Citibank used to be admired for its innovations, competitive spirit and growth accomplishments. It rose to become an international force. Now look at it.Citi’s anything-to-get-the-job-done style and bigger-is-better attitude has landed them near bankruptcy. So what does the government do? It bails them out.The federal government, the current and incoming administrations working in concert, is guaranteeing more than $300 billion in troubled assets for them, namely in residential and commercial real estate. The institution will absorb the first $29 billion in losses and 10% over that. The figures of this bailout and the ones in the recent past are almost unreal.At least in this instance, the government will be providing a template for managing the guaranteed assets, including the use of mortgage modification procedures.I wouldn’t discount the fact that a complete collapse of Citi is not what the financial services market needs right now; it could have been the death blow. Everyone needs financial services, including businesses and other banks and consumers, and Citi has it tentacles weaved into all of that.What is really disheartening about the government’s actions is that it is ignoring-as demonstrated by the lack of bailout funds currently available to credit unions-the beneficial role credit unions can play in this crisis. Are credit unions not standing up and shouting loud enough, or do they just not have the resources (aka money) to make them hear?Thus far, the Bush administration and Congress have ignored the pleas of the credit union lobbyists and the NCUA to empower credit unions. In the current credit environment, a no-cost, high-efficiency method of unleashing capital should be a slam dunk.The Credit Union Regulatory Improvements Act will have to be reframed, but it is exactly part of what the nation needs, particularly the consumers who are also missing out on the promised bailout funds, to help dig out of this hole.The credit union trade associations have already begun retooling the CURIA components to make it more of a market stimulus effort rather than regulatory relief-a big no-no now as fingers wag atderegulation as one of the roots of the current economic crisis. The shift in mentality may be a tough sell on Capitol Hill since the bill has already been around several years as a regulatory improvement package, and no doubt the bankers won’t let lawmakers forget that.But, in the context of the financial services chaos, it makes sense as a stimulus effort. Title I of CURIA would establish a risk-based capital system for credit unions, similar to that of banks. For credit unions with vanilla loan portfolios, which I expect would be the bulk of them, this would free up some capital, allowing them to make more loans and provide better services to their members. Additionally, regulators would have a better read on the credit unions that would have lower capital ratios under the risk-based system, as would the credit unions. This seems like a win-win to me for Congress.Title II would allow credit unions to redefine member business loans as those over $100,000, rather than the current $50,000, as well as increasing the business lending cap from 12.25% of assets to 20%. It would also exclude loans to nonprofit religious organizations from the cap and permit credit unions to lease office space in underserved areas.These provisions would stimulate small business lending, which prior to the economic crash was a difficulty often cited by small business owners. It would also create jobs and help provide low-cost office space for community organizations. These kinds of efforts really sound like what President-elect Barack Obama wants to accomplish.Credit unions really need to ramp up their lobbying efforts. Credit union executives themselves need to show up in the offices of their members of Congress, whether it’s in Washington, D.C. or the district offices. Make phone calls, write e-mails if you must, but do something.Credit unions need to be everywhere to get their voices heard, now maybe more than ever. While credit unions don’t have a heck of a lot of money, they have people. I realize credit union executives have their individual shops to worry about, but this is truly something that deserves their attention, including rallying credit union members for the cause.Apathy in this zero-sum game is not an option for credit unions or their members.–Comments? E-mail [email protected]

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