ABINGDON, Va. — United Way of Southwest Virginia announced a new program to empower residents to become more financially stable on Tuesday.

“We’re launching a financial network working with several community partners and organizations to target a population referred to as ALICE [Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed],” President and CEO Travis Staton said at the Abingdon office during a Tuesday press conference. “These are individuals who do earn a paycheck, but unfortunately their paycheck does not exceed the cost of living.”

The Financial Empowerment Network is going to help people and families better manage their finances, Staton said.

“This past summer, United Way agencies across the commonwealth commissioned the ALICE report. … Results found that in Southwest Virginia nearly 59 percent of our population struggled to make ends meet,” Staton said.

The network will provide a set of bundled services, including financial education, budgeting education, work support, tax preparation assistance and asset building for families and individuals across the region, according to Briana Morris Fillers, marketing and communications manager.

Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Southwest Virginia Workforce Development Board are the organizations partnering with United Way for the network.

United Way and its allied organizations will work with major employers to provide services to their employees to help them better manage their finances.

Regina Sayers, executive director of Appalachian Agency for Senior Citizens, said she is “really excited” about the network.

“I became really excited about the services and the resources and skills that we would be able to teach our employees,” she said. “All we want is to give our employees the opportunity to improve their skills and their education.”

The agency has partnered with the Southwest Virginia Workforce Development Board on many projects in the past, Sayers said.

Established in 1975, the agency is a private nonprofit that serves senior citizens and children in Buchanan, Dickenson, Russell and Tazewell counties.

“Most of our seniors do not understand financial needs. This program will help them with tax assistance; when we teach our employees these skills, then they can show these skills to the seniors,” Sayers said.

Over these next few years, approximately $2 million will be invested in the network effort, Staton said.

The investment is a collaborate funding source with United Way “using community dollars raised annually,” with some investments from city and county-level governments. Additionally, the organizations themselves have to provide matching funds on top of United Way’s investments.

Staton said that one problem facing rural residents is that they cannot afford financial services.

“This network will provide education to Southwest Virginia residents to build their financial decision-making capacity, enabling individuals to make more informed choices and decisions and to avoid financial pitfalls,” Staton said.

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