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Financial education begins by knowing the audience


Dean Matsubayashi, Executive Director, Little Tokyo Service Center

Challenge: Asian Americans comprise the fastest growing racial group in the United States, but many face barriers as they age. The health insurance system often overwhelms those used to national health care abroad. The legal system can feel intimidating. And anything beyond basic saving and checking accounts can befuddle even the college-educated.

Two older Asian women sit on a bench next to a younger Asian woman

In 1979, representatives from various Japanese American organizations came together to address the lack of linguistically and culturally appropriate services for residents of the historic downtown Los Angeles neighborhood known as Little Tokyo, as well for the broader Japanese American community. Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) was formed to fill this gap, and has since evolved into a multilingual community development agency.

A significant number of Asian American seniors in and around Los Angeles struggle economically and face barriers to accessing helpful resources. For example, Korean Americans have the highest poverty rate of seniors from any racial group with roughly one in five living below the poverty line.

Clients come to LTSC in a variety of financial situations, like when collections agencies come after them unduly, or when a parent suddenly becomes a dependent. While LTSC provides individual case management, we wanted to avoid draining staff time and resources, so we looked for ways to step up education and prevention efforts to address financial issues.

LTSC reached out to local banks and financial planners and started a direct dialogue. We discussed financial issues of particular concern to seniors in Asian American communities. Together, we've helped each other better offer our clients culturally-appropriate financial counseling.

LTSC began focusing on financial workshops to our target communities. We invited expert speakers and provided simultaneous interpretation so that those with limited English proficiency could learn and ask question.

Two Asian seniors sit at a table learning about financial securityEarly feedback from workshop attendees was overwhelmingly positive, and this pushed us to do more. We found that attendees wanted translated materials in addition to simultaneous interpretation. Although it requires planning far in advance, we work with speakers to translate and test the materials not only for accuracy, but also readability. This is particularly important because literal translations may be technically correct, but not make much sense to a target audience. At some workshops, we coordinate multiple languages, including syncing three screens to project slides in English, Japanese and Korean.

Our biggest impact occurred among participants with limited English proficiency. Planning for long-term care (LTC) such as caregiving and extended nursing homes stays is one example. Many people do not realize that Medicare does not cover LTC. Immigrant families may be particularly underprepared for the cost if the health care system in their country of origin includes LTC because they tend to assume it is offered in the United States also. When we invited an expert to talk about LTC insurance, more than 50 people attended. Most of the immigrant families attending heard about LTC insurance for the first time.

While events are important, education starts with outreach. Our staff have expanded the number of presentations they make, in several Asian languages, to residents of senior housing buildings and social groups. We also cultivate relationships with ethnic media in order to continue to reach a broader audience.

When we heard about tax scammers targeting people with foreign-sounding names, for example, we submitted articles to our bilingual community newspaper. We received many calls from people, particularly from monolingual Japanese speakers, who said they had gotten threatening calls and were scared until they saw the article. One woman even called months later to tell us she had taped the article to the wall by her phone to be prepared. When she eventually got a scammer's call, she proudly told them off.

Culturally-appropriate information and targeted outreach take time and resources to develop, but they help to start important conversations to prepare for the future.

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