A group of Latino immigrants in the Washington region will receive free financial education designed to teach them how to manage their money. The course will be offered in Spanish to Pollo Campero's 180 employees in Prince George's County, Montgomery County and Northern Virginia during three classes this month.
The local Pollo Campero franchises, part of a popular Guatemalan chicken restaurant chain, were selected as the pilot for the financial courses because most of its employees are low-income immigrants from Central America. Instructors from Casa de Maryland, a nonprofit immigrant advocacy group in Silver Spring, will use Spanish-language texts provided by Freddie Mac to teach how to establish a credit history, rent an apartment, buy a home or car and pay for college.
Pollo Campero employees are a prime population for common financial problems that plague the Latino community, said Gustavo Torres, executive director of Casa de Maryland. According to studies by the Pew Hispanic Center, 22 percent of Latinos have no credit history, compared with 4 percent of whites and 3 percent of blacks. About 42 percent of Latino immigrants do not use banks or credit unions.
"This is a large number of people who are carrying their money around in their pockets," Torres said yesterday at a press conference at the Pollo Campero in Wheaton.
For immigrants, the biggest barrier to opening checking accounts and establishing credit is lack of knowledge about the financial laws and customs in the United States. Casa de Maryland's instructors said many undocumented immigrants do not realize that they can open bank accounts without driver's licenses or Social Security numbers. "All you need is a tax identification number or a passport," said Claudia Rodriguez, a financial literacy teacher at Casa de Maryland.
Gustavo Morales, 26, a Pollo Campero cashier, moved to Maryland from Guatemala City only four months ago. He lives with his wife and two children in a Wheaton apartment. He has opened a bank account but says he wants to learn how to buy his own home. "The laws and norms in each country are different," he said in Spanish.
Pollo Campero is a well-known brand within the local Latino community. Along with the Wheaton location, the company has restaurants in Herndon, Langley Park and Falls Church. If the pilot program goes well, Casa de Maryland plans to work with Freddie Mac to offer financial education to employees of other Latino restaurants, small businesses and churches.
Alicia Machado, a nanny from La Paz, El Salvador, took a course similar to the one being offered to Pollo Campero employees at Casa de Maryland three Saturdays in February. She already owns a home with her husband, but left the class with more information about the home equity that she has accrued.
"Now I want to buy a second home," she said.
The classes also will help Latino immigrants discern fraudulent financial schemes, said Maryland Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery), who came to the Pollo Campero in Wheaton yesterday to support the financial education program. Maryland legislators recently passed a law that makes it illegal for notaries to give their customers legal advice or assist them with the immigration process. The different status of notaries in Latin America has led to problems for some immigrants who thought notaries were authorized to give them legal advice.
"It bothers me to see how our community is victimized by so many fraudulent scams," Gutierrez said. "Our people are [often] innocent victims, and this program will bring education."