As Prepared for Delivery on May 4, 2022
Good morning, everyone. And, thank you, Cathie, for the kind introduction. When I spoke virtually at last year’s Inclusiv Conference, I was seated in front of a camera in my kitchen. So, it should come as no surprise to hear that I am pleased to join you in person today in San Juan.
We all know that community development, low-income designated, and MDI credit unions have worked tirelessly for decades to serve low- to moderate-income communities throughout our country. And, there is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has put that commitment to the test, just as the pandemic has tested every facet of our professional and personal lives.
But, the pandemic and its economic fallout have also shined a well-deserved spotlight on these institutions, which were providing relief funds to those who needed it most at the time they needed it the most. The NCUA is charged with “protecting the system of cooperative credit and its member-owners through effective chartering, supervision, regulation, and insurance.” That is what the NCUA does.
The why we do it is to protect consumers, promote their financial well-being, and strengthen communities. So, I sometimes like to think of our role as helping credit unions to help their communities, and supporting the institutions, like those of you within this room, that do a remarkable job assisting and serving their members, especially those of modest means.
The Community Development Revolving Loan Fund
To that end, one of our most impactful initiatives has been the Community Development Revolving Loan Fund. The grants the NCUA makes through the Revolving Loan Fund make a real difference. These investments go into communities that would otherwise have unmet needs, giving credit unions additional resources to build their capacity and create more secure financial futures for their members.
During 2021 alone, the NCUA awarded CDRLF grants to more than one hundred low-income-designated credit unions including: 22 grants totaling more than $1 million for expanding credit union outreach to underserved communities and improving their members’ financial well-being.
Advancing economic equity and justice is a priority for the NCUA, and these congressionally funded grants facilitated our ability to achieve that objective. For this year’s cycle, the NCUA will award more than $1.5 million in grants for small credit union mentoring and training and leadership development, in addition to underserved outreach and digital services. The 2022 grant round opened on Monday, May 2. And, eligible low-income-designated credit unions can apply through June 24. We encourage all eligible credit unions to apply.
And, we are hopeful that we will be able to grow this program in 2023. The President’s budget to Congress requested $4 million for the Revolving Loan Fund in the year ahead. That amount would more than double the amount available within the NCUA to support the fund. And, with more funding the NCUA would be able to offer more grants, provide larger grants, and find more ways in assisting low-income credit unions to fulfill their missions.
The Emergency Capital Investment Program and Subordinated Debt
There are also other resources across the federal government available to credit unions that serve low-income communities, including communities of color. For example, the NCUA has strongly encouraged eligible credit unions to apply for the Emergency Capital Investment Program, or ECIP for short, because these institutions are uniquely positioned to serve the communities the ECIP was created to help. The ECIP aligns closely with credit unions’ mission to expand access to affordable financial services, free of discrimination, to those of modest means. Last December, the Treasury Department announced that 85 credit unions had received ECIP funding. The amount of these individual allocations ranged from less than $1 million to more than $200 million.
The NCUA Board finalized a rule in December 2021 that permitted ECIP issuances to be considered Grandfathered Secondary Capital, irrespective of the date of the actual issuance. That final rule became effective on January 1, 2022. To further support this historic effort, the NCUA issued a Supervisory Letter in October 2021 permitting low-income-designated credit unions to issue 30-year notes under the ECIP. And, later this year, the NCUA Board will consider a proposed rule to permit ECIP funding to count as regulatory capital for the entire time it is held by eligible institutions.
Supporting Minority Depository Institutions
An important part of the ECIP is supporting and preserving Minority Depository Institutions. The NCUA is fully committed to supporting MDIs, by providing these community institutions with needed resources like training, grants, loans, technical assistance, and mentoring opportunities. During the pandemic, MDIs increased membership and lending. They also expanded services to underserved consumers and communities.
In 2021, the NCUA received 298 grant and loan applications, including applications for technical assistance grants for digital services and cybersecurity, underserved outreach, and MDI mentoring—totaling $4.7 million, and, roughly, 3 in 10 low-income-designated credit unions that were awarded CDRLF grants in 2021 were MDIs. Later this year, the NCUA will again host a DEI Summit, but this time, we will combine the program with our efforts to educate and support MDIs. We look forward to seeing you on November 2 and 3 in Baltimore.
Crisis into Opportunity
The relief that the NCUA provided during the last two years came none too soon. The pandemic has accelerated shifts in the way credit unions conduct business, with more members moving to digital platforms and mobile apps to conduct transactions. The pandemic also further exposed the extent of the disparities in wealth and economic opportunity for communities of color, underserved areas, and rural communities.
That is why the NCUA has sought to improve its support of MDI, low-income and community development credit unions over these last 26 months. In doing so, we are remaining true to Roberto Clemente’s motto. To quote the words of this Puerto Rican baseball legend, “If you have a chance to help others and fail to do so, you are wasting your time on this earth.” I very much agree.
During the last two years, I also learned that we should not settle for merely returning to “the way things used to be.” Moving forward, credit unions will share common concerns, like cybersecurity, consumer compliance, and field-of-membership considerations. But, there are also concerns which disproportionately affect communities of color and low-income communities. Those include overdraft programs and, as you discussed in the earlier session today, climate financial risk.
This pandemic has underscored for me there is a lot of progress we can make by working together — the NCUA and leaders of the credit union system — to make important and positive changes that will make the industry and the members it serves financially stronger. That work is good for our economy, and in building more stable futures for more Americans, we will be strengthening our democracy.
Ultimately, the credit union industry is more than the sum of its parts. Just as the strength of any credit union is its members, the strength of the credit union industry is in its collective unity. Instead of going back to the way things were, we can begin the process of moving to where things should be.
In closing, community development, low-income, and MDI credit unions are vital to this effort as guarantors of financial inclusion. At the end of 2021, we had more than 2,600 federally insured, low-income-designated credit unions — that’s half of all federally insured credit unions — served members throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and on military bases world-wide. Community development, low-income, and MDI credit unions are more than just a port in the COVID-19 pandemic’s storm. They are a lifeline to consumers who are historically underserved during the best of times.
I am a firm believer in the mission of meeting the credit and savings needs of members, especially those of modest means. And, in fulfilling the role of financial first responders, community development credit unions have reinforced the long-standing relationships forged with the communities they serve. It is those relationships — tested and strengthened — that will steer the credit union system and its members through future crises.
In closing, community development, low-income, and MDI credit unions have not only endured, they have persevered and excelled for the last two years. And, we at the NCUA are committed to maintaining and building that momentum going forward. Thank you for inviting me. I look forward to our conversation today.