By Kim Dishongh
Southern Bancorp Community Partners is using a $25,000 COVID-19 Phase 2 Adaptation Grant from the Arkansas Community Foundation to support Arkansans’ long-term financial health.
Southern Bancorp will offer credit counseling for individuals who had to defer payments because of COVID-19-related lost wages or unemployment as they return to the workforce. The organization’s certified counselors will work with people, either remotely or in person, who may want to focus on rebuilding credit, avoiding foreclosure and remodeling or even purchasing homes. Past data suggests many of these clients will be small business owners, according to Karama Neal, president of Southern Bancorp Community Partners.
“There are a number of organizations who are providing immediate support for folks, which is fantastic – people who provide food support or rent support, things which are incredibly needed,” shares Neal. “What we can do is make sure that as the recovery happens, people are well-positioned to recover and to ideally be in a bit better shape than they were maybe even before the pandemic.”
The grant is also supporting Southern Bancorp Community Partners’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, through which IRS-certified volunteers prepare taxes for income-eligible families and making sure they have access to refunds and that they take advantage of any and all tax credits they may have earned.
“For example, the Earned Income Tax Credit, which many have called the largest poverty reduction measure in the country,” said Neal. “That’s federal dollars that could be in our state circulating in our families’ pockets, in our communities’ pockets, in our businesses’ pockets, but if we don’t claim it, it never gets to Arkansas. So we want to make sure that people who are eligible for that Earned Income Tax Credit receive it.”
Southern Bancorp Community Partners is also using grant money to support other programs that help people become more economically mobile, like Individual Development Accounts that encourage savings efforts through counseling and education and rewards those efforts with matching funds. The goal is to help people accumulate assets that they can depend on when emergencies arise.
“When folks have those kinds of assets, then they’re more likely to be economically mobile,” said Neal. “That’s really what Southern was founded for, and the kinds of things that this grant is supporting really facilitate that.”
To contact Southern Bancorp Community Partners and to learn more, visit https://southernpartners.org/