A Coalition on a Mission to Eliminate Persistent Poverty in the U.S.
The ongoing economic fallout from COVID-19 — and its disproportional impact on people of color — is being felt not just in big cities but also in rural areas of persistent poverty across the United States. Fortunately, a group of six Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs, have come together to transform and lift up these persistently poor communities, aided by the financial support of the Wells Fargo Foundation.
Formed in 2018, the Partners for Rural Transformation unified six regional CDFIs under a shared vision: a nation where persistent poverty no longer exists. These six organizations collectively bring more than 200 years of helping and advocating for America’s rural residents and communities where poverty has persisted for decades.
Recognizing the importance of this cooperative effort the Wells Fargo Foundation has donated $300,000 to each CDFI member of the Partners for Rural Transformation to address the unique housing and community development challenges faced by the members of the rural communities they represent.
“The economic challenges from COVID-19 are putting a spotlight on the most vulnerable people in underserved communities being disproportionately affected by job losses, under-employment, and housing instability,” said Eileen Fitzgerald, head of Housing Affordability Philanthropy with the Wells Fargo Foundation. “These CDFIs play a crucial role in reducing housing poverty and homelessness, improving health outcomes, boosting economic mobility, supporting job creation and retention, and strengthening the economy.”
According to Partners for Rural Transformation, of the 395 persistent poverty counties in the U.S., eight out of 10 are rural and the majority (60%) of people living in persistent poverty counties are people of color.
“While persistent poverty exists throughout the nation, the regions and populations that are most often represented are Appalachia, the Delta and Deep South, the Central Valley of California, along the Mexico border, and Native American lands,” said Jose Quinonez, director of the Partners for Rural Transformation. “The message of persistent poverty is a difficult one for our country’s leaders to hear. As individuals and single organizations in isolated geographies, our message can easily be tuned out — but as a national collaborative, we cannot be ignored.”
Sara Morgan, chief operating officer of Fahe in Berea, Kentucky — one of the six CDFIs that make up the Partners for Rural Transformation — says that what connects these regions and the people that live in them is a historic divestment of resources coupled with a consistent lack of investment.
“These are places where there has been a systematic extraction of wealth and resources — notably, regions of deep persistent poverty were created through slavery in the Mississippi Delta, the taking of land and life from Native and Latino people, and the extraction of natural resources from Appalachia,” said Morgan. “Today, the consequences of history are apparent in other forms of distress and structural exclusion — high unemployment, a lack of access to banking services, a paucity of quality affordable housing and safe drinking water, and a lack of venture capital critical to the formation of small businesses.”
In addition to Fahe, the other CDFIs that make up the Partners for Rural Transformation are cdcb in Texas, Communities Unlimited in Arkansas, Oweesta Corporation in Colorado, HOPE Credit Union and Enterprise Corporation in Mississippi, and Rural Community Assistance Corporation in California.
Both Quinonez and Morgan see the total of $1.8 million in grant funding from the Wells Fargo Foundation as a proof point that the partnership amongst the six CDFIs is working, especially as these same distressed communities now grapple with the ongoing health and economic crises resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are no longer competing with each other for financial resources; instead, we are now true partners working as a collective to seek a solution to persistent poverty across the country,” said Quinonez. “This generous infusion of funding from Wells Fargo helps our CDFIs collectively advance this mission.”
The Wells Fargo Foundation has a strategic focus on addressing housing affordability, small business growth, and financial health, which includes a $1 billion philanthropic commitment to address housing affordability solutions by 2025. As part of the Wells Fargo Foundation’s $175 million commitment to help address food shortages, public health needs, small business stability, and housing security for the most vulnerable populations during COVID-19, the Wells Fargo Foundation has announced additional efforts to help people stay in their homes with funding for more than 1,200 nonprofits across the U.S.