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WASHINGTON – Should federal legislators ever want to see, in person, how much impact a credit union can have in the lives of poor and underserved people, they now need only drive about 20 minutes through Washington, D.C. On a very cold Feb. 26, NCUA Board member Gigi Hyland, leaders from low-income credit unions and members of the board of directors of the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions gathered to officially open Acceso, a CUSO formed by three Washington area credit unions to offer one of the city’s low-income Hispanic communities access to financial services. Acceso means “access” in Spanish. The new CUSO’s three credit union participants are the $115 million O.A.S. Staff FCU, the $38 million District Government Employees FCU and the $274 million IDB/IIC FCU. O.A.S. staff serves the employees of the Organization of American States, an international body made up of the U.S., and nations from Latin America and the Caribbean and IDB serves the employees of the Inter-American Development Bank. Both organizations are headquartered in Washington D.C. “This project started when these three credit union leaders took it upon themselves to have an impact on their communities above and beyond the existence of their own institutions,” said Jean Craigwell, chair of the new CUSO and vice chair of the board of O.A.S, referring to Carla Decker, CEO of District Government Employees, Bruce Cameron, CEO of IDB and Carlos Caldern, CEO of O.A.S. After gathering inside, the crowd bravely went outside for the ribbon cutting itself, which was kept very brief on account of the weather. Afterwards, back inside, Hyland congratulated the organizers and the three credit union CEOs, in both English and Spanish, for bringing Acceso to fruition. “I know this has been a dream for some time,” Hyland said. “I am honored to be here to see it come about.” The new CUSO has its first shared branch in the ground floor of a high-rise condominium on Mt. Pleasant Street in Washington’s ward one. Ward one is a heavily Hispanic, lower income part of the city where many immigrants and low-income workers live, and the street where the new branch is located has more than its fair share of check cashers and pawn shops. Caldern said the space used to be a dollar store and that the credit union had already had inquiries about membership from some of the building’s residents. “I think they are going to be our first members,” Caldern said. In her speech of thanksgiving for the new branch, Craigwell also thanked the National Credit Union Foundation for its support as well as the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions. Caldern said that the new CUSO would offer membership in the District of Columbia Government Employees Credit Union, whose charter covers the neighborhoods around the new branch, and that the two other credit unions will help provide financial and other support for the effort. The new branch will be notable for accepting the Matricula Consular, the controversial identification document issued by Mexican consulates. The CUSO’s loan officers will also look not only at credit scores but also at whether applicants make rent and utility payments on time as well as other payment indicators. Acceso will also offer payday loan alternative products, the CUSO said. Caldern also said the Acceso branch would be joining the CO-OP Network’s Shared Service Center shared branching network and that the surcharge-free network would contribute an ATM to the effort. The branch opening also drew mainstream press attention, including a story on the front page of the business section of the Washington Post. [email protected]

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