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TUKWILA, Wash. – As a sputtering economy continues to force businesses to readjust, many employees have been jettisoned as excess baggage. Those who are members of credit unions may have found their landing softened a bit. Boeing Employees Credit Union headquartered in Tukwila, Wash., for example, is assisting members who have fallen victim to downsizing in an area particularly hard hit. Washington State’s July unemployment rate was 7.5%, topping the national average of 6.2%. Now the largest credit union in the state and one of the top five credit unions in the nation, BECU began in 1935 as a credit union open to Boeing employees, retirees and their families. In 2002 it opened its field of membership to all Washington State residents, but the majority of its 330,000 members are still Boeing related. On Aug. 22, when Boeing announced its latest round of layoffs. BECU was waiting – as it has previously – to help members. On that day, 490 Boeing employees finished their last day of work and 1,440 more workers – 1,250 in the Puget Sound area – learned that they would be leaving Oct. 24. According to Anne Eisele, director of media relations for Boeing at its Chicago headquarters, since its first layoff notice given just weeks after Sept. 11, the company has eliminated 35,140 positions. She said Boeing expects to have cut about 40,000 jobs by the end of this year. According to Tom Berquist, BECU vice president of marketing, “What we have done, both historically and currently, is to offer a member assistance program. It’s designed for those experiencing a layoff, with Boeing or another company, any member who has gone through income interruption from a layoff or strike.” The program has four components: specialized lending products, assistance to those with existing loans, financial education and financial counseling. “The specialized lending products are loans that are designed for this particular situation,” says Berquist. “Special loans are available up to $3,000 with no payments for the first 90 days. These loans are for basic necessities: food, medical, shelter. Also available is a $10,000 longer-term loan secured with a blind deed to the home. This also has a 90-day no-pay window. “Assistance to those with existing loans works with individuals on a case-by-case situation. We can modify the payment structure. We can look at other debt. The member may want to refinance and perhaps get a longer term. We’re a lot more flexible to work with than other commercial lenders.” The financial education component includes a seminar focusing on how to prepare for and survive a layoff as well as information about company and financial resources and finding a job. The financial counseling segment brings the personal benefits of membership further into play. Angela Moore, BECU financial counseling manager, says the free one-on-one service gives members counseling tailored to their individual situations. “Mostly what we see is a lack of planning and preparation because people always think they have more time,” says Moore. The one-on-one counseling is a wake-up call for those who could be approaching bankruptcy and a planning tool for those who look ahead. The program helps members look at their current situation from debt load to where they can modify spending behaviors. “When Boeing first announced layoffs, we actually marketed this program,” said Berquist. “Now, everyone, from members to employees, is aware of it. We have these programs in place. All of the things are there and ready to go, ready to be delivered to the members, as opposed to having to go back and rebuild” with each layoff notice. Members, he said, are grateful that their credit union is so flexible in these situations. “The philosophy at BECU has always been `people helping people,’” says Gary Oakland, president and CEO of BECU, “and we want our members to know that we are here to help them when they are dealing with the financial hardships of a layoff.”

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