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Nonprofit helping young military families find financial freedom

Posted at 2:29 PM, Jun 10, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-11 00:18:29-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Too many young military families in San Diego are finding themselves trapped in mountains of debt, not knowing where to turn.

It's a devastating problem that the nonprofit Support the Enlisted Project (STEP) is working to tackle.

"It's a real challenge, and I think we are setting these families up for failure a lot of the times," said Tony Teravainen, CEO and Co-founder of STEP.

"Their wage with all their allowances, E4 and below, 100% of them are below HUD's low-income level."

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Teravainen says families often don't ask for help until things have gotten really bad.

STEP helps prevent roughly seven evictions each month for young military families.

"As a country, we don't have great financial habits. And what we see is when families enter the military we put additional burdens on them, and a lot of times this pulls them further, further into debt. We ask them to move their houses every two to three years; service members can be deployed at least a third of the time."

The goal is to get as many families in need into their Emergency Financial Assistance (EFA) Program.

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The EFA Program is a unique social-work and change-management based program that was specifically designed to move military and veteran families from a financial crisis to a lifetime of financial self-sufficiency. 

Each family gets a social worker who helps them create a budget and set goals for the future.

Teravainen says 4,500 families have come through the program since it was created in 2012 and they have a 90% success rate.

"A success story to me is a family that can change their behaviors," said Teravainen.

Families in need of help can learn more on the STEP website.