Three years ago, I said that Operation HOPE was coming to Alabama. At that time my interest was in helping those most impacted by the devastating Alabama tornadoes, led by Fred D. Smith and our HOPE Coalition America division. It took us three years, but we are finally operational in the state. Literally in this instance, representing rainbows after storms.
I was personally hurt by what happened in Alabama following the tornadoes. I new that the federal disaster recovery funds scheduled to flow into the state could have not only helped those impacted by the disaster (to recover and rebuild), I knew that the nearly $1 billion that the federal government was prepared to set aside to help those in the state, could have literally reset the levels of poverty itself in Alabama.
The impact of $1 billion in Alabama might equate to ten times that amount elsewhere. That said, only a small fraction of the intended funding ever made it into the state and into the hands of its residents.
The issue was not fraud or government waste or abuse, but simply a very low level of applicant requests for assistance, in far too many case. Some of this was sadly the result of an abysmally low level of financial IQ, or financial literacy in Alabama. Financial literacy is the civil rights issue of this generation. Particularly, in a place such as Alabama, with such a significant population of low-wealth residents, combined with lower levels of overall educational attainment. This is not a knock on Alabama and its residents, this is a reality — and it must be changed.