Last month's announcement that the NCUA will provide $2,500 each to as many as 40 credit unions seeking CDFI certification through a grant round slated to begin Feb. 3 is welcome news to the thousands of low-income designated credit unions looking for opportunities to expand their reach within communities across the country.
"CDFI-certified financial institutions have access to additional capital, which can help them create jobs and promote financial stability in some of our nation's most underserved communities," wrote NCUA Board Chairman Debbie Matz in a release announcing the news.
Currently, only about 10% of the 2,000 low-income credit unions designated by the NCUA are CDFI-certified. Yet the certification and resulting fund access remain one of the most important resources of LICUs, providing access to capital. While LICU designation provides the regulatory framework for utilizing many of these benefits, the fund's capital awards (up to $2 million each), available through grants, have been leveraged to mitigate risk and expand sustainable programs.
Grant monies awarded through the CDFI Fund’s Financial Assistance grant program is primarily used for secondary capital and loan loss reserves. The fund also has a technical assistance grant of up to $125,000 that can be used for operational expenses to get new programs off the ground. Although the process is competitive and there are no guarantees, the CDFI Fund has awarded more than $1.7 billion to community development organizations and financial institutions since 1994.
Beyond grant awards, the CDFI credential is a valuable tool for credit unions seeking to build strong community partnerships. I find that more often than not, key stakeholders in the community know more about the inherent value of the CDFI certifications than the credit unions themselves. Many key community organizations will gladly partner with credit unions that hold the certification.
Another benefit to those who serve a low-income target market is access to expertise. Since 1974, the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions has served with a mission to target low-income and underserved consumers. The federation was instrumental in establishing the CDFI Fund in 1994.
The federation will not only be providing CDFI certification for $2,500 for credit unions that participate in the NCUA grant application, it has decades of expertise in building credit union programs specific to the low-income target market.
The key for LICU credit unions moving forward is to make use of all these benefits. Tuscaloosa Credit Union Alabama is a great example. A LICU looking to leverage its impact, TCU conducted a strategic planning session with a targeted focus on increasing community development and member impact. The first step: CDFI certification with help from the federation.
"TCU had a vision, but not the specific skill sets required to successfully submit a grant, said TCU CEO Tommy Cobb. "The federation's knowledge and expertise made a potentially overwhelming process easy."
TCU partnered with the Tuscaloosa Housing Authority and applied for a 2014 CDFI Financial Assistance Grant of $1.65 million for secondary capital and loan loss reserves that will be used to fund 60 affordable home loans with THA, as well as 500 affordable used auto loans to lower-income consumers during a three-year period.
"The need was out there," said Development Officer Amy Price, citing the rebuilding of tornado-ravaged rental properties as housing designed for groups of students and rented for as much as $750 per bedroom, rather than homes for low-income families.
"We had people in those (damaged) homes," Price explained. Now that (the homes) are gone and being rebuilt, they're not being rebuilt for the people who left. It's those people in between that we need to help. Those people that don't qualify for public assistance but can't afford to pay the going rental rate."
The work being done by low-income credit unions like TCU is inspiring and optimizes CUNA's vision to Unite for Good, and LICUs are growing loans and members faster than all federal credit unions as a group. If your credit union is low-income designated, please take advantage of this opportunity.
Applications will be accepted Feb. 3-14. Interested credit unions can learn more about the NCUA grant and CDFI certification on Jan. 28 by attending a free webinar hosted by the federation and the NCUA. Registration is online.
I have seen scores of credit unions successfully leverage LID, CDFI certification, grant funds and expertise from the federation. They are growing, profitable and, most importantly, they make a very meaningful difference in the lives of those people who are deemed unbankable by most mainstream financial institutions.
And isn't that what we're all about? If your credit union qualifies for the low income designation, I hope you will pursue the NCUA grant opportunity for CDFI certification. Don't miss out on this great opportunity to strengthen your credit union and leverage your human impact.