This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first step Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation (PATF) took as an organization toward becoming one of the strongest state Alternative Financing Programs (AFPs) in the country!
In March of 1998, PATF became incorporated as a nonprofit in Pennsylvania with an unpaid staff of one and a committed board of directors. By October of 1998, we extended our very first loan to a fellow from Lancaster for a home modification. Now, 20 years later, take a walk with us down memory lane as we reflect on what we’ve been able to accomplish with so much help, dedication, and commitment from our board, staff, volunteers, supporters, collaborating organizations, partner banks, and, of course, from the disability community:
We have extended nearly $40 million in loans, helping Pennsylvanians access the assistive technology (AT) they want and need. Check out some of our success stories to read how these loans are making a difference in our borrowers’ lives.
- We are the first AFP to develop a robust information and assistance program, helping nearly 7,000 Pennsylvanians learn about AT, public and private funding resources, and vendor companies. Every year we help people find close to $1 million in grant funding. We have a strong commitment to consumer direction and consumer control and programs like this help individuals with disabilities make informed decisions about how to finance their AT.
- We have successfully helped someone in every county in Pennsylvania! Fun fact: Sullivan County took the longest to reach. With only 6,328 residents spread out over this rural Pennsylvania county, we considered it a victory when we made a personal connection there, helping a man with arthritis find funding for a hitch to his vehicle to more easily transport his scooter. We credit our fantastic Funding Assistance Coordinators for getting out to every corner of the state, making connections and spreading the word about funding resources for assistive technology.
- We have acquired certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) status at both a state and federal level for six consecutive years. As a CDFI we are held to high standards of practice and make a commitment to working specifically with low-income communities through financial and educational programs. While our loans directly make a difference in helping people purchase needed assistive technology, they also provide the added, vital benefit of improving individuals’ credit scores with every on-time payment.
- We have consulted with 19 of 42 state AFPs to help develop their programs (visit our Who We Are page to download a list of all the state AFPs). Most recently we worked with New York and New Jersey, helping them design their loan program.
- We have grown from an unpaid staff of one to the equivalent of seven busy full-time staff members!
- We have worked with our partner banks to craft a contract that allows us to offer a fixed low interest rate, making our loans affordable to many Pennsylvanians. Prior to 2002 our interest rate followed the prime interest rate which made it very difficult for us to assure that our loans would remain affordable.
We have created the first and only comprehensive financial education book specifically written for people with disabilities, Cents and Sensibility: a guide to money management. We have also developed an online version of this book (www.studymoney.us), increasing access to the material. In 2017, we published a companion educator’s guide to support teachers who wish to use Cents and Sensibility in the classroom. And finally, in 2017 we also published the first Spanish translation of the current edition of Cents and Sensibility as part of a larger outreach effort to the Spanish-speaking community.
- We have launched the Generic Smart Home Technology project, Smart Homes Made Simple, to establish a dictionary of common language about smart home tech and to disperse information about how to integrate this technology into one’s home and life.
- We have influenced the Department of Human Services to include a broad definition of AT in the Home and Community-Based Waiver programs and also Community HealthChoices so that low-income Pennsylvanians have access to AT.
- We have formed great partnerships with state agencies, providing mutual referrals with such organizations as the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Department of Community and Economic Development, and the Department of Human Services. Our relationship with AgrAbility is particularly notable, as we have worked together for 14 years to help farmers across the state gain access to funding for assistive technology. Together we even created a national funding guide to assist farmers throughout the United States in identifying the funding resources available to them, helping them remain on their farms and in production.
- We co-coordinated the ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) advocacy effort in Pennsylvania, securing the best ABLE legislation in the country. Notable positive differences in Pennsylvania’s legislation include contributions to PA ABLE accounts are state tax deductible, and when a beneficiary dies funds in the ABLE account pass to their estate as opposed to the state claiming that money.
- We have worked with U.S. Congress and federal offices for the last 15 years to help create and expand AFP programs throughout the country by allocating dedicated funding for AFPs.
- We have collaborated with the Pennsylvania Health Law Project to ensure Pennsylvanians have access to healthcare and waiver services. Together we advocate for individuals to get the healthcare and AT they need to live in the community.
We have run two financial education pilot programs called Money Club for young adults transitioning into independent living to gain the tools needed to be more involved in their financial future. Topics covered included the differences between wants and needs, how to create a personal budget, how to avoid losing benefits while still earning income, and why good credit is so important in providing options to live independently. As part of the program, Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) were created for each member. Because the financial match for each account was funded by private grants, members were able contribute unearned income to grow their accounts and bought assistive technology with the funds at the completion of the program – options that aren’t possible with federally-funded IDAs.
- We have consulted on the creation of new housing models for people with disabilities and families. With so many complex rules and regulations, our advocacy and training efforts have been instrumental in the development and dissemination of creative solutions. For an example of an independent living model, learn about HomeWorks, a home owned by three men who have physical disabilities.
- We have spoken at numerous conferences and to various groups both alone and in collaboration with other professionals and organizations. Most recently, partnering with Easterseals of Southeastern PA, we travelled as far as Costa Rica to provide families with hands-on education about assistive technology and funding options.
- We make a concerted effort every year to work with the general assembly informing members and their staff about all we do. With their support, we consistently receive state appropriations to help finance the funding gaps.
- We have remained dedicated to the population we serve. We value personal connection and have an average of 14 touch points with a potential borrower during the process of extending a loan. During this process we provide information and assistance as well as financial education, prioritizing consumer control and helping our consumers be as informed as possible.
- We have built a strong, committed board that is going to lead us into the next 20 years. Members of our board include people with disabilities, family members, providers, lawyers, bankers, and financial managers, all working together to help us understand the world as it is evolving and meet the challenges ahead. Together we will be able to help more people live the life they want to lead.
None of this would be possible without the support of this community. With more projects in the works and others on the horizon, we can’t wait to look back again in another 20 years. Together we are making a difference!