This past year was a doozy! We made some significant progress on many fronts (see our Year in Review and below), but now much of that progress is threatened by the results of the election and the likelihood that people hostile to Woodstock Institute’s financial justice mission will be holding the reins of power. We are determined to defend and extend our progress and fight hard next year.
For example, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued strong final rules to protect consumers who use prepaid cards. CFPB also proposed payday loan rules that would help to prevent consumers from becoming trapped in a cycle of debt, and other rules that would preserve consumers’ rights to join class actions to assert their rights in court rather than trying to resolve disputes one by one through arbitration. In addition, the CFPB started working on creating new small business data collection rules (authorized by section 1071 of the Dodd-Frank Act) which will be critically important to ensuring that women-, people of color-, and low- and moderate-income people-owned small businesses have access to safe and affordable capital to start and expand businesses and create jobs. Watch for our forthcoming reports on access to small business loans through banks, and our comments on the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s proposal to grant bank charters to non-bank financial technology (fintech) companies!
Industry opponents of the CFPB obtained a ruling from a panel of the Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., finding that the one-director structure of the CFPB is unconstitutional and stating that the President may remove the director without cause. Woodstock joined other advocates in supporting CFPB’s request for a rehearing and reversal of that decision by the full Court of Appeals. Because of the history leading to the creation of the CFPB and the fact that other federal agencies operate under a similar structure, we are cautiously optimistic that the Court of Appeals will reverse the panel decision and protect CFPB Director Cordray from being ousted by President-elect Trump. Woodstock will increase its efforts in 2017 to support the CFPB and maintain its independence from industry and political influence.
The U.S. Department of Labor issued a strong final fiduciary rule requiring retirement investment advisors to act in their customers’ best interests, a rule Woodstock strongly supported. That rule is now in danger of being delayed, repealed, or watered down under a Trump Administration or the new Congress because it affects $17 billion worth of fees to financial advisers who are not fiduciaries. Woodstock will continue efforts with Americans for Financial Reform and allies across the country to preserve the fiduciary rule and protect vulnerable investors from conflicts of interest and high fees that drain retirement assets. Woodstock strongly encourages folks who are looking for financial advice to make sure that you are working with a fiduciary, such as a fee-only Certified Financial Planner.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued strong rules to affirmatively further fair housing, and provided funding for housing counseling. These policies and programs are necessary to protect civil rights, end redlining and discrimination, and create opportunity for all. It is unclear how a Trump Administration will address these and other housing issues, but the appointment of people without relevant expertise in the agencies they are supposed to lead is certainly troubling. Woodstock and our allies will be playing a lot of defense next year. Perhaps the growing body of research on the links between housing and health, however, will be useful in preserving good housing policies and in forging new policies so that where we live does not determine the extent of our health and opportunity. Woodstock is exploring some exciting ways to make it possible for older adults to "age in place" and for people with and without disabilities to live in “visitable” homes with universal design and other features that preserve communities and prevent costly injuries.
At the state level, Woodstock looks forward to working with the Illinois Treasurer and allies on implementing the Illinois Secure Choice Program, starting ABLE accounts for people with disabilities to build savings, re-introducing the idea of universal children’s savings accounts, and expanding use of Illinois’ college savings plans by lower-income families and communities of color. We are thrilled that amendments to the Illinois Wage Assignment Act will take effect in January 2017, and we will continue to work to protect low-wage workers, consumers, and small business owners from predatory lenders and unfair laws. In light of the recent elections, it is even more important to have strong protections at the state level that are not subject to the new administration and Congress.
Woodstock was thrilled to work with National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) and its members to create CRA plans with Huntington Bank and Fifth Third Bank, which will significantly increase lending, investments, and retail banking services in underserved low- and moderate-income areas of Illinois, the Midwest, and other states. As we anticipate an uptick in applications for mergers and acquisitions, Woodstock encourages banks and regulators to continue to use this successful tool to understand community needs and craft appropriate, measurable ways to meet those needs and hold financial institutions accountable.
In addition to all the turmoil at our jobs, many of us have faced personal challenges this past year. To all those who have had injuries or been ill, or lost loved ones, or nursed friends in poor health, I hope that 2017 will be a better, healthier year for all of us! We are going to come back strong!
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