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Treasury Nominee Lew To Face Full Senate Vote

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WASHINGTON (2/27/13)--Jack Lew moved one step closer toward becoming U.S. Treasury secretary when his nomination was approved by the Senate Finance Committee by a 19-5 vote on Tuesday.

The Hill reported a full Senate vote on Lew's nomination could be held today.

President Barack Obama nominated Lew, currently White House chief of staff, in January for the Treasury post. Earlier this year, the committee quizzed Lew on topics ranging from the complexity of the nation's tax code, to the qualified mortgage definition issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to the Treasury's March 1 deadline to eliminate paper delivery of federal benefits checks.

The committee also approved Christopher Meade's nomination for Treasury general counsel.

CUs Should Plan For CFPB Changes, Panelists Say

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WASHINGTON (2/27/13)--Credit unions are facing a barrage of new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau mortgage regulations, and the first step in dealing with these regulations should be credit union staff education, panelists at a Tuesday Credit Union National Association Governmental Affairs Conference session said.

The GAC breakout session, entitled "Managing the Change in Lending Rules," was moderated by CUNA Associate General Counsel Jared Ihrig. The panel also featured commentary from:
  • CFPB Deputy Assistant Director, Regulations, Ben Olson;
  • SchoolsFirst FCU, Santa Ana, Calif., Chief Operations Officer Erin Mendez; and
  • PolicyWorks LLC Vice President Andrea Stritzke.
The session provided a brief overview of three new CFPB releases, the agency's new ability-to-repay, mortgage loan originator compensation and mortgage servicing rules. These rules are scheduled to go into effect in January 2014, and Stritzke said credit unions should not wait long to begin to analyze the rules and implement needed changes.

"Someone has to start to learn these rules to help train others in your credit union," she said. There are a lot of details, she noted. There are a lot of little exceptions in the rules that will impact credit unions, and a lot of little exceptions that will help credit unions, she said. Credit unions without a full education in the rules may start compliance processes when they do not need to, Stritzke stressed.

She also emphasized that interpretations of the rules can vary, and elements of the rules could change before January.

Mendez said her credit union has brought together real estate, lending and compliance staff to form a task force to take on the CFPB mortgage regulations. The task force members review the regulations and hold meetings to discuss what the rules are and what they mean for credit unions and membership.

Mendez also advised credit unions not to get so focused on the rules that they forget the members they are trying to serve. Credit unions should also try to be as thoughtful as possible when they look for ways to adapt current processes or current notices to meet the new requirements.

Olson said the CFPB is trying to make the new regulations as digestible as possible, and will work to help credit unions and others impacted by the rules prepare for compliance with guidance, webinars and other outreach efforts. He noted that the CFPB regulations do not aim to be overly restrictive. "There are good loans to be made across the board," he said.

GAC: Wasserman Schultz Praises CUs For MBL Efforts

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WASHINGTON (2/27/13)--Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) praised credit unions for their efforts in providing small businesses with capital to create jobs and help the economy at the Credit Union National Association's Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington Tuesday.

She noted that Florida credit union member business lending (MBL) created 7,000 jobs in the state in fiscal 2012.

"Credit unions have effectively been filling the lending gap for small businesses," Wasserman Shultz said. "We would not be where we are in the recovery without credit unions."

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) in February reintroduced legislation (H.R. 688) that would increase MBL cap to 27.5% of assets, from the current 12.25%-of-assets level.

The bill, if enacted, would help credit unions lend an additional $14.5 billion to small businesses in just the first year after enactment. This money, which would be made available at no expense to taxpayers, would in turn help small businesses create over 158,000 new jobs.

Wasserman Schultz called for a balanced approach to regulation, one that protects consumers and clears red tape for financial institutions. "I don't think you have to choose between one and the other," she said.

She acknowledged that the complexity of regulations that credit unions face is unsustainable. "We must reduce the burden and increase the consistency of regulation," Wasserman Schultz said. Along with Rep. Shelly Moore Capito (R-W. Va.), Wasserman Schultz sponsored the Financial Institutions Examination Fairness and Reform Act, which would require more timely examination reports and more timely exam decisions.

Wasserman Schultz also praised credit unions for their grassroots efforts and ability to work together.

"There is no better example of grassroots efforts in the financial services industry than credit unions, and when the leaders here today speak with one voice, you can and will make progress," she said.

CUNA's 2013 GAC runs through Thursday.

Boehner Zeroes In On Tax Reform At CUNA GAC

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WASHINGTON (2/27/13)--One of the most prominent Republican policymakers on Capitol Hill today discussed one of the hottest, most debated topics ripped out of the headlines to a packed house of credit union representatives in town for the system's premiere governmental affairs conference.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) Tuesday took to the stage at the Credit Union National Association's 2013 Governmental Affairs Conference and discussed reform of the country's tax code before an audience of 4,200 credit union representatives, and press organizations that included Politico, American Banker, Reuters, Fox News Channel and the trade press.

The House speaker was introduced by Ohio Credit Union League President/CEO Paul Mercer, who said Boehner "has long been aware" of what credit unions in Ohio do for the state.

Boehner opened his remarks by telling his audience that his Washington focus is much the same as theirs--"to get government out of the way" and "let hard-working Americans" be successful in their businesses.

Boehner said the country is moving toward a renaissance and a time of energy independence. He named three things he said are necessary to do to build on the renaissance:

Click for slide show House Speaker John Boehner addresses CUNA's Governmental Affairs Conference for the second time in three years. His topic in 2013: tax reform and education as tools to help the country grow. (CUNA photo)
  • Fix a broken tax code: Lower the tax rate for all and clean out loopholes and "the other nonsense that is there."
  • Do something about the large debt that "hangs over" the nation; and
  • Ensure American kids get a "chance at a decent education."

"If we are serious about economic development, we must do those three things," he said.

"What's made America the country it is, is that you can grow up to be anything you want to be."

This is the second time the House speaker has addressed the CUNA GAC.  In 2011, Boehner discussed topics related to the then-new Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act.

NEW: Cordray Calls on CUs To Help CFPB Aid Consumers

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WASHINGTON (2/27/13, UPDATED: 9:55 a.m. ET)--Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Richard Cordray today called on credit unions to work with the agency "to address the consumer financial issues central to the lives of people all across this country.

"The people we jointly work for, your members, and american consumers, are eager to discover a new and improved consumer financial marketplace. And they deserve it," he added.

In his remarks before the Credit Union National Association's 2013 Governmental Affairs Conference, Cordray noted that it was not the traditional lending practices of credit unions that created the financial crisis. In fact, he said credit unions were the original consumer protectors, and were sounding the alarm bell long before the financial crisis.

"In short, we believe that credit unions and the consumer bureau see the world in the same way: Consumers who understand their options, weigh choices appropriately and make sound decisions are good for responsible businesses and the economy as a whole," Cordray said.

For more on Cordray's speech, see the Thursday edition of CUNA News Now.

NEW: Sen Warren: CU 'Reliable' Model a Bright Spot In Economy

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WASHINGTON (2/27/13, UPDATED 10:30 a.m. ET)-Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), speaking to the Credit Union National Association's Governmental Affairs Conference here this morning, directed the spotlight to shine brightly on the credit union difference.

Across her state of Massachusetts--and all around the country--member-owned credit unions are looking out for people, she said. "That's what credit unions do-they work for their members."

Remembering the unfolding of the country's recent financial crisis, the senator said that as one Wall Street banking scandal after another unfolded, credit unions remained a bright spot in the financial industry.

"Credit unions did not break this economy. They did not build business models around tricking their customers. When the economy faltered, they did not turn their backs on the families and small businesses that needed them.

"On the contrary, credit unions worked hard to lead our economic recovery, responsibly and reliably providing credit to their members that need it. The credit union motto says it all: 'not for profit, not for charity, but for service,'" Warren, who was instrumental in setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before she won election to become Massachusetts new senator, said.

See News Now Thursday for more on Warren's remarks.

Hensarling Vows To Stand With CUs In Preserving Tax-Exempt Status

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WASHINGTON (2/27/13)--House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), speaking Tuesday at the Credit Union National Association's Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C., said he will help credit unions preserve their tax-exempt status.

Hensarling blamed bad policy, specifically excessive taxation, as among the key reasons for feelings of doubt that many American feel toward their economic prospects.

"But if I have anything to do with it, it will not be taxation on our credit unions," Hensarling declared to the credit union audience.  More than 4,200 credit union representatives are attending this year's GAC.

Hensarling also said that he "will not rest" until the U.S. Congress repeals a provision of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act that caps the fees financial institutions and card networks can charge retailers when a customer uses a debit card.

"Federal price controls were wrong yesterday, federal price controls are wrong today, federal price controls will be wrong tomorrow," Hensarling said of the interchange fee cap.

New rules that allow retailers to assess "check out" fees or surcharges on credit card purchases took effect in many states on Jan. 27, and CUNA is watching to assess how these rules could impact credit unions. The surcharge rule change is one result of a 2012 interchange fee class action lawsuit settlement (News Now Jan. 29).  CUNA has explained that the surcharging aspect of the settlement--as well as the provision that consumer-owned credit unions would see a reduction in interchange revenue--are signs that the settlement does nothing for consumers.

Hensarling also attacked the regulatory complexity created by Dodd-Frank. He said Dodd-Frank was based on the premise that regulators lacked the authority to prevent Wall Street from taking outsized risk, but that diagnosis, he said, was wrong.

"You can find very few instances of lack of regulatory authority contributing to the financial crisis," Hensarling said. "Instead at the epicenter of the crisis is a Federal Reserve that kept money too cheap too long because of the housing bubble and federal policy, particularly the affordable housing goals of the [government sponsored enterprises] that promoted and incented financial institutions that were lending to people to buy homes they could not afford."

Hensarling put Dodd-Frank regulations into two categories: "Those that create uncertainty and those that create certain economic harm."

Among the chief risks facing financial institutions today is federal regulatory risk, Hensarling said. "And ladies and gentlemen, with your support, I plan to end that," he added.

Hensarling, a critic of the authority that Dodd-Frank granted the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said the regulatory burden inflicted by the bureau will stifle innovation and curtail lending.  "The way to protect consumers is through competitive, transparent innovative markets that vigorously police for fraud, and it's time to empower credit union members, not bureaucrats in Washington."

House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said taxing credit unions is "bad policy." Hensarling spoke at the Credit Union National Association's Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C. (CUNA photo)

New CUNA Chair: CUs Must Boost Advocacy Efforts

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WASHINGTON (2/27/13)--Credit unions are well-known in Washington for their grassroots involvement, and they will need to get politically engaged on even a larger scale if they hope to advance their legislative goals, new Credit Union National Association Chairman Pat Wesenberg said on Tuesday.

Wesenberg, who is also president/CEO of Central City CU in Marshfield, Wis., spoke after she received the ceremonial leadership gavel from exiting CUNA Chairman Mike Mercer at CUNA's 2013 Governmental Affairs Conference here.

Wesenberg, who has been involved with credit unions since she took on a "summer job" at age five, said she has learned the importance of advocacy in her life's work with credit unions.

When she first started working with credit unions as an adult, she was more concerned with day-to-day operations. "But in time, I came to learn that political advocacy is critically important. There's a real value to knowing who your legislators are, and interacting with them on a regular basis, not just in Washington, but back at home," she said.

Despite the intensity of bank attacks on credit union priorities, credit unions can overtake them, she said. She noted that CUNA, the Wisconsin Credit Union League and credit unions in that state pulled together to repel attempted bank attacks on the credit union tax status, and said credit unions and cooperatives can work together and lobby together to achieve shared goals.

"The opportunities for credit unions have never been greater. People today are making a beeline to the personal service, the value, and the sense of trust we offer." These claims are backed up by increased membership and lending numbers, she noted. At the same time, banks "have never been held in such low regard in the public eye," she said.

However, community banks can also work with credit unions and find common ground. "They know we've got enormous public support and trust, and they know how wonderful credit unions can be when we all work together behind a shared political agenda.

"Our moment is now, working together we can advance our political agenda. That is why we're here, and that will be one of my top goals as your new CUNA board chairman," Wesenberg said.

Bachus To GAC: Lawmakers May Revisit Interchange Cap This Year

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WASHINGTON (2/27/13)--Federal lawmakers may revisit the topic of interchange fee cap legislation this year, Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) said in a Tuesday speech before the Credit Union National Association's 2013 Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington.

Bachus, who is the the immediate past chairman and still a senior member of the House Financial Services Committee, said the interchange fee cap affected local institutions and basically didn't affect larger financial institutions. "It affected debit cards and things that you market, and not so much the credit card," he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, committee chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said he "will not rest" until Congress repeals interchange fee cap provisions. "Federal price controls were wrong yesterday, federal price controls are wrong today, federal price controls will be wrong tomorrow," Hensarling said of the interchange fee cap.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, which Bachus said was a result of "the behavior of a few and not Main Street institutions," punishes credit unions and small financial institutions that were innocent victims. "We're going to look very hard [at Dodd-Frank]," and credit unions could see bipartisan support for taking off some unnecessary, needed, uncalled-for parts of Dodd-Frank that impact credit unions and other small financial institutions, he added.

The structure of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is another topic that could soon be addressed in a bipartisan manner, Bachus said. He noted that House and Senate members are in serious talks to form a bipartisan commission to govern the bureau. "I think that you will find that approach much fairer and less dictatorial," he said.

Click to view larger image Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) says the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act was a result of "the behavior of a few and not Main Street institutions" and punishes credit unions and small financial institutions that were innocent victims. (CUNA photo)

CU 'Common Purpose' Is Powerful Legacy, Fryzel Tells GAC

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WASHINGTON (2/27/13)--National Credit Union Administration board member Michael Fryzel told a crowd of more than 4,200

Click to view larger image Addressing the CUNA 2013 GAC, NCUA board member Michael Fryzel applauds credit unions for continuing to lend to their members and members' families to help them through difficult times. (CUNA photo)

credit union officials that their joint vision and values rescued the industry from the recent recession and honored what their predecessors had created.

He was addressing the Credit Union National Association's 2013 Governmental Affairs Conference held here through Thursday.

Fryzel said that during the country's recent financial crisis, the "people who made up the credit union system held together, and because of that, the system held together."

"We all rolled up our sleeves. All of us hauled new timbers. We rebuilt the system ourselves, a system that is going to last," he said.

The NCUA board member also applauded credit unions for continuing to lend to their members and members' families to help them through difficult times. The credit union audience got a pat on the back for being part of a system that accepts challenges together and can take pride in their accomplishments.

Fryzel, who was chairman of the NCUA board when it conserved U.S. Central FCU and Western Corporate FCU in March 2009, recounted some of the initiatives that the agency took to stabilize the industry. These included the Credit Union System Investment Program and the Credit Union Homeowners Affordability Relief Program.

Fryzel, who joined the board in 2008 after being appointed by President George W. Bush to a term that expires in August, encouraged the credit union representatives to continue to live out their vision.

He told the credit union leaders that you "wrestled with current problems and tamed them with your vision of the future.'' And he encouraged attendees to ensure that members of Congress "understand what cooperative credit unions are, the work cooperative credit unions do, and the great potential cooperative credit unions have for the people and the economy of this country.''

"Vision" is a powerful theme of this year's GAC. During the Monday morning session, CUNA President/CEO Bill Cheney presented a bold new, overarching strategic vision for the credit union movement: A vision in which "Americans choose credit unions as their best financial partner."

He outlined this strategic vision, and how credit unions can "Unite for Good" to achieve it was the focus of the CUNA leader's remarks to the 4,200 participants at the opening general session of CUNA's 2013 Governmental Affairs Conference.

Cheney stressed that developing a vision where Americans choose credit unions as their best financial partner stemmed from more than one year of discussions with credit union and league leaders, credit union system partners, and CUNA's own leadership.


Royce: Economic Tensions Call For Greater MBL Authority

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WASHINGTON (2/27/13)--Rep. Ed Royce said current economic tensions are proving more than ever the need for expanding credit union member business lending (MBL) authority. The California Republican urged attendees at the Credit Union National Association's Governmental Affairs Conference to stress this issue during planned visits to congressional offices this week.

Royce is the author and prime sponsor of the Credit Union Regulatory Improvement Act to increase the credit union MBL cap. He told the conference the legislation now has 40 co-sponsors, and includes members of both political parties.

He also reported success in soliciting Senate co-sponsors, despite bank opposition. "The more we focus on the legislation, the more we capture members of the Senate," he said.     

Royce said banker opposition to the bill will be less of a factor if credit unions can represent the issue as an important move to broaden consumer options at a time when they are badly needed. He suggested opponents would like to define it so that members of Congress will see it as simply a conflict for market share between credit unions and banks.

"You are the boots on the ground," he told the GAC session. "Each of us in our credit unions have stories to tell.  I want you to share them so we can raise this lending cap."  He said it makes no sense to be subject to certain artificial lending caps in this kind of an economy.

"You are the most effective group in doing this that I know," he added. He said credit unions are noted for representing the interests of their members but also promoting economic advantages that will improve the economy and create jobs.

House Democratic Whip: Sequester Could Be 'Disaster' For CUs

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WASHINGTON (2/27/13)--House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) warned credit union executives that the prospective sequester transition facing Congress could be a disaster for the credit union sector.

"The sequester, quite simply is shorthand for a reduction in the opportunities that grow and sustain your membership base," he said in a speech before the Credit Union National Association's Governmental Affairs Conference here. "It will have serious, negative consequences for businesses--large and small--and the middle-class families you serve."

He urged credit unions to use their political influence during congressional visits, which are an integral part of the CUNA GAC, to stress the depth of the crisis. "We need you to add your influence," he added.

Hoyer said the mission should appeal to the credit union leaders because "you are the folks who go to your office and figure how to help people."

He said the sequester is not inevitable. "Congress created the problem, and Congress can solve it."

Hoyer said Congress can do so by replacing the sequester's cuts with a balanced approach to deficits that achieves the $1.2 trillion in savings that must be found under the Budget Control Act.

The alternative, he told the meeting, was "devastating consequences to the American dream your credit unions have worked so hard to help build."

Hoyer added: "In a city where seemingly nothing gets done if the clock isn't about to strike 12, it's not too late to avoid the sequester, and spare our people, our businesses, our markets, and all of you, from its serious consequences."

Rep Heck Pledges To Work For CU Issues

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WASHINGTON (2/27/13)--Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.), a former marketing director of Columbia CU,  Vancouver, Wash., praised the efforts of credit unions to help people and businesses and promised to work for their interests as a new member of the on the House Financial Services Committee.

"Credit  unions are about helping small businesses and helping people get what they want in life,'' Heck  told the Tuesday crowd of more than 4,200 credit union officials at the Credit Union National Association's 2013 Governmental Affairs Conference held here through Tuesday.

Heck, a freshman lawmaker, thanked credit unions for the help they gave him in his campaign last year. CUNA and the Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) supported Heck with a $10,000 maximum contribution from the Credit Union Legislative Action Council and organized events on his behalf.

CUNA's and the NWCUA's support was based not only on Heck's past employment at a credit union, but on his in-depth knowledge and stated support of credit unions and their issues, CUNA has said.

Heck praised credit unions for lending him money to launch several small businesses and said he would co-sponsor legislation, recently re-introduced in the U.S. House, to raise the cap on member business loans from 12.25% of assets to 27.5% of assets. He also said he learned a great deal about non-financial issues while a credit union employee.

"All I ever needed to know I learned at the teller window at Columbia Credit Union,'' he said.

Reg Relief For CUs On Majority Whip's Mind

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WASHINGTON (2/27/13)--House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) praised credit unions for helping him start his business

Click to view larger image House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) says that the way to solve the current financial problems is for both political parties to work together and cut spending.  (CUNA photo)

and promised to work hard to provide regulatory relief for the industry.

McCarthy, who once owned a delicatessen in Bakersfield, Calif., said he would use his influence to fight the growth of regulations that prevent credit unions from doing what they need to do, such as making more business loans.

He made his remarks during a speech at the Credit Union National Association's 2013 Governmental Affairs Conference.

McCarthy, the No. 3 member of the GOP leadership and a fourth-term lawmaker, reiterated his support for legislation that would improve the process for appealing decisions made by examiners for the National Credit Union Administration and other financial regulatory agencies.

He also urged GAC attendees to be vigilant in making their cases when meeting with lawmakers. Capitol Hill visits are a vital and integral part of the CUNA conference.

"Don't assume that members understand the history (of credit unions)--especially why you have your tax-exempt status,'' he said. CUNA and the state credit union associations recently unveiled an important members-only toolkit: It is designed to help credit unions connect with their members and educate the public about credit unions as banks intensify their state-level attacks against the credit union tax status. Use the link to access the resource.

McCarthy also said that the way to solve the current financial problems is for both political parties to work together and cut spending. He opined that Washington "doesn't have a revenue problem, but a spending problem.''

Luetkemeyer Praises CUs For Finding Common Ground

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WASHINGTON (2/26/13)--Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), speaking at the Credit Union National Association's Governmental Affairs Conference Tuesday, praised credit union leaders for their ability to find common ground and work with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

"We in this country, being the entrepreneurs that we are, have the opportunity to grow our industries and work with members and clients to make a difference in their lives," he said. "I think by being here today you want to make a difference."

Luetkemeyer said given the partisan political climate that pervades Washington today, making a difference is more challenging than ever. Even bills supported by both parties are subject to hang ups, he said.

"It's a lot like Murphy's Law: if something can go wrong it always will," Leutkemeyer said. "As a result we have to work past issues and find ways to work together even on small issues. But there always seem to be problem that can't be resolved."

In February, Luetkemeyer and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) introduced "The Eliminate Privacy Notice Confusion Act." CUNA supports the bill, which it says would eliminate repetitive privacy notices that are often ignored by consumers (News Now Feb. 19). By eliminating a requirement that the notices be sent annually, and requiring them only to be sent when the privacy policy of a financial institution has changed, the notices become more meaningful for consumers, CUNA has stated.

The U.S. House unanimously passed an identical bill before the 112th Congress adjourned, but the Senate had not acted on the legislation. Therefore, the bill must be re-introduced for consideration in both chambers this year.

Rep Meeks To CUNA GAC: I Will Fight For CUs

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WASHINGTON (2/27/13)--House Financial Services Committee member Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) Tuesday said he "will fight to ensure that credit unions remain the cornerstone of Main Street America."

One way to do this, he told the crowd at the Credit Union National Association's 2013 Governmental Affairs Conference Tuesday, is to support member business lending (MBL) legislation.

Meeks, who is the ranking minority member on the committee's Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit Subcommittee, is a co-sponsor of H.R. 688. That bill would increase the credit union MBL cap to 27.5% of assets, from the current 12.25% of assets.

The bill, if enacted, would help credit unions lend an additional $14.5 billion to small businesses in just the first year after enactment. This money, which would be made available at no expense to taxpayers, would in turn help small businesses create more than 158,000 new jobs.

Meeks noted the positive impact that the MBL bill could have in communities across the country, and said the bill needs to be moved through Congress. "Seems like a no-brainer to me," he said.

Meeks called credit unions "the backbones of communities."

"When entrepreneurs have difficulty obtaining capital from other lending sources, they know where they can go and sustain themselves and get a loan and help businesses and help create jobs...they go to their credit union," he said.

Meeks noted that credit union lending remained strong in recent years, allowing countless businesses and consumers to remain afloat and have access to vital capital. And, he said, credit unions have been able to provide this critical support without the advantages many other institutions maintain.

CUNA's GAC runs through Thursday.