Its been three years since you announced CEP's new direction into expanding financial services. What kind of progress has been made?

We’ve expanded in key ways.

Through our financial partnerships, we’ve increasingly connected individuals with bank accounts and other financial products to enable best use of their tax refunds. For the past three years, we’ve hosted Financial Aid U, providing opportunities for college-bound students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and vie for Pell and MAP grants for their first year of college. As a companion effort to Financial Aid U, in 2011 we initiated Money Smart Scholars, an intensive, 15-month coaching program to help students navigate the path to college enrollment and beyond.

Our Tax Clinic is another area that continues to grow. That’s encouraging because, like all financial services, the Tax Clinic is centered on a trusted, ongoing relationship—in this case between our dedicated professional volunteers and the CEP clients they help in the face of IRS and state tax disputes.

We’ve made progress, but there’s still much to be done.

Our vision is to provide a full range of services that encourage financial capability. More than just financial literacy, financial capability means being able to cover monthly expenses with income; track spending; plan ahead and save for the future; select and manage financial products and services; and gain and exercise financial knowledge.

In 2011 we prepared tax returns for more than 28,000 families and individuals—but we no longer measure our success simply by the number of returns prepared. Our Tax Preparation program provides a first step toward financial capability; it is also the main gateway for new CEP clients. Building on that success, we’re now focused on researching promising financial coaching models and tools for measuring financial progress and outcomes.

What drives us is the knowledge that working families are increasingly being left behind in our changing economy. Even as the recovery moves slowly forward, worker income has stagnated; families must make every dollar stretch further. Expanding our financial services capacity is critical to truly fulfilling our mission: “to help hard-working, low-income families move from financial uncertainty to financial security.” Fortunately, we remain well-positioned to leverage our reputation and expertise to build a financial capability program in Chicago and suburban communities.