When people complain of government overspending and stifling bureaucracy, they often overlook programs that actually help. Some of these programs, hampered by restricted budgets and other constraints, are virtually unknown. So, as a public service, Isthmus shines a light on them.
Low-cost life insurance
Wisconsin is the only state in the nation that offers low-cost life insurance to its citizens. Even more amazing, it's funded entirely through premiums and income from the State Investment Board.
Why have you never heard of it? State law forbids the State Commissioner of Insurance from advertising its availability, presumably to keep it from competing with private providers. The fund had only 29,078 policyholders as of the end of November.
The State Life Insurance Fund is a remnant of the La Follette era, giving modest benefit for a small premium, says Eileen Mallow, deputy commissioner. For example, a 45-year-old man would pay a $21.21 annual premium per $1,000 coverage under an Ordinary Life policy. The maximum benefit is $10,000.
Coverage is available to state residents 14 or older. Some restrictions apply. Call 266-0107 or 800-562-5558. Web site: oci.wi.gov/slif.htm.
American Dream initiative
Since July 2005, the Madison Community Development Office has made home ownership a reality for 45 low-income Madison residents through the American Dream Downpayment Initiative. This program offers federally funded deferred loans for down payments and closing costs.
'We're still trying to get the word out,' says Pam Rood, the office's grant administrator for the American Dream program.
The loans, which act as a second mortgage on the home, range from $1,000 to $10,000, to a maximum of 6% of the purchase price. The city has distributed a total of $339,596 so far.
First-time homebuyers, displaced homemakers and single parents whose gross household income doesn't exceed 80% of the area median income are eligible. The loans don't have to be repaid until the house is sold.
For more info, contact Pam Rood at 267-0740. Web site: www.ci.madison.wi.us/cdbg/ addi.
Madison reverse-mortgage program
The city of Madison has an innovative program to help seniors stay in their homes. The Modified Reverse Mortgage Program lets city residents over 65 obtain low-interest reverse mortgages to meet their property-tax obligations.
'Property taxes sometimes eat up around 25% of a senior's income,' says Bill Kreitzman of the city comptroller's office. 'That's really who this program is for.'
The city appropriated $70,000 this year to serve 20 seniors with outstanding loans. Loans range from roughly $2,500 to $5,000 to cover all or part of annual property taxes.
Borrowers must own single-family residences and have a low income to be eligible. For example, a single senior's gross annual income, including Social Security, cannot exceed $41,000.
For more info, contact Lisa Ehman at 266-5917. Web site: www.ci.madison.wi.us/comp/RevMortIndex.htm. The AARP offers a similar program; contact Carol Matoushek of the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups, at 224-0606 ext. 327.
Teaching financial skills
Want to learn more about stretching food budgets, managing federal student loans, or avoiding identity theft? The Financial Education Center in Madison's Villager Mall addresses such issues through a smorgasbord of free classes.
'Anyone who's interested can set financial goals for themselves,' says Pat Ludeman, the family living educator for Dane County UW-Extension. More than 600 people, mostly women and racial minorities, have taken classes.
The center started in the fall of 2005 as an addition to an existing program offering income tax assistance. Classes are sponsored through partnerships with groups including the Wisconsin Women's Business Initiative, United Way, and Great Lakes Higher Education.
The Financial Education Center is located on the second floor of the Villager Mall, 2300 S. Park St. For more info on classes and services, call 261-5077. Web site: fec.uwex.edu.
Guidance for fathers
The Fatherhood Responsibility Project, a joint program of the Urban League of Greater Madison and Dane County Human Services, helps fathers without custody of their children rebuild lost connections.
Urban League social workers and counselors coach fathers in groups, with a focus on parenting and job skills. Some are referred by the court system and the county's Children First Program.
About 150 fathers participate each year, says Ed Lee, the Urban League's vice president of programs and operations. Most participants achieve success ' defined as a stable job, stable housing and paid child support. The county has budgeted $81,000 next year to keep the program going.
For more info, contact the Urban League at 251-8550.
TIF money for Bassett housing
The Bassett neighborhood is teaming up with the city to offer tax incremental financing (TIF) to community members who want to do small-scale renovation projects, such as converting rental properties to owner-occupied homes.
About $400,000 is available, says Mark Olinger, the city's director of planning and development. Some of the particulars, such as how much can be allocated per project, are still being worked out. But Olinger is optimistic that a workable program will be in place by next spring.
'The Bassett district will be a test drive for small-cap programs in other districts,' he says.
The program will require individuals to prove that renovations could not be done without city assistance. Free counsel from attorneys, construction and real estate agents from the Bassett neighborhood are available. For more information, call Joe Gromacki at 267-8724, ext. 307.