Puerto Rico CU Employees 'Getting Nervous' as Supplies Run Low
The $2.9 billion Coastal Federal Credit Union in Raleigh, N.C. contributed $300,000 Monday to the National Credit Union Foundation and the World Council of Credit Unions that will fund relief efforts for credit union people affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria and Tropical Storm Harvey.
While recovery efforts have been well under way in Texas and Florida, the conditions in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico continue to be extraordinarily challenging. Coastal President/CEO Chuck Purvis is asking other credit unions to give at the same level or more.
“If the 100 largest credit unions in the country stepped in to assist in the same way, we could put $30 million in aid into place to help our credit union family in the U.S. and the Caribbean, this week,” he said.
In Puerto Rico, most people still have no power, more than 40% of the population has no access to drinking water and many still have to wait for hours in line to get gas, water and food. And in the Virgin Islands, more than 100,000 have no place to live because their homes have been destroyed, and many residents still have not power or drinking water, according to national media reports.
“Our team members are running low on food/supplies, the stores are basically empty and they are getting nervous,” said President/CEO of the $196 million JetStream Federal Credit Union in Miami Lakes, Fla., which operates a branch staffed by eight employees in Carolina, Puerto Rico, about 12 miles east of San Juan. Last week, JetStream sent five large boxes of essential supplies for employees and it plans to send more boxes this week.
“There is just three percent of the island with power, and that’s because they’ve worked first on areas near hospitals and police stations,” Mayra Navas, branch manager of the JetStream Federal Credit Union in Puerto Rico, said in an email to Kucey. “Unfortunately, none of us live close to those areas, so our days end early since the streets get too dark and there have been a lot of robberies after hours.”
Puerto Rico’s largest federally insured credit union, Caribe Federal Credit Union of San Juan ($346.3 million in assets, 31,007 members) resumed limited operations Sept. 25, allowing withdrawals of up to $500 in the main office at Hato Rey in San Juan, said Danely Perez, marketing and business development officer.
Since Sept. 27, the main branch was able to offer full services, including electronic services, she said. However, the Guaynabo branch about 7 miles to the southwest will remain closed as the credit union assesses damages.
“You have seen recent news with all the struggle that our people are enduring but day by day we are seeing recovery,” Perez wrote in an email Monday. “We are also helping our members with financial assistance in their loans and credit cards if they are having trouble making their payments.”
According to NCUA data for June, Caribe has 74 employees. Altogether, Puerto Rico has nine federally insured credit unions based there with 83,328 members and 206 employees. They have $758.8 million in assets.
In addition to no power, some credit union employees have no access to drinking water. The national media reported Monday about 44% of Puerto Rican residents have no drinking water.
“Everything is uncertain, news says one thing, government has a different story,” Navas said. “People that have lost everything are clueless as to what they should do now. Companies that can’t operate because of the damages and their employees (are) without pay.”
Jetstream’s branch and its eight employees continue to serve members but it has had to limit cash withdrawals.
“Some (employees) haven’t been able to gas their cars because of the long lines, but we are trying to carpool when someone else needs it,” Navas said.
Since issuing a plea for credit unions to help, the Foundation reports it has received more than $1.8 million in assistance so far.
The Foundation’s CUAid program received $250,000 of the $300,000 Coastal CU contribution for relief efforts in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, while WOCCU’s Worldwide Foundation for Credit Unions received an additional $50,000 to help credit unions in the Caribbean. The Worldwide Foundation is routing assistance through the Caribbean Confederation of Credit Unions, which is working to support credit union staff and members who have lost homes, clothing and food.
“I initially asked our board of directors for less, and they stepped up and added $50,000 to the total,” Purvis said. “They immediately recognized the importance of getting credit union employees and volunteers in affected areas back on their feet so then they will be able to assist their own members. It’s the credit union thing to do.”
Foundation Executive Director Gigi Hyland said Coastal CU elected to make these grants to the general disaster relief fund in order to offer up the flexibility to shift funding between the individual efforts in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico as each situation evolves.
“We still haven’t fully assessed the impact to credit unions in Puerto Rico, so having funds in general disaster relief will enable us to act more nimbly once we determine the need,” Hyland said.
To donate to the Foundation’s CUAid efforts, please go to cuaid.coop and contribute to the Foundation’s General Disaster Relief Fund. One-hundred percent of the donations through CUAid goes to credit union disaster relief. Credit unions can also visit https://www.woccu.org/give to make a donation for Caribbean Relief Efforts.