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CUs CUNA stress MBL benefits in White House co-op meeting
WASHINGTON (5/7/12)--Credit Union National Association (CUNA) Cooperative Alliances Committee Chairman Mark Cummins thanked the Obama administration for its support of member business lending (MBL) legislation and urged its continued assistance in the push for enactment during a White House briefing session last Friday organized by the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA).

Cummins, who is also president of the Minnesota Credit Union Network, emphasized how much more credit unions could do to help small businesses and create jobs with the passage of the Credit Union Small Business Jobs Act (S. 2231), in a session hosted by Rosie Rios, the Treasurer of the U.S.  "And it can be done at no taxpayer cost," he added.

The MBL issue also drew attention during a presentation by Jon Carson, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Joseph Thomas, CEO of Fairfax County FCU, Fairfax, Va., said anything the administration could do to support MBL legislation would be appreciated. Carson said the administration believes "some good, smart ideas" can still be enacted this year despite the gridlock on Capitol Hill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised to bring S. 2231 to the floor for a vote in this session.

Cummins, Thomas and Co-op Alliances Vice Chair Diana Roberts, CEO of Hershey FCU, Hummelstown, Pa., also took note of the growing regulatory burden credit unions face during the discussion with Rios. Roberts pointed out smaller credit unions sometimes have to incur the added cost of outsourcing for compliance help.   

Rios said she would relay these points in her discussions with Treasury officials.

The credit union delegation was part of 150 co-op leaders at the White House meeting, which NCBA organized to highlight 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives and co-ops' role in economic growth. The co-op leaders discussed how their organizations create jobs, improve members' well-being and help their communities. "Co-ops build the middle class by empowering their member owners," noted NCBA interim CEO Liz Bailey. 

Credit union participants also included Joseph Bergeron, CEO, Association of Vermont Credit Unions, and Mark Wolff, CUNA senior vice president, communications.  Both serve on the NCBA board of directors. "The meeting raised the visibility of co-ops among key White House personnel and started a conversation that I know we and NCBA will seek to continue," Wolff noted.

Prior to the meeting, NCBA shared 15 case studies with White House officials, including those of Hope FCU, Jackson, Miss., and its outreach to low-income persons and the unbanked; and the Defense Credit Union Council and the affordable financial services its 210 members provide to military personnel. 

An "observation from participants" briefing paper spotlighted a CUNA point that credit unions as member-owned co-ops are truly 'Main Street" institutions. "They are not only in their communities, but 'of' their communities….They are locally based and they have a history of community involvement."

Other notable moments from the session:

  • White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew made an unscheduled appearance.  He praised credit unions as "a pretty fundamental source of capital and banking services for many Americans"  but said co-ops have "a bit of a branding problem."  Lew has been a credit union member but hadn't realized until this meeting that credit unions are co-ops.
  • Danielle Gray, deputy assistant to the president, National Economic Council, told the group:  "My mother worked for a credit union for 20 years--put me through school."
  • Jon Carson said he grew up around co-ops in Wisconsin, is a credit union member, and that his father works for Westby Co-op CU in Westby, Wis.
  • Hope FCU CEO Bill Bynum and Alternatives FCU (Ithaca, N.Y.) CEO Tristram Coffin spoke positively of the federal Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) program and New Market Tax Program, and suggested ways the administration could do more with both initiatives. Coffin also serves on CUNA's Cooperative Alliances Committee.
Co-op leaders urged the White House officials to look more closely at the co-op model when developing policy and to be more cognizant of cooperatives as examples of values-based, socially responsible institutions that empower individuals and invest in local communities.  Carson stressed a good way to make that happen is for co-ops to keep up the communication in Washington and locally with federal officials. "They want to hear your success stories," he said.


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