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Small Business Issues
November 16, 1999

New Financial Modernization Law Cripples Community Reinvestment

Banking Jackpot

By Ralph Nader
Friday, November 5, 1999; Page A33

"All in all, I think we hit the jackpot," President Ronald Reagan told a Rose Garden audience of congressmen and lobbyists celebrating the deregulation of the savings and loan industry on Oct. 15, 1982.

Less than seven years later, a somewhat red-faced Congress was forced to adopt a massive package of reforms and launch a huge taxpayer bailout to correct the failed deregulation scheme.

Now Congress is icing down the champagne again in anticipation of the signing of a new and much more grandiose deregulation package, this time of the entire financial services industry--combining banks, securities firms and insurance companies (and in some cases, nonfinancial corporations) under common ownership in soon-to-be trillion-dollar conglomerates. In the process, Congress is creating a financial system designed for the affluent customer in which low- and moderate-income families and small businesses will face less access, fewer choices and higher fees.

Congress is wading into the deregulation swamp in good economic times with a roaring stock market and quarter after quarter of record financial profits--the worst possible time to ask Congress, with its short-term memory, to make tough decisions against the wishes of the industry. Amid the economic euphoria, it is little wonder that warnings about the safety and soundness of financial institutions, inadequate deposit insurance reserves and the weaknesses of an uncoordinated, overlapping and outmoded regulatory system are greeted with legislative yawns.

A study released by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) last month found that consolidation in the banking industry just between the years of 1970 and 1997 had "increased the risk of insurance fund insolvency by 50 percent." The report warned that the risk had increased further during the past two years.

The risk of insolvency is "becoming inseparable from the health of the 25 largest banking organizations which control 54.5 percent of the assets," the FDIC researchers found. These are the very institutions that will be combined with insurance companies and securities firms in the new, too-big-to-be-allowed-to-fail conglomerates.

But that wasn't the kind of testimony sought by the House and Senate banking committees, which instead used the hearings largely for the purpose of painting simplistic rosy scenarios and providing a platform for the corporate executives, lobbyists and campaign donors to promote the legislation.

Congress took a harsh and often mean-spirited view of efforts to provide consumer and community protections that could keep pace with the vast changes the legislation creates in the financial system.

At critical points, Congress caved to Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm, who has conducted a long, vitriolic attack on the Community Reinvestment Act and the low- and moderate-income and minority citizens who organize community organizations.

As a result the Community Reinvestment Act was weakened, with most banks being exempted from its examinations for periods of four to five years, sharply diminishing the ability of regulators to monitor community-lending performance or seek remedial action. An effort by Rep. Maxine Waters to establish machinery for basic bank accounts for low- income citizens was rejected.

At Gramm's insistence, so-called "sunshine" language was adopted, which singles out community organizations for special government surveillance of their agreements with banks--an effort to intimidate community organizations from testifying, commenting on or filing protests about community lending and to discourage banks from entering into agreements that strengthen community lending.

The privacy protections that emerged in the banking reform legislation are a joke that will simply delude the public into believing privacy provisions exist where there are none. As a result, the affiliates of the conglomerates and their telemarketers will be free to share many intimate details of an individual's buying habits, investing patterns, health records, entertainment choices, employment data and other aspects of one's existence.

As an added slap at consumers, the bill incorporates overly broad and unnecessary preemption of state laws as they apply to financial products offered under the provisions of the legislation. This will nullify efforts to enact state consumer protection laws--something that has raised the ire of state attorneys general.

The banking legislation is deeply flawed and clearly anti-consumer and anti-community. The president should have the courage to use the veto pen on this one.

The writer is founder of Public Citizen.
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

Small Enterprise Capital Access Partnership [SECAP] Begins

SECAP is an initiative of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, established with the goal of improving access to credit and related resources by historically underserved small business owners. SECAP will involve a voluntary collaborative of various stakeholders in the small business arena, including lenders, community-based organizations (CBO's), technical assistance providers, government organizations, trade associations, academic researchers and potentially others. SECAP will assess the small business environment with the aim of identifying the greatest challenges for minority owned, women-owned and other businesses with historically limited access to credit.

It is SECAP's charge to reach recommendations for changes or modifications to policies and practices that serve as barriers to credit access, to be instrumental in creating new resources where necessary, and to involve the appropriate organizations and individuals to bring the necessary resources to the table.

There are four key areas that this group will be addressing, 1) Underwriting, 2) Marketing & Delivery of Financial Products, 3) Equity Investments, 4) Pre & Post Investment Technical Assistance.

Illinois State Microenterprise Initiative [ISMI] Takes Flight

Founded November 1995

ISMI's Mission:
ISMI is a coalition of service providers, financial institutions, and state, local and private agencies. Its mission is to provide an organized voice to advocate for community economic empowerment and to create growth opportunities in microenterprise development.

ISMI's Objectives:

  1. Develop a comprehensive public policy agenda that promotes microenterprise as a viable economic development alternative, especially for communities with limited access to resources.
  2. Develop a mechanism for microenterprise assistance organizations, service providers, and community-based organizations to address the resource needs of microenterprise development programs.
  3. Build a network to exchange information on best practices, emerging issues, and funding opportunities among microenterprise organizations in Illinois.

ISMI's Accomplishments:

  • To date ISMI has accumulated more than 40 paid members and has a mailing list of more than 60 additional supporters.
  • Drafted and advocated on behalf of the Micro-enterprise and Self-employment Act that passed both houses of the Illinois General Assembly Summer of 1999.
  • Publish a quarterly newsletter: Illinois Microenterprise News, and two publications: The Directory of Microenterprise Development Organizations and Services, and Expanding Opportunities: The State of Microenterprise in Illinois.
  • Served as local hosts of the 1999 Association for Enterprise Opportunity National Training Conference and Meeting.
  • Hosted the 1998 ISMI Policy Conference in Springfield.

ISMI's Board of Directors:

  • Debra Osborn, Community Economic Development Law Project: Board Chair
  • Freida Schreck, Lincoln Land Community College, Small Business Development Center: First Chair
  • Darlene Knipe, University of Illinois Extension; Second Chair
  • Alva Hall, Community Economic Development Association: Third Chair
  • Steven McCullough, Chicago Association of Neighborhood Planning Organizations: Secretary
  • Caroline Goldstein, Bank One: Treasurer
  • Leroy Pacheco, ACCION Chicago
  • Charlie Soo, Asian American Small Business Association
  • Thom Moore, Community Collaboration for Economic Development
  • Thomas Ullmann, MicroWorks/Economic Development Unit, Uptown Hull House
  • Michael McMahon, West Cook Community Development Organization
  • Mary Ann Angel, Women's Business Development Center

For more information contact: Tamar Frolichstein-Appel, ISMI Coordinator @ Women's Self-Employment Project. Phone: (312) 606-8255. Fax: (312) 606-9215. WSEP, 20 North Clark Street, Suite 400, Chicago, IL 60602. E-mail: ismiwsep@interaccess.com

Two Steps Back: The Dual Mortgage Market, Predatory Lending, and the Undoing of Community Development
November 15, 1999

The Woodstock Institute has released a new report entitled, Two Steps Back: The Dual Mortgage Market, Predatory Lending, and the Undoing of Community Development. It describes predatory mortgage lending, identifies some possible explanations for its growth in recent years, quantifies the hyper-segmentation of refinance lending by neighborhood racial composition, and calls for a set of policy changes to curb lending abuses. The study analyzes refinancel ending in the Chicago area and finds:

  • In 1998, 58 percent of refinance loans in predominantly African-American neighborhoods were made by subprime lenders, compared to less than 10 percent in predominantly white neighborhoods. These lenders accounted for 74 percent of applications in black census tracts, compared to 21 percent in white areas.
  • Lending by subprime firms in African-American neighborhoods grew by almost 30 times from 1993 to 1998, much faster than the 2.5 times increase in white areas. Minority tracts overall accounted for 52 percent of the increase in loans by subprime lenders, despite accounting for only 8 percent of loans in 1993.
  • Of the 20 lenders accounting for the most applications in white tracts in 1998, 17 were prime lenders.
  • Conversely, 18 of the 20 lenders taking the most applications in African-American tracts were subprime firms.

The report concludes that the failure of federal regulators to adapt to fundamental changes in mortgage lending markets has resulted in a defacto deregulation of mortgage lending in minority communities, with non-minority communities being served by more regulated and responsible lenders. The report includes a set of detailed policy recommendations to reduce predatory lending and to encourage banks and thrifts to make refinance, home equity and home improvement loans to minority communities.

For a copy of the report, please send a check for $12 (nonprofit/government/university) or $25 (for-profit) to Woodstock Institute, 407 S. Dearborn, Suite 550,Chicago, IL 60605.


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