Wednesday, February 6, 2019

MHC Advocacy Up In Indy!

Near the end of January, Hub community members trekked to Indianapolis for the Senate Committee on Financial and Insurance’s hearing on SB 104 - a bill to cap the APR rate on predatory payday loans at 36% instead of the current 391%. The hearing included the author’s presentation of the bill, testimony in support of the bill, and testimony in opposition of the bill. Hub folks had lots of thoughts about the experience!

There was the good, like seeing the process firsthand and working alongside other Hoosiers invested in restricting predatory loans. 
Chuck Roldan: “I was impressed by the credentials of everybody who talked. The Institute for Working Families person, Erin Macey, had everything - a compelling, complete line of thought.”
Joelle Parker: “I’m glad I went, I haven’t been before.”
Lilly Bryant: I was proud to go up to the statehouse where they make all the important things happen. Walking into the room up there made me proud also to be in a country where us women have a voice and choices to help with these bills.

But there were also frustrations, some about the committee process, and who it is and isn’t accessible to.
Laxmi Palde: “It speaks volumes [...] just seeing that most of these legislators are older, and male, and white and they’re talking about something that affects communities and demographics different from that. Seeing the lawmaking process in action was pretty sad. That was the first time when I was like maybe I should run for office  in the future.” 

Joelle: “They divided up the testimony to where we said ours, and then the other side did. The last say is the one they’re going to remember the most. I wish we had a different pattern - one presents, then the other, then you can present after or at least get a minute to say something back.”

Chuck: “There was a gap in terms of personal testimony. There wasn’t anybody [who had used a payday loan] in the room. I imagine that a lot of Hoosiers who have taken out loans probably wouldn’t be able to take off a random tuesday at 1pm and drive an hour to Indy.” 

...And some frustrations about what seemed to be social norms in the committee meetings.
Chuck: [Committee members] were hanging out on their phones.
Laxmi: and leaving the guy was falling asleep.
Joelle: I complained when I got home about the guy from my county getting up and leaving - it seems disrespectful.

Hubsters also had thoughts about the content of testimony and committee members’ questions. 
Chuck: There was a line of questioning that was really concerned about a gap in services that could occur if payday lenders were barred from the state. [...] I guess that’s one way of looking at it. I kept thinking that it’s the same way that when you open up a bag of potato chips, you’re never less hungry - it doesn’t even fill the gap. And also another way of framing it, is that the gap that Senator Bohacek was talking about has a name - and that name is poverty. It’s much bigger than this. [...] Payday loans are a part of the larger poverty tax that we inflict on low income people.”

Joelle: They acted like the government was going to have to pick up for everybody, making it into a socialist thing. But that’s not really true. We have things that [...] could be a solution to fill the gap. I think that we just need to focus on that.

Another big surprise? The level of information committee members seemed to have about the bill. 
Chuck: One thing i was kind of surprised by, a lot of the people on the committee were just wanting to learn.
Joelle: It’s hard to believe that they just don’t even know the laws that are impacting their constituents so harshly.
Laxmi: A lot of them were asking basic questions well into the meeting that were answered very early on.

Hub folks also noted that there were recurring misconceptions brought up about who uses payday loans. 
Chuck: One person [offering opposition testimony] used the phrase ‘unbankable’ population, which makes sense if you’re talking about states where people don’t have to have a bank account to open a payday loan. But Indiana has the regulation that you have to have a bank account [to take out a payday loan]. It’s also such a loaded word. It’s like ‘good for nothing people.’

Joelle: They said they were going to go buy drugs with the money, instead of things like ‘I’m going to bury my dad.’ The reality of it is that really horrible things are happening to people like, ‘I’m six months behind on my rent and they’re kicking me out tomorrow.’

Laxmi: They asked questions like ‘What is the profile of someone who would take on a payday loan?’ [...] That kept coming up. Where are these payday loans or lenders concentrated - is it in communities where there are lots of drugs? It was sad that it had to be a part of the conversation. That seemed to be the preconceived notion.

When asked if they wanted to rebut anything else that had been said, or wished something had been brought up, Hub folks noted the following. 
Chuck: The gap comment. They [payday loans] don’t even fill the gap!
Laxmi: And some basic fact checking! They kept bringing up [...] that people can’t take out multiple loans, but they’re sort of working around the reality.
Chuck: can take one, and your partner can take one. And they kept on talking about the modal number of loans that people take out as two - they didn’t talk about the mean or median, which I felt would be more useful. The middle-of-the-road payday borrower takes out how many loans? That might be a useful statistic to know.
Joelle: But it also only takes one of those to completely destroy you at 400% apr. That would be my rebuttal.

And last but not least, Hub folks had this advice for folks considering going up for a committee hearing. 
Chuck: Don’t count on the legislators to know anything about the bill. Maybe prepare two testimonies - one for experts and one for novices, and you’ll quickly see which one you need - probably the one for novices.

Joelle: Dress up to the nines, as best you can. Get straight to the chase - tell them something very startling for your first thing, and how it affected you personally. Just talk about that and have it be from the heart, because that’s what affects them. If there’s any way that you could communicate, ‘how would you feel if it was your brother, your mother, your grandfather - you - who had this happen to them?’  And then that brings it home to them.

Laxmi: Know that you bring a unique perspective that won’t be heard otherwise in that room, and using that to your advantage. And carefully crafting your words so that they’re as impactful as possible.