How Two Public Sector Organizations Used Grants to Foster Financial Wellness for Employees

Last September, 24 state and local government organizations received grants to establish or expand financial wellness programs. A complete list of grant recipients appears in this issue’s note from the IPMA-HR executive director.

SPECIAL REPORT

Educating State & Local Government Workers on Financial Wellness

HR News recently checked in with two state agencies that received grants to learn how they deployed the wealth of resources described in the preceding article from the National Association of State Treasurers. We learned about several additional tools and initiatives developed specifically for members of the unique government workforces. We were also impressed by the high rates of participation across both states and the positive responses from employees, retirees and their family members.

Follow the links in the profiles to find out even more about what is being done to promote financial wellness in Massachusetts and Nebraska.

Financial Education for Massachusetts Employees and Retirees

The state treasury worked through its Office of Economic Empowerment to launch this first of its kind program for some 156,000 current and former employees, as well as those eligible individuals’ beneficiaries. The centerpiece, explained OEE’s Executive Director and Deputy Treasurer Alayna Van Tassel, is Enrich.

She described Enrich as “a state-of-the-art financial education portal which provides personalized content, tools, and webinars to help users make informed decisions on major life events.” A Financial Wellness Resources map anchors the Massachusetts website at https://bit.ly/3fT5Rp5.

In addition to the visual guide, financial wellness program participants have access to free webinars, retirement advice from professionals who are well versed in the Massachusetts Deferred Compensation 457 SMART Plan, general financial counseling from experts, and information about loan forgiveness and tuition benefits. Van Tassel and her team intend to make these resources available to public school teachers in the state later this year even though educators are covered by different compensation and retirement plans.

Enrich went live in December 2020, fewer than three months after the grant was approved. Making a wealth of resources available to employees, retirees and their beneficiaries so quickly illustrates several lessons Van Tassel wished to share with other people leaders in government.

“Survey your audience before you launch the initiative,” she advised. “That way, you can understand what they really want and need. Also, be ready to adapt to the unexpected.”

Working closely with human resources professionals in each agency and department was also key. According to Van Tassel, “Our greatest outreach partner has been the human resources departments for the various agencies.”

She continued: “The partnerships we built with HR departments across Massachusetts state agencies allowed us to increase engagement with the initiative. HR has a direct line of communication to employees, and they are a trusted resource.”

A letter from Massachusetts State Treasurer Deborah B. Goldberg inviting state employees and retirees to visit the Enrich website was reinforced with a turnkey guide and social media prompts for HR partners to promote the program. Then, in April 2021, in conjunction with Financial Literacy Month, individual departments joined with the OEE to run a series of challenges and special events for participants.

Through this summer, financial wellness program participants who take and stick to a pledge to work toward financial well-being qualify for raffles to receive prizes. A special resource participants can access is the YouTube series titled Money Talk Tuesday Workshops. The current library of 28 half-hour and one-hour videos makes expert advice on issues as diverse as identity protection, educating kids about money and accessing paid family leave available at any time.

“The positive feedback we’ve received has been tremendous,” Van Tassel said. And rather than viewing the pandemic as a barrier to getting the financial wellness program up and running, she noted, “There is no better time to offer these resources as state budgets are stretched thin and public employees have been increasingly concerned about their finances.”

Nebraska Public Employees Financial Wellness Program

If you visited the website of the Nebraska State Treasurer in early June 2021, the first thing you would have spotted at the top of the page was the logo for and a link to this program. Take that as just one indication of the degree to which leaders across the state government workforce now recognize how “financial wellness has become increasingly important for all Americans. In the wake of economic downturns, a global pandemic and changes to work-based benefits, wages have not been keeping pace with the cost of living.”

The quote comes from a series of interviews HR News did with University of Nebraska-Lincoln economics professor Jennifer Davidson, Ph.D. She and her team at the Nebraska Council on Economic Education partnered with the state treasurer to create webinars and other online resources organized around what Davidson identifies as the six pillars of financial well-being:

  • Budgeting, savings, and debt reduction;
  • Investing and retirement;
  • Identity theft and fraud awareness;
  • Planning for children and college;
  • Insurance; and
  • Estate planning.

Separate webinars were created from scratch to deliver key lessons on these topics, and an average of 750 individuals streamed each live session. The treasurer’s office used an email list for all current state employees to invite people to register.

By Davidson’s count, 411 employees completed all eight aspects of the financial wellness program, which were a pretest to gauge financial knowledge, viewing all six webinars during April and May 2021, and a posttest. She also noted that 200 of these participants received $100 through a raffle. Other incentives, such as random drawings for one of six $50 gift cards, were offered to participants in individual webinars.

“People really responded to the insurance one,” Davidson said. “Which, you think, “Insurance? That’s so boring!’ But it was actually pretty fun and useful. Our speaker was really entertaining and personable.”

The most well-attended webinar covered saving and budgeting, drawing some 1,100 live participants. All the sessions remain online for state employees and retirees to revisit or work through at their own pace.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Davidson describes an email folder overflowing with unsolicited reviews such as “Thank you for putting this program together,” “This is so useful,” and “I’m just getting ready to retire, so this is really timely.”

Interest exists for developing a second set of new or expanded webinars. Davidson would also very much like to see what she calls “a version 2.0” because “financial wellness is a lifelong pursuit.”

Every person’s financial needs “changes with stages of life, and everybody can always improve something” Davidson explained. “When you’re 18, it’s different than when you’re a parent or grandparent and considering retirement. In addition, it depends where your starting point is.” —N