WASHINGTON Banks dont like him. Credit unions dont like him. And the White House this summer nominated someone else to replace him on the National Credit Union Administration board.
Yet far from just clinging to his chairmanship, Norman E. DAmours declared victory Thursday in his three-year fight for a requirement that some credit unions spell out and fulfill plans for serving the low-income segments of their communities.
The win was not entirely his own. Fellow board member Yolanda T. Wheat offered the watered-down rule the board approved in a 2-1 vote. Mr. DAmours contended in an interview afterward that it is similar to one of his earlier proposals.
Credit unions oppose such requirements of any type, but Mr. DAmours said that without one, credit unions tax-exempt status is at risk.
If credit unions dont do this, I think inevitably Congress is going to look and say, Why should you remain tax exempt? And once they lose their tax exemption they are going to become even more competitive than they are becoming today, losing their service ethic.
The whole movement will disappear, Mr. DAmours said. That would be a terrible loss, because credit unions were created specifically to empower low-income people. It doesnt mean they have to serve only low-income people.
Mr. DAmours has made many enemies, and his future on the board is doubtful. Credit union trade associations and others have been working for over a year to get me out of here, Mr. DAmours said.
His term expired more than a year ago, and President Clinton has nominated consultant Geoff Bacino to succeed him. Fortunately for Mr. DAmours, Mr. Bacinos confirmation has been stalled by Election Year politics.
Unsurprisingly, his proposals for a community service requirement were attacked from all quarters. Credit unions and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm blasted them as too much like the Community Reinvestment Act for banks which is just what the banking industry wanted credit unions to face.
In the credit union trade associations there seems to be a resistance to the very idea of focusing in any way on the low-income community, Mr. DAmours said. I think that is because there are a number of credit unions that really do want to be bank-like while continuing the tax exemption, and I think they are getting a free ride. They are living off of the reputation of credit unions, but they are not acting like credit unions.
Banks, meanwhile, have criticized the rule as too weak. What changed the climate to let it pass?
In the passage of that time I did a lot of work with Congress and particularly with Democrats in the Congress explaining my efforts, Mr. DAmours said. I got a lot of support.
Existing community credit unions have until Dec. 31, 2001, to have a plan in place. New community credit unions would have to implement the change when it becomes effective, 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register.
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