GAC Recap: CU Leaders Speak With One Voice to Lawmakers

Credit union leaders meet with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), leading member of the Senate Banking Committee and member of the Democratic Senate Caucus Leadership Team.
Credit union leaders meet with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), leading member of the Senate Banking Committee and member of the Democratic Senate Caucus Leadership Team.

Credit union advocates from across the nation educated members of Congress this week about the industry's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for federal charter modernization enhancements, and how “now” is the time to act on a national data security law that protects all consumers.

Many participants from California and Nevada saw value in this year’s “virtual” format due to the COVID-19 pandemic, although they said they look forward to when the Credit Union National Association’s (CUNA) annual Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) can take place in-person in the future.

Attendees brought a strong credit union message to their representatives, senators, and regulatory officials during meetings. With the assistance and coordination of the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues, they were equipped with key facts and talking points surrounding legislative and regulatory issues.

GAC Attendees: In Their Own Words
“I get excited when we share our stories and a staffer or lawmaker perks up and says, ‘Get me information on that — I am very interested’,” said Jennifer Denoo, CEO of Reno, NV-headquartered Great Basin FCU. “While we have overwhelming support from our legislators, it is a different level of support when we know they may actually take the lead on a topic that matters to us.”

What impresses Denoo the most is the diversity of “different experiences, wins, and challenges” that individual Nevada credit unions have.

“It’s great to share them together,” Denoo said. “When we speak collectively, you cannot help but be impressed by the impact credit unions have on our members and our communities. We sincerely make a difference, and we change lives each day.”

California Coast CU CEO Todd Lane, based in San Diego, CA, said what resonated most with lawmakers is how quickly credit unions sprang into action during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year to assist members and the community with financial relief.

“They understand that both members and non-members were hurting in their communities, and we were there for those individuals as we always are,” Lane said. “It is what we do. It is why credit unions were put on this earth. We are living our purpose.”

Lane added that legislators seem to realize the true cost of the absence of a national data security standard that protects all consumers, as well as operational losses, credit card fraud losses, and how they limit what credit unions can do for members and the community. “These translate to fewer branches, higher interest rates and fees, and less financial education than we could otherwise provide,” he said.

Overall: “We showed that credit unions truly live their purpose and earn and deserve their tax-exempt status,” Lane said. “It’s not that this was necessarily in question, but it’s abundantly clear why credit unions are granted this.”

Valley First CU CEO Kathryn Davis, based in Modsto, CA, said credit union leaders were able to clearly demonstrate the movement’s “difference” and how it is impacting local communities during the pandemic.

“I think we were able to share very clearly not only what we each accomplished for our members during the pandemic, but also what we did as an industry,” Davis said. “During each of my meetings with legislators, we took the time to add up some of the metrics on what happened collectively with credit unions in their local communities. We made a great impact in terms of how we work together as an industry to bring financial wellness and hope to the communities we serve.”

Dixie Abramian, CEO of Firefighters First CU, said the virtual format provided greater flexibility to view recorded congressional meetings.

"We didn’t have to go through security, stand in the rain, or try to find the building or room to tell our story," Abramian added. "The League did a great job putting the appointments on our calendars and giving each of us an opportunity to tell our story. And the lawmakers were all briefed, which made things run smoothly. Project Zip Code also helped in terms of connecting our efforts to the communities they represent."

Abramian said it was clear the efforts of the Leagues, CUNA, and others had made a great impact on educating lawmakers. "Telling our personal stories just reinforced the messages and the magnitude of assistance that all the credit unions provided their members during the pandemic," Abramian said. "I’m confident we left a great impression on our lawmakers and that most of them are advocates of our industry as a result of it." 

MBL Cap: 1-Year Safe Harbor Bill
Earlier in the week — in the middle of virtual meetings between California and Nevada credit union leaders and their congressional members — Reps. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks, CA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced bipartisan legislation to provide credit unions with a one-year safe harbor from the member business lending cap.

The measure — the number of which is pending — will allow credit unions a reprieve from the cap, allowing credit unions to issue small business loans as the nation is hopefully emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Credit union leaders are advocating for the passage of this bill and many others to come on topics ranging from maturity limit increases for federally chartered credit unions to greater access in field of membership.

Regulatory Meetings
Regulatory issues discussed and communicated to the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) over the past two weeks included regulatory burden, capitalizing interest on mortgage loans, asset thresholds, the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF), net worth relief, risk-based capital (RBC), the Financial Accounting Standards Boards current expected credit loss (CECL), extended examination cycle, streamlines and virtual examinations, and cybersecurity.

Additionally, topics discussed with Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) officials included tailoring regulations to credit unions, COVID-19 flexibilities, remittances, the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA), data points, the ability-to-repay/qualified mortgage rule, Unfair, Deceptive or Abusive Acts or Practices (UDAAP), and short-term small dollar lending.

“We want to thank everyone who attended during these past two weeks,” said Jeremy Empol, vice president of government affairs for the Leagues. “Financial institutions are very much a part of the discussion in Washington, D.C. in the coming months. Even under the ‘virtual’ circumstances of this year’s pandemic, we were able to display the credit union difference and speak as one voice to our members of Congress and regulators.”

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