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Six Democratic senators back off housing finance bill support

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WASHINGTON (5/12/14)--Six Senate Democrats have said they will not support recently proposed revisions to the secondary mortgage market if further changes are not made to the bill.
 
Legislation proposed by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) is scheduled to be marked up this week. The 425-page bill, known as the Housing Finance Reform and Taxpayer Protection Act of 2014 (S. 1217), would overhaul the housing finance market and address the issues created by the current government ownership of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
 
In a private meeting last week, Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Jack Reed (R.I.) reportedly said the proposed structure of a new mortgage reinsurance body was unworkable. They also said the proposed bill did not do enough to address affordable housing issues, Bloomberg reported.
 
Johnson last week delayed a scheduled markup of the bill to gain greater support, and he told Politico that the bipartisan bill could pass his committee by a 13-9 vote.
 
The Credit Union National Association supports the bill and has advocated for credit union priorities on several fronts, including meetings with White House officials, Federal Housing Finance Agency Director Mel Watt and members of Congress. In these meetings, CUNA has encouraged policymakers to be mindful of the existing regulatory burdens of credit unions and other mortgage servicers, and to avoid layering additional regulatory authority on top of existing regulatory regimes that address mortgage servicing.

IRS taking VITA grant applications until June 2

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WASHINGTON (5/12/14)--The Internal Revenue Service will be accepting applications for the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) grant programs through June 2.
 
The TCE program offers free tax help for all taxpayers specializing in questions about pensions, particularly those who are 60 years of age and older. The VITA program offers free tax help to people who generally make $52,000 or less, those with disabilities, the elderly and taxpayers with limited English skills.
 
The VITA grant program was established in 2007, allowing the program to extend services to underserved populations in hard-to-reach urban and non-urban areas. Some organizations can apply to receive annual funding for up to three years.
 
Credit unions across the nation participate in the VITA program, most notably helping community members by helping them identify which tax credits they may be eligible to receive ( News Now Jan. 21).
 
Applications must be submitted through Grants.gov by June 2. Previous grant recipients have the option to apply for up to three years of annual funding, which reduces the amount of paperwork that must be completed annually, and helps recipients with budget planning.
 
Interested applicants can find TCE and VITA application packages on Grants.gov. Electronic versions of the grant application package instructions, Publication 1101 for TCE and Publication 4671 for VITA, can be found on the IRS.gov website.

FEC to accept bitcoin for PAC donations

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WASHINGTON (5/12/14)--The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has unanimously approved the use of the digital currency bitcoin for political donations.
 
In a May 8 statement, Chairman Lee Goodman noted that "bitcoin contributions will be regulated and reported by recipient political committees as in-kind contributions."
 
Members of the commission have imposed several conditions on these contributions, most notably that they cannot be anonymous, and campaign treasurers must scrutinize the donations for "evidence of illegality" ( USA Today May 9).
 
Additionally, Goodman said the commission lacks statutory authority to impose limitations. Although the requesting party, Make Your Laws PAC, said it would voluntarily limit acceptance of bitcoins to no more than $100 from any single contributor, as a general rule, the FEC lacks the authority to impose such a limitation on bitcoin contributions.
 
An article in Politico (May 9) also stated that the ruling "does not prevent political committees from testing the boundaries of federal law on crypto-currencies."
 
Attorney Dan Backer, who has created a bitcoin political action committee, told Politico that his organization plans to press Congress and the FEC with further questions on bitcoin and other digital currencies.
 

NCUA opens new consulting program nomination round

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. (5/12/14)--Nominations for the latest 2014 round of the National Credit Union Administration's small credit union consulting program will be accepted until May 31.
 
Through the consulting program, the NCUA's Office of Small Credit Union Initiatives (OSCUI) offers budgeting, marketing, policy development and strategic planning assistance. The experienced economic development specialists that offer this assistance also help credit unions tackle other examination issues.
 
The new nomination round was announced in OSCUI's Focus e-Newsletter .
 
Credit unions with less than $50 million in total assets, charters that have been approved within the past 10 years or low-income designations may be approved for the consulting program.
 
Nominations may be submitted by NCUA examiners or other agency staff, state credit union regulators or by credit unions themselves. Selected credit unions will receive assistance during the six-month period between July and December.
 
For more information and a nomination form, use the resource link.

New SBA administrator: Make extra effort for underserved groups

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WASHINGTON (5/12/14)--Maria Contreras-Sweet just wrapped up her first month on the job as administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA) and has already set up a goal for the remainder of her term: getting capital to the small businesses that need it.
 
At an address to the National Association of Guaranteed Government Lenders last week, she said a major part of achieving that goal was to throw more support behind minority-owned businesses.
 
According to the Department of Commerce, minority-owned businesses with gross receipts of $500,000 or less were three times more likely to be turned down for a business loan than their non-minority-owned counterparts. Loan denial rates for larger firms are twice as high for minority-owned businesses.
 
"We know that SBA lending to African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans--and women-owned businesses--can lift up entire communities," she said. "I'm determined to do more to get loans into those underserved communities hit hardest by the recession."
 
A study conducted by the Urban Institute found that women and minorities are three to five times more likely to be approved for an SBA-backed loan than a traditional loan because of the guarantee the government provides. Four of every five loan applications received from Hispanic and African-American business owners are for $150,000 or less.
 
Contreras-Sweet also said the SBA plans to roll out SBA One, which she described as "TurboTax for business lending," that will provide one set of forms, services and data management to thousands of SBA lending partners.
 
"We'll create a single portal that's a one-stop shop for eligibility, underwriting, closing, loan modification, servicing, and purchase. It will automate the upload of documents. It will automate the generation of forms. It will automate credit scoring. And it will automate electronic signatures," she said. "SBA One will streamline and simplify our lending process."
 
The Credit Union National Association supports a goal of increasing small business access to capital through the reduction of statutory and regulatory impediments, such as enabling full credit union participation in the SBA's Section 504 programs.
 
CUNA has urged Congress to increase the member business lending (MBL) cap to 27.5% of assets from 12.25%. CUNA has estimated that lifting the MBL cap would create 140,000 jobs and inject $13 billion in new funds into the economy, at no cost to taxpayers.

Letter calls for 'meaningful patent reform now'

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WASHINGTON (5/12/14)--A letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee is calling for "meaningful patent reform now" on the federal level, and states continue to raise their voices against abusive patent "trolls."
 
The Credit Union National Association, as well as other members of the Main Street Patent Coalition, addressed today's letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the committee, and its ranking member, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).
 
Leahy has introduced the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act of 2013 (S. 1720) but postponed last week's committee vote on the bill.
 
The need for patent reform is not in question, the CUNA letter emphasized, and now is the time to fix the problem.
 
"Main street businesses provide jobs and services in our communities; patent trolls leach away billions of dollars and provide nothing in return," the letter noted. "The patent system must be modernized to stop this abuse."
 
Eliminating trolls' preferred weapons such as frivolous demand--or patent assertion--letters, would not injure legitimate companies, or devalue or degrade their patents, it said. "We believe that it is wholly possible to keep the U.S. patent system's original intent intact while at the same time shielding businesses from abuses made possible by a lack of smart, modern day policies within that system."
 
In the letter, the coalition noted its support of legislation that makes it easier to:
  • Eliminate trolls' ability to hide behind shell corporations;
     
  • Make it easier to punish trolls that send fraudulent and abusive shakedown demand letters;
     
  • Protect end users by providing a consistent application of the customer stay when the manufacturer is best positioned to fight the troll, and ensure that the stay provision adequately covers and shields main street businesses;
     
  • Make trolls pay when they sue companies frivolously and stop runaway litigation cost; and
     
  • Disarm trolls by improving patent quality and providing a way to fight bad patents.
Meanwhile, the Vermont state Senate Friday unanimously approved a resolution relating to bad faith patent assertion--a resolution that had been introduced just one day prior. It specifically "supports congressional efforts to eliminate patent abuse in the form of bad faith patent assertion and the need for strong federal legislation, including fee shifting, more stringent pleading standards, and limitations on the initial discovery process."
 
The Main Street Patent Coalition is a national coalition of business organizations that represents businesses in every community that are being harmed by the predatory practices of patent trolls.

NCUA RBC listening sessions are filling up fast

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WASHINGTON (5/12/14)--Interested in attending one of the National Credit Union Administration's three listening sessions on its risk-based capital proposal? You'd better hurry up, as spaces are filling up fast, the Credit Union National Association reminds.
 
Each listening session with Chairman Debbie Matz is open to 150 attendees. The June 26 session in Los Angeles already has 76 registrants, 101 have registered for the July 10 session in Chicago and 87 have registered for the final listening session in Alexandria, Va.
 
"The NCUA is hosting the sessions as a result of pressure from CUNA and others to provide a forum for credit unions to speak directly with the agency regarding the proposed rule," CUNA Deputy General Counsel Mary Dunn said.
 
CUNA will be attending each of the sessions and will be working with the leagues to ensure credit unions' concerns are heard by the agency, she added.
 
The NCUA proposal would make changes to Prompt Corrective Action rules that would replace existing risk-based net worth requirements with new risk-weighted asset and capital requirements. The rule would apply to federally insured "natural person" credit unions with more than $50 million in assets.
 
CUNA supports risk-based capital. However, the association strongly opposes the proposal the NCUA has issued for comment. Working with CUNA's Examination and Supervision Subcommittee, CUNA is developing its comment letter, which it says will reflect major concerns and present a range of recommendations to make the proposal workable.
 
CUNA is encouraging all credit union with assets above $40 million to consider how the proposal will affect their operations and to file a comment letter.
 
To sign up for the NCUA sessions and access CUNA's RBC Action Center, use the resource links.