PLYMOUTH, Mich. – Credit unions in Michigan are responding to a request from state gubernatorial candidate David Bonior to find ways to expand credit union services into areas of the state deficient in financial services. Bonior, currently a congressman from suburban Detroit, announced in August that one of the foundations of his campaign for governor would be to empower neighborhoods by bolstering the financial services in urban neighborhoods and rural counties that traditional banks and savings institutions have abandoned. The Michigan Credit Union League has created a task force comprised of members of three of the league’s committees and working groups to meet later this month to frame a response. “One of the missing pieces in some neighborhoods is a financial structure,” said Ed Bruley, a spokesman for Bonior’s campaign. “You can go up and down the streets and see all the abandoned banks.” Bruley said Bonior would like to see credit unions fill the void. “One way (for people) to empower themselves is a locally based financial institution that will not abandon them,” Bruley said. “A credit union is a way to create . a financial institution that is committed to them.” Bonior asked league execs what regulatory and legislative hurdles might stand in the way of giving credit unions the powers to help these underserved areas, including the power to do payday lending, for example. “Now there is a cap on usury limits of 25 percent,” said Patrick LaPine, director of governmental affairs for the League. One suggestion mentioned already is to the cap to allow a reasonable fee for payday loans. At press time, MCUL leaders planned to meet Oct. 31 to develop a list of legislative and regulatory changes needed to meet Bonior’s goal. Bruley said the Bonior campaign is planning a forum for state Democratic leaders in November on this and other issues the Bonior campaign wants to focus on. “We would fight for necessary changes for state-chartered credit unions,” Bruley said, mentioning the cashing of checks and making loans as other key concerns. “We would even like to see credit unions making loans to small businesses.” Michigan Governor John Engler cannot run again because of term limits. Bonior, from Mt. Clemens, faces an already crowded Democratic primary next August. Bonior will finish his term as the 10th District representative through December 2002. The gubernatorial election will be held in November 2002. LaPine was emphatic that the league is not endorsing Bonior at this time and that any data the league develops or the product of any discussions the league holds will be available to all candidates. As he put it in a memo to those invited to the Oct. 31 meeting, “.our willingness to assist Congressman Bonior with shaping his credit union urban policy proposal is not an endorsement of his candidacy for governor. Through advocating this credit union proposal over the next year it is our hope to build momentum that will enable such changes to be successfully advocated for during the next administration and legislative session as we work to modernize the Michigan Credit Union Act.” – millerjh@email.com