Piggy bank

Washington doesn’t seem to agree on much. But the fact that more than 20 senators from both sides of the aisle have signed onto a recently proposed bill shows that regulatory relief isn’t a Democrat versus Republican issue, it’s a Main Street versus Wall Street issue.

The bill in question is a common-sense piece of legislation that delivers on what it promises: to better allow credit unions and small banks to serve consumers. The fixes included in S. 2155, the bipartisan “Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act,” would be a boon to Main Street while retaining tough protection from Wall Street for consumers.

Provisions in this bill would ease mortgage lending and free up capital for small businesses, two essential ways to grow an economy that have suffered from both the financial crisis and the regulations put in place in response to it.

In Missoula, credit unions and small banks help our communities thrive and our small businesses grow.

The backbone of Main Street is the collection of small institutions that provide for the community. It's no surprise that their primary lenders are credit unions and small banks. And those same credit unions and small banks are who community members turn to when they need mortgages and auto loans.

But these local financial institutions are facing challenges brought on by Washington bureaucrats. Now's the time to loosen the regulatory restrictions that are limiting our ability to help their communities.

That’s why S. 2155 is a much-needed win for Main Street. We continue to recognize U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, along with the 16 other committee members who have supported the measure, and urge U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and others to back the legislation.

By granting credit unions parity with banks on certain types of apartment loans, $4 billion in capital will become available to Main Street businesses to expand operations, hire additional staff and invest in their communities. Imagine what America’s small businesses can do with access to extra capital, especially coming from smaller, local financial institutions like credit unions.

The president of Montana’s Credit Unions, Tracie Kenyon, explains the S. 2155’s benefits best. “The regulatory relief this bill provides,” she says, “is a major step forward in moving away from a system that treats credit unions and small banks the same as the biggest banks. The relief takes them into a more tailored regulatory climate that gives credit unions, the original consumer protectors, ways to more efficiently serve their owner-members.”

This bill would adjust reporting thresholds for credit unions and small financial institutions. This will free up more time and resources for us to devote to member service and invest in consumer-friendly products and services.

In addition, the legislation will help protect seniors vulnerable to financial exploitation and give consumers better and more efficient ways to purchase a home. Provisions in the legislation also push the Treasury to study ways to better combat cybercrime.

Most importantly, this bill strengthens consumer protections while leaving those that the Dodd-Frank Act put into place to institute necessary reforms for Wall Street. It is the farthest thing from the “gift to Wall Street” some opponents claim it is. Nothing in it helps the big banks. Nothing in this bill takes away important consumer protections put in place due to the actions of Wall Street and other bad actors.

Rather, S. 2155 protects the most vulnerable and preyed upon among our fellow Montanans — seniors, veterans and victims of fraud. Support for the bill equates to support for what is right, right now.

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Leslie Womack is president of Montana Educators’ Credit Union. This opinion is cosigned by Silvia Davis, manager of St. Patrick Hospital's Employees Federal Credit Union; and Darci Parsons, president/CEO of Ravalli County Federal Credit Union.

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