WASHINGTON-NAFCU lobbyists and attorneys were invited to meet with the Justice Department's Office of U.S. Trustees to discuss operation issues regarding the financial education provisions of the bankruptcy abuse reform legislation, currently stalled in Congress. "Credit unions were invited because of the long standing practice credit unions have with helping their members," NAFCU Senior Lobbyist Murray Chanow said. Under the current provisions in the legislation, bankruptcy filers must consult an approved, nonprofit counseling agency and provide the court with a certificate describing the services provided. The credit counseling agency also must receive no direct or indirect benefit from the bankruptcy process. Chanow noted that it was not unusual for agencies to prepare themselves for changes like this, even before they actually happen. What the Department of Justice is attempting to do with this and future scheduled meetings is to create a set of criteria for approving the financial education agencies so that the Trustees offices in each district will be able to determine a program's eligibility. "There was a big focus on the work credit unions have done in the past, almost sounding like DOJ would like to use credit unions as a type of "best practice" situation," Chanow said. At the moment, passage of the bankruptcy reform bill is not a particularly looming threat for Justice. With Senator Jim Jeffords's (Vt.) switch from the Republican Party to an Independent caucusing with the Democrats, the Senate has yet to come up with an organizing resolution putting the Democrats technically in the majority. Additionally, now that the Democrats have control of the Senate, some who voted for the bill may change their minds. Hill lobbyists suspect that a lot is being done behind the scenes to get the bankruptcy reform conference under way. According to Chanow, Senator Chuck Schumer's (D-N.Y.) office claims they have an informal agreement that he will be on the conference committee. Senators Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) are pushing hard for seats on the committee. Proponents of the bill would like to see Senator Joe Biden (D-Del.) on the conference committee. Senator Wellstone has said he would try to derail the popular bankruptcy reform bill at every step possible, and there should be several chances, Chanow said. "Wellstone's threats are very serious," he said. However, he added, Senate rules should provide avenues around Wellstone's roadblocks. "It's fortunate that while one man can hold up legislation in the Senate, one man can't always kill it," Chanow explained. [email protected]

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