Feds Back Volunteer Rebuilding Initiative

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NCUA Chairman JoAnn Johnson joined officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and representatives from other government officials at the White House last week to launch an unprecedented volunteer initiative aimed at providing financial and legal assistance to victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The government-wide initiative, called Project Restore HOPE, aims to recruit part- and full-time volunteers with credit union, banking, insurance, accounting and legal backgrounds to provide the estimated 1.3-million Katrina victims with critical financial counseling and support.

CU and banking professionals are being asked to assist at financial help call centers, FEMA disaster recovery sites, local facilities and virtual help centers on the Internet. Call centers have already been set up in Poway, Calif., and Dallas.

The hope is that the professionals can lend their expertise to help victims obtain lost or destroyed financial records, counsel on emergency budgeting and credit management, work with creditors and mortgage lenders, make referrals to disaster relief agencies, and prepare insurance claims.

"The credit union community has responded with great compassion," said Johnson, of the Katrina relief efforts so far. "I encourage that spirit to continue through this effort at providing financial counseling and support for those who are in great need of economic empowerment more than ever." Johnson urged credit union professionals nationwide, as well as NCUA staff, to lend their expertise to the effort.

David Garratt, division director of FEMA's recovery division, said the volunteer project is a much-needed partnership between the public and private sectors to support low-wealth and urban communities that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. "We must help these victims get their sense of economic security back," said Garratt.

Interested credit union professionals can either call toll-free 877-388-HOPE, or visit the Project Restore HOPE website at www.operationhope.org.

The initiative is being organized by Operation HOPE, a faith-based program supported by the government, as well as the White House, Treasury, FDIC, Comptroller of the Currency and Office of Thrift Supervision. Several private sector entities have already made major financial contributions, including First American Corp., which has donated $500,000 towards calls centers and virtual help center programs, and E*Trade Financial, which also donated $500,000 to help uninsured homeowners and families who can not afford security deposits to rent new homes.

The organization is also asking for help to produce and disseminate an emergency "financial first aid kit" for victims and future victims of major disasters with tips on protecting finances and limiting liabilities.

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