(Shutterstock image)
(Shutterstock image)

Low- and moderate-income residents are eligible for multiple one-on-one sessions aimed at reducing debt and building wealth.

Racine on Monday became the first city in Wisconsin to offer a free “Financial Empowerment Center” in an attempt to close income disparities and build generational wealth among its residents.

The Financial Empowerment Center (FEC) allows low- and moderate-income city residents to receive free, unlimited, one-on-one access to financial advisers to help them eliminate debt and generate savings.

“We want all Racine residents to be prepared for a rainy day,” said Mayor Cory Mason in a Monday afternoon press conference announcing the launch of the program.

Racine, with a population of about 77,000, trails the rest of the state in many key financial indicators, with a median household income of $42,767, 51% homeownership rate, and 20.4% poverty rate, according to US Census data. Statewide, those numbers are $56,209, 66.9%, and 10.4% respectively.

Educational attainment is also low in the city compared with the rest of Wisconsin. Just 83.6% of Racinians have graduated high school and 16.7% have a bachelor’s degree or higher; statewide, 91.9% have graduated high school and 29.5% have a bachelor’s degree.

City officials said the center will help close some of those gaps and let residents build credit through a guided process.

“Our city residents, there’s already disparities that exist within our community,” said Dakeisha Kidd, program manager with Housing Resources Inc., a local nonprofit that will help with the center’s operation.

Jonathan Mintz, president and CEO of the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, which last year awarded Racine a grant to bring an FEC to the city, said the fund has launched FECs in 30 cities across the country. Those have collectively helped clients eliminate $160 million in debt and added $26 million  to savings, he said.

“When people are in trouble with a medical issue, they don’t need a book, they don’t need a website; they need a medical professional,” Mintz said. “And finances, similarly. If people are in trouble with their finances, they don’t need financial literacy, they don’t need a website. What they really need most is to be able to sit down with a professional.”

Racine’s FEC is the first in Wisconsin, but Mintz said grant applications are currently open. The Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund will award grants to five more cities around the country within the next few months, Mintz said.