Senior members of the Obama administration posted a blog advocating "a moral case" for putting an end to payday lending abuses, citing support from a variety of religious leaders.
"We have a moral obligation as a country to do something to stop payday lenders from preying on consumers by trapping them in an endless cycle of debt," said the blog, which had three bylines: Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser and assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs and public engagement; Cecilia Munoz, assistant to the president and director of the domestic policy council; and Jeffrey Zients, the director of the National Economic Council and assistant to the president for economic policy.
The blog was posted Thursday after officials and religious leaders met at the White House to discuss stronger consumer protections.
The White House appears to be ratcheting up its rhetoric ahead of a proposed payday lending rule that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is expected to issue in May or June. A payday lending plan would be the first federal law regulating the industry.
The short blog included a video of President Obama's speech last month at Lawson State Community College in Birmingham, Ala., where he spoke about abusive payday lending practices.
"Every year, millions of Americans take out these payday loans," Obama said, noting that there are four times as many payday loan operations in Alabama as there are McDonald's restaurants. "In reality most payday loans aren't taken out for one-time expenses, they're taken out to pay for previous loans. You borrow money to pay for the money you already borrowed."
Because of the short duration of payday loans, many borrowers are forced into what the CFPB has called a "debt trap." A typical $350 payday loan has a fee of $45 and comes due in one lump sum after two weeks. Payday loans have effective annual interest rates of 300% to 500%.
The blog post cited recent surveys showing 94% of Christians "believe that lenders should only extend loans at reasonable interest rates based on an ability to repay." The ability-to-repay standard was part of an outline the CFPB released in 2015 as part of its proposal to gather feedback from small businesses.
"Yet even as there is widespread agreement across a diverse array of faith communities that something needs to be done to address payday lending abuses, too often these reasonable efforts face stiff resistance from the special interests supported by the payday loan industry," the blog stated. "Diverse religious leaders and thousands like them are making clear why the independent CFPB has such strong moral grounds for addressing abuses in payday lending."