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SANTA ANA, Calif. – Orange County Teachers Federal Credit Union is trying to be at the head of the class in assisting school employees affected by budget cuts and layoffs. The $4-billion credit union, with some 300,000 members, recently launched two new programs to help financially strapped education workers. One is a two-year, zero-percent interest COBRA health-care loan. The other offers members the option to defer credit union loan and Visa credit card payments or to substantially reduce payments. “In California, it’s been a constant struggle with the (state) budget,” said Mary Ann McDonald, marketing supervisor at OCTFCU. “We are offering these programs as part of the credit union philosophy of `people helping people.’ We’re offering these programs to assist our members who are experiencing financial hardships.” Some 3,000 teachers in the Santa Ana Unified School District (Orange County) voted in March to take a 4 percent pay cut over the next two years to help avoid layoffs and larger class sizes. Without that salary concession, the district, facing a nearly $30 million budget shortfall, said it would have to lay off as many as 400 teachers and increase class sizes from 20 to 30 students in kindergarten through third grade. All told, there are 31 school districts (K-12 and community colleges) in Orange County, a megalopolis south of Los Angeles County. “We’re glad to be able to offer assistance to the school districts,” McDonald said. “We’re glad they can look to us as their financial partner during good times and bad.” The COBRA loan is designed to help laid-off workers pay for continued health insurance coverage through their employer. The $2,500 maximum loans are for two years. No payment is due for the first 90 days and there is no credit qualifying for the loan. The other program offers members the option of deferring payment on a credit union loan or Visa credit card for three months or reducing payments by 50% for up to six months. McDonald said the programs were in their infancy so few school employees had taken advantage of them. But word of the programs has spread to the school community. “. . . We value the assistance OCTFCU has given and continues to give,” said Judi Carmona of the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District. “They have really lived up to their promise to support educators. We know OCTFCU doesn’t have to offer zero-interest loans; they do it because they care.” The programs are just the latest OCTFCU offerings to the education community. Among the others is a special educator’s mortgage loan program, which offers a high loan-to-value option and waives a mortgage insurance requirement, a high education loan for those wanting to pursue an advanced degree and a no-interest classroom supplies loan of up to $500 to help teachers with out-of-pocket classroom supply expenses. “With budget cuts, they’re really really strapped,” McDonald said of school employees. “So (we’ll do) anything we can do to help them, to support the teachers and obviously, in turn, support the kids.” McDonald said the credit union works closely with the school districts to provide them information about credit union programs and offerings. Newsletters targeted specifically to the education community are also sent out to members on a regular basis. OCTFCU is the largest teacher’s credit union in the nation, McDonald said. “It’s unfortunate,” McDonald said of proposed educational budget cuts and teacher layoffs. But, she said, “We’re here to help.” -

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