Missouri Program Rewards Saving
By Nammi Bhagvandoss writing for the Joplin Globe Newspaper
Joplin Globe Photo by Roger Nomer
For six months, Jonathan and Rachel Johnson were on a mission: save $2,000. Doing so qualified the Joplin couple for an additional $4,000 to put toward their first home. The Johnsons, both 22, were told that they were the youngest local residents to complete a program that allowed them to move last week into their one-story, three-bedroom, two-bathroom home.
The couple both work for Freeman Health System and attend Missouri Southern State University. Jonathan Johnson said his father gave him a tip about what is known as the Missourians Building Assets program (now the Missouri Asset Development Project), available through the Economic Security Corp. “We followed up,” Jonathan Johnson said. “At first, we made sure there were no external strings attached.”
The program allows eligible wage earners to save money for a specific goal that is matched on a two-for-one basis. Participants may save up to $2,000, to be matched with local, state or federal funds. They also must attend economic education courses. There are similar programs elsewhere for those who want to start or expand a business, and for those who want to save money for higher education. The ESC, which serves Barton, Jasper, Newton and McDonald counties, offers the program for those who want to buy a home.
People in the program have three years to save up to $2,000, said Tammy Walker, ESC community development director. The entire $6,000 has to be used for purchasing a home, including down payment and closing costs. “We want to encourage people to save the full amount,” Walker said. “They have to work with a caseworker. They have to be working full time or part time. They have to have the ability to have a home loan.”
People in the program also have to take eight to 12 hours of budgeting and economic classes, and 10 hours of homeownership classes, she said. Walker said the program started in 2002, and the Johnsons are the ninth of 10 local families that have succeeded in buying a home. “We’re still working with the 10th family,” she said. A new, three-year contract started Oct. 1, and the ESC still can enroll three more families or individuals for the program, Walker said.
The program is available to people who earn no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. That means a family of two can have an income of $26,400, and a family of four can make $40,000 and still qualify. “I think a lot of people think it’s too good to be true,” Walker said.
For the Johnsons, meeting the program’s guidelines was easy enough. They were allowed to count their meeting with a home lender and realtor toward their education hours. Saving money was more challenging, but the Johnsons also met regularly with their caseworker, Suzanne Becker, and she gave them ideas. “I started planning meals,” Rachel Johnson said. Becker encouraged the couple to keep receipts to see how they spent their money.
It was an eye-opener for Rachel Johnson. “Stopping at the gas station and buying sodas and snacks adds up,” she said. “It’s a wonderful program if you’re seeking to have discipline over your finances and life.” Being in the program also helped the Johnsons see the difference between needs and wants. “We shaved our needs down to what our needs actually were,” Jonathan Johnson said.
A single man, a family with four children and a Hispanic mother are among those who have bought homes through the Missourians Building Assets program (now the Missouri Asset Development Project), available through the Economic Security Corp.