The Seeds of Our Promise to Each Other

Joe Diamond
Executive Director of the Massachusetts Association for Community Action (MASSCAP)

Lately I have been thinking about the Declaration of Independence and a few of its most famous assertions.  The ones that I continue to come back to relate to equality and rights: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal” and that we have “certain inalienable rights” including the right to pursue happiness.

These are ideas fundamental to our society. They come together in my mind to form a promise we make to each other, a promise of equal opportunity for all. The mission of Community Action – to address inequality, create opportunity, and end poverty – is animated by this promise.

The 23 Community Action Agencies in Massachusetts, federally mandated antipoverty agencies serving over 600,000 people in virtually every city and town, work every day to fulfill this promise by helping our vulnerable friends and neighbors living with low incomes to achieve economic stability and mobility through a set of integrated and locally based programs and services that create a platform for opportunity.

  • We help people stay safe and warm and in their homes with affordable housing programs along with fuel assistance and weatherization.
  • We support families and prepare young children for success in school through early education and care programs including Head Start.
  • We help people prepare themselves for employment and move on to better jobs through adult education and workforce training;
  • We help people bridge the wage gap and develop long-term and sustainable economic well-being through free access to important tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites (VITA), financial literacy training, and matched savings accounts for homes, higher education, or small business opportunities.
  • We teach and encourage the people that we serve to advocate for themselves, to organize, and speak up.

…to name a few.

According to a study prepared by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center for MASSCAP, the services Community Action Agencies provide keep over 800,000 people out of poverty a year. If not for these services, the poverty rate in Massachusetts would be much higher than its current 11.5 percent. Even so, it must be lower, much lower.

This tax season, MASSCAP partnered with Treasurer Goldberg’s Office of Economic Empowerment, utilizing their tax-advantaged college savings accounts as a vehicle of economic opportunity for our Worcester families. Over the past few months, Worcester Vita Site Volunteers have been educating families on 529 college savings accounts and encouraging them to use their tax refunds to save through Treasurer Goldberg’s SeedMA pilot program. For research shows that “low- and moderate-income children with college savings of just $500 or less are 3 times more likely to enroll in college and 4 times more likely to graduate”[1].  This confirms that even a small contribution can help create a pipeline to higher education for many children.

SeedMA – which provides every Worcester kindergartener with a 529 college savings account with a free $50 deposit – is so important because it adds a critical element to the existing platform for opportunity. SeedMA encourages the lifelong habit of savings, underwrites and promotes higher education, and can be combined with other programs, such as free tax preparation and financial literacy, which are so important to long-term financial well-being.

We thank Treasurer Goldberg for developing SeedMA. We know that as it moves from Worcester to the rest of the state, SeedMA will help us keep our promise to each other, the fundamental promise of equal opportunity for all.

[1] Assets and Education Initiative. (2013). Building Expectations, Delivering Results: Asset-Based Financial Aid and the Future of Higher Education. In W. Elliott (Ed.), Biannual report on the assets and education field. Lawrence, KS: Assets and Education Initiative (AEDI).