CUs Ask More Ways To Serve The Poor

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Credit unions leaders outlined for Congress last week a variety of ways the movement is serving the underserved and asked lawmakers for additional means to reach out to low-income Americans and the so-called unbanked.

Al Beltran, president of Security First FCU, said his McAllen, Texas, credit union has been offering thousands of migrant workers commuting between Mexico and his border town low-cost financial remittances through the International Remittance Network, known as IRnet, and has applied to the U.S. Treasury Department for a grant to help them offer 'First Accounts' to unbanked residents.

Beltran, who was representing CUNA before hearings by the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions, also urged Congress to pass proposed legislation that would allow all financial institutions to accept Matricula Consular identification cards issued by the Mexican embassy as valid identification to open credit union and bank accounts. There are separate bills pending before Congress, one that would prohibit the use of Matricula Consular cards one that would allow their use.

Beltran, whose $140 million credit union recently received NCUA approval to serve low- income communities along the Mexican border, said his credit union has had good experiences with the Matricula Consular card, which has allowed many Mexican migrants with little identification to qualify for credit union membership.

NCUA Chairman Dennis Dollar discussed the number of initiatives the agency has undertaken towards reaching out to the underserved, including his "Access Across America" program. The program has not only empowered hundreds of credit unions to reach into low-income communities, but has proven to have increased membership among those credit unions, he said.

Dollar also urged Congress to approve legislation which would facilitate greater outreach to low-income residents by allowing credit unions to provide check cashing and wire transfers to non-members within their fields of membership.

Rep. Spencer Bachus, chairman of the congressional panel, said he called the hearing to determine what financial institutions can do to better serve America's underserved residents and the unbanked, the estimated 40 million people without proper bank or credit union accounts.

Credit union lobbyists saw two tangible purposes to the credit union presence.

The first was to further the case for pro-credit union proposals, such as the check cashing for non-members and Matricula Consular measures.

The second was to set a record for serving the underserved, so when the debate swings back to a Community Reinvestment Act for credit unions, as it is expected to do when the regulatory relief process moves over to the Senate later this year, credit unions have supporting arguments for defeating any efforts to apply CRA to them.

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