A new report lauds Wyoming for having the nation’s lowest foreclosure rate.

Foreclosures are a contributing factor in residents’ overall financial security, according to the report by the Washington, D.C.-based Corporation for Enterprise Development.

The organization considered 133 factors as varied as home ownership and policies protecting the poor.

Wyoming ranked fourth in what it called outcomes, or data reflecting current economics, such as income, poverty and home ownership. Wyoming ranked second to last in policies the organization thought helped people’s financial security, such as health coverage and welfare eligibility.

The report looked at 50 states and the District of Columbia. 

The Washington-based nonprofit helps low-income people save for college and homes by creating accounts in which a person's savings are matched by contributions from the government or nonprofit foundation. The organization also advocates for legislation that would help more people to get the accounts, called individual development accounts. It also researches people's economic decision-making.

Financial security is important for life security, according to the report. Families in persistent financial insecurity struggle to look beyond immediate needs and plan for a more secure future, the report states.

Kristin Lawton, the organization’s director of communications, acknowledged that Wyoming’s No. 4 ranking in outcome data conflicts with its 50th-place ranking in policies.

She said the high wages provided by the minerals extraction industries could explain why economic data was positive for Wyoming families even when the policies were not. She said low-income people in Wyoming likely suffer because of the state policies.

“There are still clearly a lot of residents that are suffering,” she said. “But it is tricky in terms of getting policymakers to listen when you see this data that says, ‘We’re No. 4. Why do we need it?’”

Foreclosures

The report gauged Wyoming’s low foreclosure rate through the National Delinquency Survey put out by the Mortgage Bankers Association in the second quarter of 2013. The survey found that 0.79 percent of home loans in Wyoming were in foreclosure.

Those data don’t surprise Ramona Kuhn of Second Street Realtors in Casper. Recently, she told the Kler family, which currently rents in Paradise Valley, that their offer on a house on Pheasant Drive had been accepted.

“Our lenders are fairly conservative,” Kuhn said. “We don’t have a bunch of fly-by-night lenders where agents would send people to.”

Kuhn said the state’s economy is diversifying. People who previously lost their jobs in one industry can find a similar job in another, which decreases the chance they will lose their homes. And Wyomingites borrow within their means, she said.

Spencer Kler, who works for Weatherford International, made that clear to Kuhn when he started looking for houses.

“I’m not going to be house poor,” he said.

Criticisms

The report dinged the Equality State for disqualifying families with assets from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, commonly known as welfare.

In Wyoming, the household asset limit is $2,500, said Corrine Livers, Wyoming’s TANF program manager. Families with more than $2,500 in assets cannot qualify for benefits.

“That can be a combination of a checking account, a savings account or cash on hand,” she said.

Wyoming provides an exemption to the asset limit for one vehicle for a single parent or two vehicles for a married couple, Livers said. Additional vehicles could count against the limit.

“Families must ‘spend down’ savings to receive what is often short-term assistance, leaving them worse off in the long run,” the report states.

The Corporation for Enterprise Development doesn’t think there should be any asset limit.

At any given time in Wyoming, there are 420 to 440 people who receive TANF benefits, Livers said. About 50 percent of the people who apply are getting the money only for their dependent children. But even when TANF is for the kids, the parents’ assets are considered, Livers said.

Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, is chairwoman of the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee. She believes people should sell assets before applying for TANF.

“With my values, I believe that if someone has a lot of assets, they need to first — before they ask me and you and all the rest of us to pay for their groceries and pay for their utilities — do everything they can to take care of themselves,” she said.

Reach state reporter Laura Hancock at 307-266-0581 or at laura.hancock@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter: @laurahancock.

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