Partners (Fall 2002)

Economic Empowerment
in Florida Farmworker Community

By Janet Hamer

In the rural areas of Florida, an often overlooked group of people work and live virtually invisible to hundreds of thousands of tourists, retirees, and long time residents of the state. They pick our vegetables and citrus and harvest our ferns and other horticultural crops for low wages and little hope of achieving the “American Dream.” One organization is breaking down the economic barriers for farmworkers and providing them with the opportunity to gain control over the social, political, economic and workplace issues that affect their lives.

The Farmworkers Association of Florida, Inc.

The Farmworkers Association of Florida, Inc., is a grassroots nonprofit membership-based organization with over 6,800 member families of predominantly Hispanic, Haitian, and African-American farmworkers. It was first established through the Catholic Farmworker’s Ministry. The majority of members work in the vegetable, citrus, mushroom, sod, fern, and foliage industries.

Began in 1983, incorporated in 1986, and expanded statewide in 1992, the association works in 11 counties throughout Florida with offices in Apopka, Pierson, Immokalee, and Homestead. The mission of the Farmworkers Association of Florida is to build a strong, multi-racial, economically viable organization of farmworkers in Florida who are empowered to respond to and gain control over social, political, economic, workplace, and environmental justice issues that affect their lives.

Establishing a Certified Community Development Credit Union

Central to the goal of economic empowerment is freedom from predatory lending through access to mainstream financial institutions and financial literacy. The Community Trust Federal Credit Union (CTFCU), a certified community development credit union, was established by the Farmworker’s Ministry in 1982 to achieve this goal.

The credit union struggled for many years due mainly to under-capitalization. In 2000, CTFCU became a certified Community Development Financial Institution. Concurrently, a collaborative effort by the FDIC and local financial institutions provided the necessary financial investment to enable the credit union to grow and better meet the needs of the community it serves. Since 2000, CTFCU has grown to over 2,300 members.

One of the most important services of the credit union is access to credit at reasonable rates. As a result, low-income members of the credit union have a financing alternative besides high-cost providers such as payday lenders, “buy here, pay here” used car lots, and check cashing services — many of which tend to exhibit predatory lending characteristics.

Financing from the credit union not only provides a much more reasonable access to credit, the process teaches valuable lessons in financial education. Borrowers must have savings at the credit union to be eligible for loans, with the amount of the loan dependent on the amount of money in their savings account. When a loan is paid off, the borrower may apply for increasingly larger loans, a pathway to bigger goals and an opportunity to build assets for the future. Furthermore, the relationship provides the ability to establish a positive credit history, essential to future credit needs such as the purchase of a home.

Pennies for Power Youth Credit Union

The Farmworkers Association, jointly working with the Community Trust Federal Credit Union, the Office of Farmworker’s Ministry, Notre Dame Americorps, and Orange County Citizen’s Commission for Children, has taken its commitment to economic empowerment one step further — the establishment of a children’s credit union.

Pennies for Power Youth Credit Union, an entity within the parent credit union, has a 15-member board of directors composed of the children of adult members. While the adults take an active role in advising the credit union’s officers, the children make all of the decisions.

Pennies for Power Youth Credit Union is the only one of its type in Florida, with only about a dozen nationwide. The credit union provides real life lessons in financial literacy and creates future “bankable customers.” It is particularly beneficial for the children of low-income farmworkers because it breaks down one of the major barriers to banking and financial empowerment: trust in mainstream financial institutions.

Financial Literacy Is Key Component

The key to economic empowerment is access to financial services and financial education to make wise choices. The Farmworkers Association and the Community Trust Federal Credit Union are committed to providing this to their constituents. Through these efforts, a group of Florida farmworkers is being given the opportunity to achieve the “American Dream” for themselves and their children.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta Community Affairs Program continues to work with this grassroots organization and others throughout the District to identify strategies to create and sustain financial literacy programs to serve low- and moderate-income citizens. The greatest challenge continues to be the identification and sustainability of funding sources to deliver these much-needed programs.

Through the efforts of the Community Affairs Program at the Jacksonville Branch, Wachovia Bank has selected the Farmworkers Association of Florida to receive funding to support the implementation of the Spanish version of the MoneySmart curriculum. MoneySmart is a training program developed by the FDIC to help adults outside the financial mainstream enhance their money skills and create positive banking relationships.


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