Democracy Speaks for the Unheard

As we’ve done the past two years in early May, we participated in Consumer Lobby Day, a day set aside for advocates from consumer rights and civil rights organizations, legal organizations, research and academic policy wonks and a few grassroots direct service providers like ourselves to get a single message out to Congress – people deserve laws that protect them from fraud, usury and predatory products and laws that support them fairly and equally in the marketplace. This year should have not been any different, but it was.

This year was different because not only were we asking members of congress to block legislation that would allow fintech companies to “rent-a –bank” (Read our press release: here) and bypass state consumer protection laws in order to sell predatory lending products; and asking that they support legislation that updates how credit reports are scored, we were we’re asking members of congress to support and defend the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as it was originally created, the only government agency tasked with ensuring consumers are not taken advantage of by corporations and that there is a way or a mechanism for consumers to use to seek redress when they have encountered wrong doing, fraud and other financial harm.

In the 6 years that the CFPB has been around, it has returned more than $12 billion dollars to American consumers, it has held financial institutions accountable for opening fraudulent accounts in their customers’ names, and it has worked with the Dept. of Education to shut down for profit “schools” of higher education when they were in fact nothing more than scam factories that preyed on the least among us who sought after an education and training that would give them a hand up in getting out of poverty and other difficult financial situations.

This shouldn’t be a partisan issue – and quite often it’s not. Ensuring that citizens are not unfairly taken advantage of by schemes, crippled by debt brought on by predatory lending products and entities that would keep them in the dark at best and at worst lie to them about how they operate is why the CFPB is needed. It is why I spend so much time calling legislators at the state and federal level about these issues. It’s why I spend time traveling to meet with them in Harrisburg and in Washington DC, it’s why as an organization we sign on to letters supporting good legislation that help the most financially vulnerable and sign on to letters that oppose legislation that would hurt them even more.

The United States of America is a representative democracy and is supposed to represent the people. How is it then that the most vulnerable among us seldom are represented or heard as laws are being written and debated? The reason why these days are so important is because it’s one of the few opportunities when the voices of the poor are heard. This year I and staff were able to meet with Representatives and Senators (and their staff) from Pennsylvania and Colorado from both sides of the political aisle. We discussed pending legislations and that which recently passed and their effect on those in low-income communities. We listened as they shared why they took certain votes in support and opposition to those we were there to discuss and other issues related to consumer protections.

It’s often during these meetings that I remember why I take the time to make these trip down to DC for Consumer Lobby day and other times of the year, most times leaving well before the sun has risen. It’s because I am advocating and speaking for those that can’t afford to take the time off to do it themselves, and they can’t afford to hire an army of lobbyists that corporations have to speak for them. I do it because they deserve to have someone speaking for them, sharing their concerns, their needs and their stories.

As I meet with Representatives and Senators, I always make sure to bring a story (or two) with me about the adults, children, and families we work with in our programs TOLF, so that they know the impact that legislation has on real people.  My goal as I’m meeting and discussing issues of policy is to make sure those who write the laws know there are real people impacted by these bills, and that lives are changed either for the better or for the detriment by these laws.

My goal is to make sure those who seldom have a voice in policy making are heard – and to keep our democracy representative.

Thank you the following politicians and their staff for meeting with us and listening to the voices of the unheard:

Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA)
Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)
Senator Michael Bennett (D-CO)
Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA)
Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO)
Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO)
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO)
Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO)

~ Ingrid R. Shepard, Executive Director - TOLF