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Statewide Family Savings Account program to end

The end is near for a 10-year-old statewide Family Savings Account program that has helped hundreds of Alle-Kiski Valley residents save money.

The program encourages low- and moderate-income people to save as much as $2,000 a year and get matching government money.

But the program is ending in June.

People use the savings to buy:

• used cars or as down payment on new cars

• contribute to higher education

• make a payment on a house

• pay for home improvements

Program participants must set a goal, save money to achieve it, and attend four workshops teaching them about home financing. If they do, they qualify for money matching what they have saved.

Although the program will end in June, only a limited amount of slots remain in each county.

The Family Savings Account is funded by federal money sent to the states, said Amanda Burkhart, FSA manager for Action Housing Inc. in Pittsburgh. Action Housing administers the program for Allegheny County residents.

Action Housing supports FSA enough that it will apply for a direct federal grant to continue the program in Allegheny County.

"It will be tough, but we're going to try," Burkhart said.

She said about 1,000 county residents signed for the program in the past decade. Through December, about 341 qualified for the matching money.

Statewide, about 3,500 residents signed for the program, said Luke Weber, a spokesman for the state Community and Economic Development.

"A significant number didn't graduate," he said.

That's not the case in the Alle-Kiski Valley's three other counties.

Rick White, who manages the program in Armstrong County for the Community Action Agency based in Kittanning, said the typical drop-out rate has been only 10 percent.

Since 2001, 194 Armstrong residents have completed the program and received matching money.

"We also have 26 in the program now," White said.

Although the state didn't renew the program grant, White said the county is signing up people until the end of June.

A single applicant may earn as much as $21,600 while an applicant with a family of four may earn as much as $44,100, he said.

Participants attended a recent workshop to hear a Farmers & Merchants Bank official discuss home and auto loans.

"This is really unfortunate," said Tay Waltenbaugh, executive director for Westmoreland Community Action.

"We have up to 10 slots available up to the end of June," he said. "We have really used this program."

Community Action staffer Marilyn Fox Lewis said 142 Westmoreland County residents have opened FSA accounts. Of that number, 50 have received matching money and 35 are in the process, she said.

Kevin Boozel, who manages Butler County Community Action's FSA said about 40 have graduated from the program and received matching money during the past five years.

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