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<p>WASHINGTON-Several top CUNA executives met with Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Institutions Sheila Bair last week to discuss developing credit union issues. CUNA Associate General Counsel Mary Dunn, who attended the meeting, told reporters that credit union involvement in Treasury’s First Accounts initiative, which aims at helping financial institutions reach out to underserved areas and the `unbanked,’ was a priority for the organization and was discussed during the meeting. Currently, National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) President Gary Officer, who also attended the meeting, is working with the state leagues to drum up support. Officer said that 25 credit unions and 13 states-including Ohio, Texas, Michigan, Oregon, Washington, and others-have expressed interest in the program. The Foundation is seeking to act as an intermediary between Treasury and contracting out to the state leagues which would provide the grants to interested credit unions. NCUF will provide auditing and compliance assistance as well as oversight. NCUA recently wrote a Letter to Federal Credit Unions (02-FCU-03) notifying federal credit unions of the potential funds from Treasury. The letter, signed by Chairman Dennis Dollar, noted the 1998 Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances’ finding that almost 10% of American families lack either a checking or savings account. To address the problem, Congress appropriated money to Treasury to provide grants for the development of financial products and services that can be used as models for other underserved communities without the need of ongoing public subsidies. The funds are also intended for financial education efforts. Aside from insured depository institutions, the grants are available to employers of unbanked low- and moderate-income individuals, community development financial institutions, nonprofit organizations, states, local governments, Indian tribal governments, faith-based organizations, and labor organizations. Groups that participate in `lobbying activities’ are ineligible. Officer called the NCUF’s application, which takes into account programs from the participating credit unions, “ambitious” because they are asking for $3.2 million in grants while Treasury only has $8 million to give. He added that he feels confident that the application package justifies such funds. The money will be directed toward financial literacy efforts and other issues with a heavy focus on Latinos and other minorities and the disabled. Applications were due March 20. NCUF issued a press release in January to alert credit unions to the grant possibilities and find out the level of interest in the new program. Of course, with every plus comes a minus. Costs involved in participating include added scrutiny from the Treasury Department and possibly other restrictions as a `contractor’ of the Federal government, but Dunn believes they would be minimal. She added, “There are some indirect costs but a number of credit unions feel these are worth it.” Officer said he expects it will take a few months for Treasury to sift through all the applications and make its decisions. He also said he hopes the program will make grants annually in the future. NCUF plans to ask credit unions and the leagues to urge their representative in Congress to support the continuation of the project. Additionally, CUNA discussed regulatory relief legislation with Baer at the meeting, which the administration so far has not opposed. Lobbyists indicate that the bill may not even make it to the full Financial Services Committee. Remittances also came up in discussion. CUNA President and CEO Dan Mica and General Counsel Eric Richard also attended the meeting.</p>

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