Congressional Black Caucus raises alarm over Otting's comments

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WASHINGTON — The Congressional Black Caucus has requested a meeting with Comptroller of the Currency Joseph Otting over comments he made last week that appeared to downplay the existence of discrimination in banking.

Otting told the House Financial Services Committee that he has not "personally observed" discrimination in banking "but many of my friends from the inner city across America will tell me that it is evident today."

The comment sparked confusion and alarm among Democrats at the hearing and in Otting's follow-up appearance before the Senate Banking Committee the next day. Otting later clarified that he believed discrimination existed but that he had "personally never experienced” it.

"While you may be fortunate enough to have never personally witnessed discrimination, it is alarming that an individual entrusted with regulating institutions that provide critical financial services to a broad range of constituencies appears shockingly unfamiliar with the rationale behind the promulgation of specific regulations aimed to address the problem," Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., the CBC's chair, wrote in a letter this week to Otting.

Richmond said he was concerned about the comments in light of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency's work to revise Community Reinvestment Act procedures. The 1977 law was meant to curb redlining in low-income neighborhoods.

The Congressional Black Caucus is requesting a meeting with Otting and relevant personnel involved in drafting the proposed rules aimed at modernizing the law so it can “enlighten” the regulators on the state of discrimination.

“Your inability to speak out forcefully against examples of existing discrimination in this country leaves us with serious doubts about your ability to implement the announced rule changes in a way that appropriately fulfills their purpose,” Richmond said.

In response, Otting said in a statement that he looked forward to meeting with Richmond and other Congressional Black Caucus members "to discuss the recent testimony and how the regulatory framework of the Community Reinvestment Act can be modernized to encourage banks to do more to invest, lend, and otherwise support the communities across the country that need it most so that we can better achieve the original statutory purpose of the CRA."

"The members of the Congressional Black Caucus provide critical insight and perspective necessary to find the best ways to improve our approach to the CRA, and I welcome their important voice in this process," he said.

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