November 16, 2007

Ithaca Currency Keeps Money Local

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Similar to the use of Big Red Bucks on Cornell campus, Ithaca Hours, a local currency for city residents, are an alternative to the U.S. dollar. Hours can be used to purchase goods and services, as well as pay partial or full wages to Ithaca employees.
Last night, the local currency system celebrated its 16th year by hosting its annual meeting at Borg Warner Community Room of the Tompkins County Public Library. The meeting enabled community members to learn about Ithaca Hours and meet members of the Ithaca Hours Board of Directors. Participants were given the opportunity to apply to be on the Board or vote for new Board members. Steve Burke ’81, president of Ithaca Hours, gave a presentation about the organization.
Burke outlined the impact Ithaca Hours have had on the local economy. The currency system has over 900 users. There are 12,000 Hours currently in circulation, which are worth $120,000 in total. He said Ithaca Hours tries to reinforce that when people are using a local currency, they are supporting local businesses.
“One great example is that if you shop at Wal-Mart with regular money, as soon as you use that money, it leaves the community and goes to the corporate headquarters, which is in Arkansas,” said Amanda Block, member of Ithaca Hours’ community outreach staff. “If you use Ithaca Hours in local businesses, [money] will stay in the area. That supports the local economy and keeps it healthy.”
He also stated that Ithaca Hours are trying to bring a local currency system to New Orleans to reconstruct the economy, which was damaged by Hurricane Katrina. They are currently working with the leaders of both cities and the relief group Love Knows No Bounds to complete the project.
“There is economic distress and chaos down there because of lack of dollars … the use of actual money that circulates will help the businesses and employers,” Burke said.
Local businesses that accept Ithaca Hours include local grocery store Green Star Cooperative Market, Alternatives Federal Credit Union and ABC Café. Cornell Cinema has become a new member of Ithaca Hours and has begun to accept the local currency. People can also find other local businesses and services that use Hours in its online and printed directories.
Also, supporting the local businesses by using the local currency has had positive environmental effects.
“Local businesses are considered tied to the local ecology. The more they become benefited from the place they live, the more likely they are to respect the community as well as the land and the environment,” said Block.
When Ithaca Hours were created in 1991, when the living wage was $10 per hour, one Hour was equivalent to $10. According to Block, the idea of Hours also implies social justice, as an Hour represents a person’s work worth that amount of money.
Other than issuing local currency to support the local community, Ithaca Hours also provide interest-free loans in Hours to its members and grants to community organizations. Time Bank-Tompkins County Advocate Program has received a gift of 200 Hours recently.
“We will use those hours to provide encouragement and rewards for at-risk youth in the time bank,” said Brooke McNally, Time Bank coordinator, in her speech on the annual meeting.
Kate Pazoles ’06, who applied to be a Board member of Ithaca Hours, expressed her hope to strengthen the link between Ithaca Hours and the University.
“Ithaca Hours is a unique organization. It is a good cause to keep money local and support the local economy, and it’ll be great to get more students involved in it,” she said.
“I joined Ithaca Hours because I want to strengthen the community,” said Emme Edmunds grad, who advertised her services as a women’s health consultant through the Ithaca Hours directory.