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Hurricane Irene wreaked havoc on much of the East Coast and continues to inflict great hardship on hundreds of thousands of people. Responding to the crisis, the NCUA announced on Aug. 31 that credit unions could serve anyone needing help with emergency financial services, regardless of membership.

That is welcome news. But it is ironic and frustrating that it takes a natural disaster to loosen temporarily the constraints that have prevented credit unions from fulfilling their destiny in the United States. For years now, tens of millions of Americans have suffered from a man-made economic disaster. Average lengths of unemployment exceed previous records. Some people face the prospect that they will never work again at their previous professions. Bruce Springsteen’s words (“My Hometown”) ring sadly true: “They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks. Foreman said these jobs are going, boys, and they ain’t coming back to your hometown.”

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