Storm-Affected CUs Up & Running; In Texas, Preparing For Evacuees Who Stay

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Credit unions in Texas have been playing double-duty, first helping to serve other credit unions' members displaced by Hurricane Katrina, and then scrambling to help their own after being hit by Hurricane Rita.

"We can expect that of the 275,000 people who came here to escape Katrina, as many as half will remain here," said Texas CU League President Dick Ensweiler. "We have always had low unemployment here, so this gives us a new supply of people for jobs. There is room here in Texas for those who find this is a good place to reside."

The initial scramble to get credit unions up and running in the regions of Texas and Louisiana hit by Hurricane Rita is over, with NCUA reporting that all 50 federally insured CUs with assets totaling $1.9-billion that had been temporarily closed are again operational.

Both the Texas and Louisiana leagues said they have been working closely with NCUA and CUNA Mutual Group to first identify credit unions affected by the storms, contact them, and then put their members in contact with them.

The Louisiana CU League continues to work out of Baton Rouge as it waits for its offices in Harahan to be given a clean bill of health, and has been able re-hire two of its six staff members-two part-time, four full-time-that it had had to layoff following the storm.

"The league is facing the same issues and challenges that credit unions and other businesses are facing," said LCUL Spokesperson Alicia Blanda, pointing to the laying off of 3,000 municipal employees in New Orleans as an example. "As soon as the league is 100% operational, hopefully everyone will come back."

The league was able to hire one of the employees back due to a donation from the World Council of Credit Unions, which has agreed to fund the salary of one of LCUL's accountants through the end of the year.

"Thanks to the generosity of the World Council and other leagues, we have already rehired two full-time staff members to our work force," said LCUL CEO Ann Cochran.

One of the six staffers actually asked to be laid off, Blanda said. "He just had so much damage to his home and to his parents' home, he felt like he needed to be free to help his parents and put his own life back together," she noted.

In other updates from the Gulf Coast:

* Eight credit unions have joined the shared branching network since the hurricanes hit, and another 11 are pending.

* In the week immediately following Hurricane Katrina, CUCB Service Centers in Baton Rouge and Shreveport alone handed out more than $769,000 in cash to CU members.

* Two new outlet centers of the shared branching network have opened in Louisiana: Louisiana FCU and McComb FCU.

* CUNA Mutual Group is urging CUs working out of a temporary location or any credit union receiving a portable building to contact their representative to secure coverage for those locations, as they are not covered under the CUs' primary building coverages.

* Working with the Florida CU Foundation, the Louisiana league has dispersed a total of $320,000 to credit union staff who have been displaced due to the hurricanes. To date the Louisiana Credit Union Relief Fund has distributed 640 checks for $500 each.

* The Texas league's Hurricane Response Workgroup has answered 1,119 calls with a total talk time of 26 hours and 16 minutes.

* The volume of calls received by the TCUL operators group to the league's normal toll-free number has risen dramatically since the storms, with operators answering nearly 4,000 calls between Sept. 1 and Oct. 5.

Some of this can be attributed to the fact that one Beaumont radio station was broadcasting the number as the source for CU members looking for debit cards to help provide relief.

* TCUL's Hurricane Rita Infoline, with a frequently updated recorded message reporting on the status of 34 credit unions in Rita's path, has been accessed nearly 3,000 times since its inception.

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