History of SSA During the Johnson Administration 1963-1968



The Beginnings

This project was conceived in the Bureau of Federal Credit Unions and is dedicated to the proposition that all low-income consumers should have the chance to learn how to handle their financial affairs effectively. For the middle-income consumer, intelligent shopping, budgeting, and borrowing are merely important; for the low-income consumer, they are actually a matter of survival.

Even though the Bureau of Federal Credit Unions has chartered hundreds of Federal credit unions which serve families who live in poverty, a majority of our credit union members are from the so-called middle class. In an effort to provide special help where it would do the most good, several of the Bureau of Federal Credit Union's most creative people hit upon the idea of conducting a training program for the leaders of low-income communities. The idea was that if the leaders in these communities learned wise money management and credit union operations, they would be in a position to help their friends and neighbors to learn the same thing. Ideally, it would be a sort of chain reaction process, an each-one-teach-one proliferation of valuable consumer information. And to identify this distinctive program, its originators decided tocall it "Project Moneywise."

Project Moneywise was made possible by a $125,000 grant from the Office of Economic Opportunity, with the program getting underway in Boston in May 1966. From the beginning, Project Moneywise seemed to capture the imagination of officials at the local, State, and Federal levels and to impress and please the individual trainees themselves. Governors, mayors, senators and other dignitaries in and out of public life were pleased to appear on the program as guest speakers and to provide momentum for a project which helps disadvantaged people to help themselves with dignity.

Up to June 1968, the Project moneywise training sessions have been conducted in the locations indicated below. It was in 1968, too, that Congress authorized a continuation of the program.

Location Date
Boston, Massachusetts May 1966
New York, New York June 1966
Los Angeles, California September 1966
Chicago, Illinois October 1966
Washington, D.C. November 1966
New Orleans, Louisiana February 1967
Miami, Florida August 1967
Boston, Massachusetts October 1967
Houston, Texas November 1967
San Francisco, California February 1968

Program Content

The major subjects covered in the Project Moneywise training program include the following:

An Introductory Overview of Poverty
Consumer Patterns
The Limited Consumer and His Marketplace
Consumer Education
The Credit Union Provides the Alternative
Credit Union Organization and Operations
Interviewing Techniques
Family Financial Counseling and Budgeting
Wise Use of Credit
Cooperatives and Buying Clubs
Instructional Techniques and Leadership

Numerous training aid, films, movies, charts, slides, etc., are employed throughout the course; and creative teaching tools are introduced as often as possible. One of the most original devices is the cartoon,"Moneywise Family," which adds considerable human interest to the instruction and helps maintain student attention. "Mr. and Mrs. Moneywise" and their two children "Nick L. Wise" and "Penny Wise" are portrayed as an American family of very limited resources trying to stretch their money as for as they can. Sometimes they fall prey to "Mr. Tiger Shark" who appears as an unprincipled merchant, a peddler, or a villainous loan shark. "Mr. Mighty Wise," a little "super-mouse" character, often appears on the side of honesty and justice.

A high point in the project moneywise training is the comparative shopping trip. Students often pose as husband and wife, go out on shopping expeditions all over the city to compare prices, quality of merchandise, interest rates, and the attitudes displayed toward potential buyers. Many of them find, to their surprise, that results show inferior merchandise in low-income markets often brings higher prices than good merchandise in reputable department stores. Another unethical technique found by shoppers in the low-income market stores was the salesman's quotation of "no" or "low" down payment with small weekly or monthly payments, but no statement of the total cost of the item.

The story was repeated again and again across the country--first in Boston, then Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Baltimore, and Washington, etc. The poor are paying more in all of these cities than do the more affluent residents: the poor must, therefore, spread their already extremely limited incomes even thinner.

The course continues to prove that the poor must be offered workable alternatives if they are to escape from the vicious circle binding them to this kind of exploitation. Consumer education, family financial counseling, and opportunities to borrow at reasonable rates of interest are all aids that can be provided by Federal credit unions operating in limited income areas. The creation and successful operation of such credit unions is an important goal of Project Moneywise.

Acceptance of the Moneywise Approach

As previously mentioned, Project Moneywise attracted a great deal of favorable attention from the very beginning. Vice President Humphrey personally joined a Washington, D.C. low-income credit union that had received Project Moneywise assistance, and publicly praised the program's approach to the War on Poverty. The Office of Economic Opportunity Director, Sargent Shriver; Assistant Secretary of Labor, Esther Peterson; Special Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs, Betty Furness; and many other public officials took part in Moneywise presentations and supported the program enthusiastically.

More important, however, is the fact that the trainees themselves were enthusiastic and were quite willing to sit in class and participate--eight hours a day for an entire month--and then go back to their communities and put their newly-acquired knowledge into practice. It is not easy to estimate the total impact that Project Moneywise is making; but it is known that hundreds of "graduates" are now at work, in a score of United States cities, helping their neighbors to achieve a better, higher standard of living. Then, too, a great many new credit unions and buying clubs have been organized as a direct result of Moneywise training.

Because of the creative approach and because of the large impact made by such a small program, the Project Moneywise task force received numerous honors and group awards. Among them was the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare's "Special Citation" . . . "For exceptional creative ability in developing and presenting 'Project Moneywise,' consumer education and credit union operations program to assist low-income
people in solving their economic problems cooperatively." (The citation listed William M. O'Brien, Joseph Bellenghi, Joseph Bradley, Richard Clinkscales, and Francis Maguire as recipients.)

In another instance, the Bureau was cited by the American Society for Training and Development for "Developing and conducting 'Project Moneywise,' a training program designed to help break the cycle of poverty by helping the leaders of limited-income communities and by designing and conduc ting training programs on the subject of economic self-help. Because of this training, the Bureau of Federal Credit Unions has made a major ongoing contribution to the War on Poverty."

Project Moneywise "By-Products"

As so often happens, one good thing leads to another; and to considerable portion of the original Moneywise instruction is now also being used in ancillary programs. Such terms as "consumer protection," "the exploited consumer" or "stretch your dollars," etc., are heard very often these days; and it is only natural that the Bureau of Federal Credit Union instructors would eventually be asked to pass along some of their expertise to various middle-income and special groups of people who needed it.

Apparently, very few instructors, in or out of Government, are available to teach consumer education. And, just as apparently, the demand for such training is increasing with every year that passes.

The Bureau of Federal Credit Unions now has a special financial counseling program (that can be modified to meet varying needs for Federal employees. The program has been requested by a dozen agencies, including the Civil Service Commission, Navy Department, Labor Department, Social Security Administration, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, and the Census Bureau. The Bureau of Federal Credit Unions also conducts special courses for Indians on reservations, for Mexican-Americans, for the Peace Corps, for Youth Opportunity Corps personnel, for Welfare mothers, and for Senior Citizens. {1}

Footnotes (Footnote numbers not same as in the printed version)

{1} Moneywise Press Clippings, January 1968.
Administration on Aging, Project Moneywise-Senior: Consumer Education for Older People, April 1968.
Project Moneywise: Role of the Credit Unions in the War on Poverty, March 1967.