Despite Pandemic, Fellows Push On

Janet Smith: New Urgency to Save for a Rainy Day          

New Ventures Maine Regional Manager Janet Smith says the crisis has been eye opening to people in another way – “It’s really highlighted the importance of having savings for emergencies.” With a robust job market just a few months ago, families were able to get by even if they didn’t have much in the bank to cover unanticipated expenses or loss in income. With thousands now suddenly unemployed, it’s a much different picture.

At New Ventures, Smith oversees many initiatives to help Maine people improve their financial standing, including financial education trainings, coordinating free tax preparation services through the CA$H Maine Coalition, career counseling, and support for those starting a new small business.

As many organizations have during the pandemic, New Ventures expanded its range and frequency of online offerings. That has been harder with tax preparation, Smith said, but they have made volunteer tax preparers available by phone to walk clients through the online process.

The organization has also responded to the crisis with increased flexibility in some of its programs. New Ventures’ Rainy Day Savings Account (RDSA) Program offers a matched savings account for income-eligible individuals and families, using private donations to match up to $300 in savings. Usually, account holders need to save for six months to get the match. But given the current need, New Ventures is providing the match without the waiting period.

Smith said under the circumstances, a surprising number of people now want to start new accounts and New Ventures has worked to accommodate them. For those who don’t have immediate bills or expenses, the arrival of a federal stimulus checks has provided a good opportunity to start saving.

“Originally, we had thought we’d put a hold on opening new accounts because we wondered who would want to save in the middle of a pandemic. But actually, we’ve had some demand,” Smith said. “I think what it has done is raise people’s awareness of ‘I should have had some savings.’ Because things like this happen. It’s human nature to think that big things only happen to other people — now, we are seeing how they can happen to all of us.”

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