In a recent column on reparations for descendants of slaves I proposed, instead of direct payments, we set up programs designed to remedy some of the issues blacks face every day.
One idea I came up with is aimed at a way to remedy low home ownership percentages among blacks and others in poverty. I am wondering if the creation of a nationwide agency similar to a credit union would be wise — an agency that reaches out to blacks to give them the opportunity to obtain not only home loans but loans to replace pay-day loans that tend to keep them in a state of perpetual debt.
When I lived in the Chicago suburbs about 40-plus years ago, and in Lansing, Mich., before that, I was surprised to learn how many families had never had a bank account. Most factory workers would cash their paychecks at a local currency exchange for a fee. Loans from them carried high rates of interest.
At stores where I worked, I saw patrons pull out huge wads of bills to pay for merchandise. I was always admonished to never carry more than I could afford to lose.
When they applied for a store credit card, we often had to turn them down because they really had no credit history or financial records. They lived in rental housing for the most part.
To be effective, this proposed entity should reach out not only to inner-city blacks, but to those in remote rural areas where few, if any, bank branches exist. This outreach needs to include education of potential clients in the process of money management. I wonder how many school systems educate their pupils on how to write a check and balance a checkbook. I learned this in grade school. How extensive is this kind of training these days, especially in rural areas? How many people living in poverty, regardless of race, have never thought of opening a bank account? Some banks actually discourage small accounts by demanding minimum balances.
In India and parts of Asia, much of the progress women are making is due to the efforts to reach out to potential female entrepreneurs with tiny loans as needed to jumpstart their efforts. I picture this agency could serve a similar need here in the U.S. for all living in poverty. To succeed, there needs to be an active outreach program to advertise the existence of this program.
Once small low-interest loans have given people a chance to dig out of debt, membership in this agency also gives them a credit record for the future. A series of small loans, paid off promptly, gives them a credit score. Savings accounts give them a place to park some of their money in a safe place and would give them a chance to build enough savings for a down payment.
To earn even more money, they should be encouraged to transfer some of that savings into CDs to earn even more money when a certain savings goal is reached.
Whether or not this agency is enough to lift everyone out of poverty, it would still provide them with more usable income now eaten up by usurious interest. I would want this entity to be nationwide so that accounts would be easily and safely transferred if a person moved. No need for a new account, just a change of address.
This isn’t limited to reparations for blacks, but the fact is, the fewer people living in poverty, the fewer needing existing charitable help leaving more funds for those remaining in need — the more buying power they have, the more they would pay in taxes. We create a full circle.
Lenna Harding lived her first 20 and past 43 years in Pullman. A longtime League of Women Voters member, she served on the Gladish Community and Cultural Center board. She can be reached at email@example.com.