The Indy Star
By: Dan Carpenter
March 1, 2013
Many of her clients are in about the same tough straits she was facing a little over a decade ago, and Laura Burke gives them some hard-earned wisdom along with their tax preparation.
"You've got to go through the pain. Go through the pain, and cry, and don't die."
Laughter, not tears, accompanies that nugget she shares with a visitor to the Eastside office of Laura Tax Services, one of two branches of a bustling business that started as a $20-a-month dream.
That was pretty much all she was able to set aside as a young mother newly separated from her husband in 1999, when she worked as a school bus driver and sought to better herself through higher education.
She was able to finance her associate's degree in accounting from Ivy Tech Community College thanks to a program called Individual Development Accounts, and from there went on to gain a bachelor's from the University of Indianapolis.
Hers is one of many happy outcomes, for low-income Hoosiers and taxpayers as well, that have been written by IDA. She's one of many who find it penny wise and pound foolish that the program faces a 50 percent cut.
IDA provides for a state-federal grant of three times the sum a person deposits in his or her own bank account from earned income every year for four years.
The maximums are a $400 deposit and $1,200 match per year. The money must go to education, opening a business, or buying or rehabbing a home. Finally, the recipient must attend money-management classes. Approximately 5,600 accounts have been opened since the program began in 1997, and more than 90 percent of participants have "fully saved" at the maximum level, according to the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority, which partners with the national Assets for Independence program.
"It benefited me big time," says Burke, who's since reunited with her husband, Kenny, and runs a small trucking business with him. "It's made me successful. It's the only way I was able to get my degree."
She's been referring some of her clients to the program, but there's a waiting list; and it could grow longer if the budget approved by the Indiana House isn't modified by the Senate, as advocates hope.
IDA is a straight match. The current state contribution is $1 million. The House budget has it at $500,000, which means the federal share would drop to that level as well. A program whose Indiana participants have increased to more than 1,000 in recent years from the original 351 in 1998 would have to constrict.
Supporters cite one story of uplift and stability after another -- a down payment on a home in Fountain County for a young woman with a $12,000 income, a down payment on a home and launch of a janitorial business for a single mother of four in Perry County, startup of a bakery for a couple in Irvington.
"It's something both parties should really support," says Derek Thomas, a senior policy analyst with the Indiana Institute for Working Families, one of several community groups that promote the program and lobby the legislature. "Even the conservative think tanks agree it's a good way to help families build assets and protect savings."
IDAs have enjoyed bipartisan support in Indiana and nationally. Whether the Senate will respond this year is a matter of conjecture; but with some prominent exceptions, the order of the day is continued budgetary pain.