July 23, 2013
Gloria Anderson is the chair of the YW Board’s Social Justice Committee which identified predatory lending as its focus issue for the 2012-2013 legislative session. She also serves on the coordinating committee for the Alabama Safe Schools Coalition and is retired from Mountain Brook Schools as the Director of Student Services.
Photo: Gloria Anderson leading the YWCA Lunch & Learn
While the YW provides extensive responsive services to help people who are homeless, victims of domestic violence or have other needs, we are keenly interested in addressing systemic causes of these problems. Repeatedly, the clients we serve are in financial distress, the result of living on a very limited income and finding themselves in a desperate situation, feeling they have nowhere to turn. A sick child, a car that breaks down, loss of a job – any bump in the road can lead to decisions made in the “tyranny of the moment.” What we have realized is that there is an entire industry thriving in Alabama, just waiting for these opportunities to victimize the poor. These payday loans and car title loan companies loan money easily to people, but they charge exorbitant interest rates – over 300 percent. The result is a downward spiral of debt and desperation. Clients frequently take out other predatory loans to help cover the debt from the first.
Our Board’s social justice committee is outraged that these industries exist in Alabama and operate with legal backing. We knew that other states had taken a stand to limit the interest rates to much lower levels. We wanted to ask for legislation in Alabama that would do the same, and so we began a yearlong project to seek statewide awareness and support from all the good folks we know. We hosted two lunch and learn events and invited our friends to come and be informed. We realized other groups were also as concerned as we are, and we found welcoming partners with Alabama Appleseed, Alabama Arise, Birmingham Faith In Action and many in the faith community. We wrote and called our legislators, asking for their support of legislation introduced by Representatives Patricia Todd and Roderick Scott. Because we are convinced that there is no justification for the financial victimization that these industries represent, we were heady at the prospect of making a real difference.
However, we underestimated the powerful lobby supporting these industries. Because there is so much money at stake, the lobby turned out in full force, ultimately prevailing in keeping the industries operating as they always have. It felt like a crushing defeat.
But, we learned a lot! We created a network that is ready to resume the fight. We have allies now that we did not know existed. We realize that legislative change may take perseverance – something the YW has an unlimited supply of! We stand ready to resume our efforts this year and plan to stand up against the industries that are predators on the poorest of our citizens. The rewarding experience of partnering with other concerned groups has shored our resolve, and we will resume our efforts until we succeed. To learn more about predatory lending and to learn a quick way that you can help now, visit the YW’s advocacy page on our website.
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