Methods. Data are from a 5-year RCT, between 2015 and 2020, that evaluated a HMRFP for low-income individuals and couples (N=1,275) residing in a large, urban, southwest U.S. region. Treatment group participants (n=662) completed a 7-week program; control group participants (n=613) were waitlisted for 1 year with low level case management services. Sample demographics include: 78% female; 66% Hispanic or Latino; 30% Black, 34% White; 82% ages 25 to 54 years. At pre-test, 65% had a checking account; 42% had a savings account; 21% of respondents reported never having difficulty paying bills, 50% reported difficulty occasionally, and 29% reported somewhat or very often. Treatment effect analyses using multilevel repeated measures (pre-test, post-test, 6- and 12-month follow-up) were conducted. An unadjusted treatment effect estimate was estimated using a difference-in-differences (DD) model.
Results. The proportion of participants who reported having a checking and/or savings account rose from pre- to post-test and then leveled off for both groups, with higher levels of both for the treatment group. Mean levels of difficulty paying bills decreased for both groups from pre- to post-test; however, the decreases remained stable for the treatment group while they fluctuated to the disadvantage of the control group. Additionally, a negative correlation was observed between difficulty paying bills and having a savings account (r = -0.124, p<0.05). The DD model showed that participants in the treatment group had reduced difficulty paying bills relative to the control group (b = -0.111, p<0.05).
Conclusions/Implications. Findings suggest program effects that benefit low-income individuals and families on important aspects of financial/economic stability. Having a savings account may not be a priority when faced with difficulty paying bills, but a checking account can be a transactional tool. Banking options with no/low fees, coupled with financial literacy classes, can help low-income individuals and families better navigate financial insecurity. Future programs focused on increasing financial literacy and building banking skills can reduce economic inequality for diverse low-income families. Strategic partnerships with local minority serving agencies and minority owned banks may reduce barriers to economic mobility.