White House Gives OK To Data Collection Plan

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The White House cleared NCUA's service to the underserved data collection program last week and NCUA examiners will begin work on the program in the next few weeks. But the White House budget office explicitly limited the program to just six months, until Aug. 31.

NCUA had planned to begin examining 481 credit unions to measure their service to the underserved by the end of last month but the White House ordered a halt to the program until NCUA issued the proposal for public comment, as required by the Administrative Procedures Act. To comply with the law NCUA issued the proposal for a brief five-day comment period, including the weekend.

NCUA hopes to use the data collected to demonstrate to Congress that credit unions are fulfilling their original mission of providing services to individuals of modest means-widely referred to as the underserved. Growing numbers of lawmakers are suggesting that fulfillment of that mission should be the price credit unions pay to retain their federal tax exemption.

One leading proponent of that position, Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA), chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, announced last week he will retire from Congress at the end of the year, completing his 14th term in the House. Thomas was heard on more than one occasion criticizing credit unions, specifically, and other non-profit 501 organizations, for possibly growing beyond the original purpose of their tax exemptions. That was the gist of last November's Ways and Means Committee hearing, the first-ever congressional hearing dedicated to the credit union tax exemption.

At the hearing, Thomas questioned credit unions' service to the underserved, and said NCUA or some entity should collect data to address the issue of whether credit unions were providing adequate service to people of modest means. But Thomas insisted he was not calling for the repeal of the tax exemption. "No, I don't think you should remove the tax-exempt status," said Thomas at the conclusion of the hearing. "But I won't put a period there."

Ed Roberts can be contacted at eroberts cuournal.com.

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