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WASHINGTON-Representatives from CUNA, WOCCU, and three of the state leagues led congressional staffers on a fact finding tour through Mexico to take in first hand how credit unions have touched lives there. The tour highlighted three of WOCCU’s five ongoing efforts in Mexico, including a visit with officials and members of Caja Popular Mexicana-Mexico’s largest credit union, Caja Libertad, and another project in the Mexican state of Michocan. The California and Texas leagues, which are partnered with Caja Popular Mexicana, participated in the weeklong trip, as well as representatives from the Arizona league, which is partnered with Caja Libertad. “It was neat to see how far and how deep credit union can reach,” CUNA Legislative Affairs Manager Katie Herberger, who made the journey, said. She said she thought the opportunity was very eye opening for the congressional staffers. “I think we’ll get a lot of support out of this,” she added. Staff from the offices of Congressman John Carter (R-Texas), Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), Congressman Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), Congresswoman Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.) and Congressman Ed Pastor (D-Ariz.) attended. The first stop for the group was Caja Popular Mexicana, where officials explained their progress since beginning work with WOCCU, according to WOCCU Governmental Affairs Manager Molly Schar. She noted that since working with WOCCU, Caja Popular Mexicana has doubled its membership and, after joining the IRnet in 2003 has sent 57,000 remittances totaling $24.6 million. “That’s a small number in the entire remittance market, but a big number for credit unions,” Schar explained. Caja Libertad is very technologically advanced, she continued. The nation’s second largest credit union created the first non-bank ATM network last year with more than 40 ATMs currently up and running and plans for more, as well as increased services through them. Credit unions are becoming increasingly important to Mexico’s small business owners, Schar said. The U.S. delegation met with a number of credit union members who explained how their businesses are thriving because of credit union services. In the state of Michocan, Schar said that women there used credit union loans to buy fabrics to make dresses to sell. Prior to the credit union’s development there, borrowing came from high-cost loan sharks; now their money is more productive. She observed that the women seemed very appreciative of the outside interest in what they were doing. “We have worked for several years on Capitol Hill to bring greater awareness of WOCCU and their unique approach to sustainable credit union development to members of the Congress,” Herberger explained. “Though we have established a large network of support on the Hill, there is nothing like showing congressional staffers first hand the vital work of WOCCU, and the impact their project credit unions have on people’s lives in developing countries.” She also noted that WOCCU’s projects are aimed at creating “sustained economic development,” which is different from other organizations. Much of WOCCU’s legislative agenda deals with appropriations, which it seeks annually from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the microenterprise fund, and the Cooperative Development Program, though the group is also interested in other areas like legislation involving remittances, as well. And, the trip seems to have had a real impact on the congressional staffers who attended. Upon returning, Senator Hagel’s Deputy Legislative Director and Senior Legislative Assistant for International Trade Investment, and Development Michael Considine remarked, “This trip has been one of the best experiences I have had to see the real impact that credit unions can have on peoples’ lives. It really showed our group a comprehensive look at how credit unions impact peoples lives, from the legislative process in Washington, D.C. all the way to the most remote, poor regions of Mexico where people are for the first time gaining access to financial services.” Of the congressional travelers, Schar said, “People recognize first that there is a very real connection between credit unions in the U.S. and internationally. But, I think it also speaks to how legislators do their job.” -

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