While Occupy Wall Street has brought needed attention to inequality and downward social mobility—long ignored by the mainstream media and the political establishment—there are also groups that have been in the trenches for years, struggling day in and day out, doing the tough organizing that is needed if OWS’s vision is to be achieved.
One such group is National People’s Action (NPA), a network of community organizations in cities, towns and rural communities across the country working to advance a national economic and racial justice agenda. NPA—along with unions and community and faith-based groups, and coalitions like The New Bottom Line—has long played a leading role in the fight to hold banks accountable, stop foreclosures, promote housing rights and protect immigrant and workers’ rights, among other vital campaigns.
Now NPA and its allies are shining a light on the connection between the Big Banks and the predatory payday loan companies, and running a sustained campaign to get the banks to withdraw their financing of those companies. Earlier this year, NPA and the Public Accountability Initiative released a report entitled The Predators’ Creditors that details how the Big Banks finance these payday loan sharks whose shops are nearly two and one-half times more likely to locate in African-American and Latino communities, even when other factors like income are considered.
Turns out banks like Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, and US Bank borrow money from the Fed at less than 1 percent interest, then fund payday lenders at 3 percent, who in turn lend the money to desperate borrowers at 400 percent interest or more!
According to the report, the Big Banks provide $1.5 billion in credit to publicly held payday loan companies and an estimated $2.5 to $3 billion to the industry as a whole. Publicly traded payday lenders paid nearly $70 million in interest expense on debt in 2009, keeping their Big Bank sugar daddies flush and happy.
Meanwhile, citizens ranging from the poorest borrowers to military veterans get caught in a downward spiral of debt where they continue to borrow against future earnings in order to cover the exorbitant fees on the original loan. (In fact, the Department of Defense found that predatory loans—including payday lending—impact military readiness and troop morale, and Holly Petraeus has advocated for targeted servicemembers. Just this week she offered Congressional testimony about soldiers being charged “an interest rate as high as 584 percent APR.”)
The Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) estimates that every year “12 million Americans are caught in long-term debt from loans that were marketed as a quick, easy and short-term solution” and that the transactions “generate $4.2 billion in predatory fees every year,” stripping significant wealth from vulnerable communities—especially low-income communities of color. Most payday borrowers have nine repeat loans per year and pay 400 percent interest. Currently, not only are the Big Banks failing to cut off funding for the predators, they are actually “adding payday loans to their arsenal of predatory loan products.”
NPA has just released a payday video that explains the whole shameful operation and asks people to contact Bank of America to demand that they STOP supporting payday lending and START supporting safe, affordable small dollar lending programs for people who are struggling.
This is the kind of reprehensible predatory lending practice that proves—one again—that despite causing a financial meltdown the Big Banks will not change unless organized people force them to. But between the Occupy Wall Street heat—the way it’s shifted the political landscape—and the continued organizing work of groups like NPA, that’s exactly what we’ll do. As Peter Drier wrote in The Nation in October, “Now the excitement and energy from Occupy Wall Street, combined with the organizing savvy of the union/community coalition, may be coalescing into something much bigger.”