF that is now an extension of Bank On San Francisco.
More than 67,000 working households in San Francisco did not get paid by direct deposit, receiving their pay in check or cash. Employees receiving checks often turned to check cashing companies, paying as much as $1,000 in annual fees. Processing checks is also expensive for employers and moving to direct deposit can significantly lower payroll fees. CurrenC SF was launched to help employers and employees switch to direct deposit, increasing working household's access to affordable financial products. CurrenC SF is no longer a stand-alone program of OFE, but direct deposit remains an essential component of its engagement with employers, to strengthen the financial health and well-being of employees, through other OFE programs including Bank On San Francisco and Summer Jobs Connect.
San Francisco’s Kindergarten to College program (K2C) is the first universal Child Savings Account program in the country. Founded in 2011 by Mayor Gavin Newsom (now Governor) and Treasurer José Cisneros, K2C automatically opens a savings account seeded with $50 in public funds for every child entering kindergarten in SF’s public schools, putting students on a path to college from their first day of school. Learn more here.
Payday loans are predatory in nature, with annual percentage interest rates (APRs) as high as 400%, or $15 for every $100 borrowed. With repayment required in full within two weeks, borrowers often take out a new loan to pay an old one, creating a debt cycle that is hard to break. By 2007, 36 payday lenders in San Francisco were lending over $60 million annually to residents. Launched as Payday Plus SF, OFE partnered with 6 credit unions to offer residents short-term credit of up to $500 at a maximum APR of 18% over a repayment period of 6 to 12 months. Payday Plus SF's impact proved positive but limited in scale due to the high cost of issuing small loans. While PayDay Plus SF is no longer a stand-alone program, OFE continues to explore innovations to help families manage financial volatility, financial shocks and short-term credit needs.
Fifty thousand households, including half of all African-American and Latino adults, in San Francisco were unbanked, relying on alternative -- often predatory -- financial services to manage their day-to-day financial needs. A first in the country, Bank On San Francisco organized 14 banks and credit unions committed to improving low-income residents' access to affordable checking accounts. Bank On San Francisco was reconceived and expanded in 2017, based on new national Bank On account standards.
In 2005, our inaugural initiative was establishing the Working Families Credit. At the time, we found that 15-25% of families eligible for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) were not claiming it. In San Francisco, the estimated annual amount of unclaimed credit equaled $12 million! We pioneered a municipally-led initiative supported by a coalition of local partners and a city-wide marketing campaign, the Working Families Credit, which offered a local match to the federal EITC. The credit still exists today and is managed by the San Francisco Human Services Agency (HSA). Learn more here.