Religious Groups Call On DNC Chair To Denounce Pro-Payday Loan Bill

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Faith-based community organizations are among the loudest voices in the battle against predatory lending practices like payday loans. And while most of their efforts are on education and local reforms, a coalition of these groups is thinking nationally, calling on Congress, including the chair of the Democratic National Party, to rethink their support a pro-payday loan piece of legislation.

The mix of religious groups and consumer advocates are asking DNC chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (FL), to publicly renounce a controversial piece of legislation — introduced by bank-backed Florida Congressman Dennis Ross — that would undermine the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s ability to regulate predatory lending.

The misleadingly named Consumer Protection and Choice Act was introduced last fall in response to the news that the CFPB would be drafting rules intended to curb the more predatory aspects of payday lending.

The bill would not only delay the Bureau’s efforts to rein in payday lending though its still-to-be unveiled rules, but would exempt states – including Florida – that already have lax restrictions on payday lending.

Lawmakers, like Wasserman-Schultz have actively been advocating for the legislation, contending that state rules on payday lending, such as those in Florida, would be undermined by the CFPB rules, and that needy borrowers would be robbed of access to credit.

In a memo being circulated around Capitol Hill, the DNC Chair describes her state’s law as a “model” that other states should follow for payday loans, rather than the CFPB rules that don’t exist yet.

But faith leaders say the state’s limits don’t go far enough to protect consumers, and that lawmakers should be looking out for the well-being of their constituents not the payday lending industry.

“It’s one thing to know that payday loans devastate families, but it’s another thing to see it,” Elder Lee Harris of the African-American Ministers Leadership Council of People for the American Way Foundation and pastor of the Mount Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville said at a Thursday morning press conference.

“Washerman-Schultz was part of the group that helped to rein in predatory lending [by assisting in writing the Florida rules], but the fix that was put in place isn’t complete and isn’t whole,” Rev. Russell Meyer, Executive Director of Florida Council of Churches, said Thursday, noting that acceptable APRs for these short-term loans are exceedingly high, ranging from 266% to 313%.

For example, the Florida rules – which limit borrowers to a single loan at a time, requiring a 24-hour cooling-off period between loans – do put a $500 limit on a single loan, but they allow lenders to charge up to $55 in fees for that loan, which has to be repaid somewhere between 7 and 31 days. For a two-week loan, that comes out to an APR of more than 280%.

Additionally, while the one-day cooling-off period does present a speed bump for borrowers who need to take out another loan to pay back the first one, it does not prevent the practice that keeps borrowers in a cycle of revolving debt, advocates say.

In fact, a coalition of groups — including our colleagues at Consumers Union — sent a letter to all Congress members in December suggesting that the state’s laws fail consumers. The group notes that despite the cooling-off rule, 88% of repeat loans were made before the borrower’s next paycheck and 85% of payday loans are issued to Florida residents who have taken out at least seven loans per year.

These failures and lawmakers’ action to support legislation boasting Florida’s laws as a model for national rules, are worrisome for the faith community.

“Rep. Wasserman-Schultz is leading the DNC and Floridians, that she is not be living and truth and in action,” Rev. Sekinah Hamlin, Director, Ecumenical Poverty Initiative says, adding that the faith groups are calling on all leaders, both political and otherwise, to stand up against predatory lending.

“We need our elected officials to help protect those African Americans who have been targeted by predatory lenders and all economically vulnerable communities from the payday debt trap and stand guard against wolves in sheep clothing who prey upon them to exploit their financial hardships.” said Elder Harris. “Politicians should know better than to take ‘blood money’ and pretend all is good, especially those who want to win in November.”

Legislative attacks on the CFPB’s payday loans rule-making process aren’t new. In fact, they’ve been occurring since the Bureau’s creation.

Most recently, bank-backed lawmakers, Rep. Mia Love (UT) — who has previously received campaign money from the American Financial Services Association — and Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling — who received campaign money from the AFSA — accused the CFPB of hurting consumers by trying to regulate the payday loan industry during a subcommittee hearing subtitled: “The CFPB’s Assault on Access to Credit and Trampling of State and Tribal Sovereignty.”

The lawmakers, 18 of whom have received campaign contributions from lobbyists for the payday and small-dollar lending lobbyists, accused regulators of attempting to craft rules that would limit consumers’ options when it comes to available credit, and drive out small business owners.