Oklahoma faith leaders, other advocacy groups call for payday lending reform (The Oklahoman)

By Carla Hinton

Elise Robillard, of Norman, remembers when she was a struggling, cash-strapped teacher and payday loans seemed to be a stopgap solution to gain much-needed funds.

“As a single mom, I was in a position where I was one flat tire or one sick kid away from a financial emergency,” Robillard said.

Thursday, she joined a group of leaders from faith agencies and other organizations calling for reform of payday and auto title loans in Oklahoma.

Robillard, 51, said what she thought was a suitable quick fix to her financial woes actually compounded her money woes, and others attending a news conference at the state Capitol said she isn’t alone.

Oklahomans are the number one users of payday loans per capita in the nation, according to a 2012 Pew Charitable Trust Study, said the Rev. Lori Walke, associate pastor of Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ.

“The statistics are shocking. It is clear payday lending is driving Oklahomans deeper and deeper into poverty,” Walke said at Thursday’s news conference.

She said the news conference was called to urge legislators and concerned citizens to do more to reform payday lenders from “predatory lending” with exorbitant interest rates that keep Oklahomans trapped in a cycle of debt that it is hard to get out of.

In 2015, payday lenders charged Oklahomans $52 million in fees, and the average rate on the loans is a 391 annual percentage rate.

Walke spoke on behalf of Voices Organized in Civic Engagement or VOICE, a coalition of faith groups, organizations and individuals that joined forces to address issues of concern in Oklahoma.

Also appearing at the event were representatives of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City; Oklahoma Policy Institute; and Potawatomi Community Development Center, which offers financial programs and counseling services to Citizen Potawatomi Nation members and employees as well as American Indian-owned businesses around the state.

Tina Pollard, with the Potawatomi Community Development Center, said she has encountered numerous people who were forced to delay retirement for up to five years trying to pay off payday loan debt and single mothers using the loans to fill in the financial gap left by lack of child support.

Pollard and other consumer advocacy leaders said a database to track how many such loans individuals take out and where they are getting them would go a long way toward reform.

Other advocates like Kristen King, with VOICE, said a means test also could be required to determine if a consumer actually has the ability to pay off a payday loan.

DeVon Douglass with the Oklahoma Policy Institute said the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau has issued proposed guidelines that would set up such a means test.

She said legislators, however, don’t have to wait for the bureau to put such measures in place to protect vulnerable Oklahomans.

“We stand with Oklahomans in our state who work. What we know about predatory loans is that they do not work for our state,” Douglass said.

Richard Klinge, representing Catholic Charities, said the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau is seeking comments from the public regarding payday lending practices.

Klinge urged citizens to share their input to give the bureau a broad view of the effect these practices have on their lives and their communities.

“Pope Francis has unequivocally stated that the dignity of each human person and the pursuit of the common good are concerns which ought to shape all economic policies. The efforts of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau are a positive step forward in achieving that goal,” he said.

Meanwhile, Robillard said her children are grown and she is now president of the Moore Teachers’ Union and a member of VOICE. She said she did not mind sharing her personal story in the hope that others would come forward and share their stories so that lawmakers could see the critical need for payday lending reform.

“I think it’s important. It’s the silent thing that no one wants to talk about,” she said. “Sometimes people take them out because they have no other options or they are ill-informed.”

Robillard said the emergency that set her down the path of payday loans was the dire need to replace bald car tires. She said she is currently in bankruptcy proceedings and although other experiences such as medical debt and a car accident factored into that, payday loans played a role as well.

“I have regrets, but no embarrassment,” she said.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.