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Payday Loans: Rapidly Growing Schemes

You can hardly turn on the TV or drive around the block these days without being accosted by someone trying to loan you money. Easy money. No credit check.  No worries.  Free cash.  It is not as if manna is falling from heaven, but you could be excused for thinking so.

These pitches for easy cash promote a rapidly growing scheme called payday and auto title loans, and they are nearly inescapable.   In recent years countless storefront operations have popped up on nearly every corner and the ceaseless radio and television commercials jingle about “easy” and “same-day” cash. 

Of course, there is no such thing as easy cash. These pitches are designed to entice low-income borrowers into loans that they have little chance of repaying and which charge up to 600 percent or more in interest and fees.  Taking advantage of a loophole in state law, payday and auto title lenders market themselves these short-term, small cash loans or larger loans when a car title serves as collateral. If a borrower defaults (meaning if he fails to pay off the loan at the agreed length of time unless a rollover fee is paid) the loan company take the vehicle. 

Studies have clearly demonstrated that the payday and auto-title lending model is designed to capitalize on borrower failure due to the large fees charged and large number of rollovers.  In many cases these borrowers are working families who may have hit a financial snag and need help paying for groceries, housing, or utilities but are instead driven deeper into a cycle of debt or into having their vehicle repossessed.

This sort of practice is older than the Gospels. Call it usury or loan sharking, the effect is the same:  preying upon those in society who have the least chance to escape from it.  

Over the past several months, the Texas Catholic Conference has spearheaded a series of "PayDay Roadshows" in different cities across the state to inform and activate community advocates to the hazards and costs of these payday lending industry, then in turn, encouraging those communities to advocate for reform at both the municipal and state levels.  Along the way, clients and caseworkers have been encouraged to tell their stories in media interviews and videos that document the extent to which these credit businesses have taken advantage of them. 

"Traveling the state, listening to the same stories, repeated again and again in Dallas, Brownsville, Lubbock, Houston has been a tremendous eye-opening experience," said Jeffery Patterson, executive director of the Catholic Conference. "We go into a community and meet with charitable groups, parishes, and community leaders.  We listen to the effects that these payday lenders have had on individuals and the community and discuss solutions.  Mostly what we hear is anger and frustration, whether we're talking to folks in Dallas, Austin, or Brownsville."

Attempts to reform the payday and auto title practices during the last session of the Texas Legislature crumbled in the face of an expensive lobby effort by the payday lenders--some suggest the industry spent close to $7 million to bog down a bill in the House Committee on Investments and Financial Services that was not allowed to the House floor, despite the determined efforts of its chairman, State Rep. Michael Villarreal of San Antonio.  

"It was one of those times when advocating for the poor feels like the modern equivalent of 'David and Goliath,'" said Jennifer Allmon, associate director of the Texas Catholic Conference.  "Big money floods Austin with expensive lobbyists and campaign donations to dominate the legislative agenda; advocates for the poor and vulnerable feel outmanned and outgunned at the Capitol.    

That is why the idea of a statewide effort of outreach and education was seen as a way to even the odds. 

Read more...

CATHOLIC BISHOPS WELCOME SCOTUS RULING RESPECTING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

The Texas Catholic Conference welcomed the U. S.  Supreme Court's recent ruling that the federal government cannot force owners of closely held for-profit companies to violate their religious beliefs in order to provide certain services to employees under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The case involved Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. -- two privately-held, for-profit companies -- who sued the United States government over a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires companies with more than 50 employees to provide comprehensive health coverage (including contraception) or pay a fine.

In a 5 to 4 decision, the court ruled that closely-held firms like Hobby Lobby are protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. The RFRA dictates that an individual's religious expression shouldn't be "substantially burdened" by a law unless there is a "compelling government interest."       

In a press release from the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops,  Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Baltimore, and Archbishop Willima E. Lori of Baltimore, expressed hope that the court will apply the same reasoning when it looks at cases involving non-profit entities with the same religious objections to mandates to provide contraceptive insurance. 

More than a hundred federal lawsuits have been brought by Catholic organizations and dioceses across the country that challenge the White House's 
 purported "accommodation" which shifts the burden for covering objectionable services from the employer to the insurer.  Under this dubious gimmick, religious entities would claim an exception to the mandate, but the insurer is required to automatically provide the coverage to the workers anyway under a "separate" policy they are eligible for solely because they are under the religious organization' insurance.

"The court clearly did not decide whether the so-called 'accommodation' violates RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) when applied to our charities, hospitals and schools, so many of which have challenged it as a burden on their religious exercises. We continue to hope that these great ministries of services . . . will prevail in their cases as well," said Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a statement issued hours after the court’s decision was made public. "Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build a culture that fully respects religious freedom."

As the largest non-governmental health care provider in the United States, the Catholic Church has long supplied and advocated for universal, accessible, and life-affirming health care.  Nevertheless, the Church ardently opposes provisions of the ACA that violate constitutional principles of religious freedom by coercing religious organizations to cover services, even if indirectly, that violate our religious faith and severely hinder the ability to fulfill our fundamental mission of caring for the poor and vulnerable. 

In commenting on the case, the Texas bishops underscored their belief that a society dedicated to freedom and diversity must respect the freedom of its citizens to live and work in accordance with their religious convictions.  As articulated by Pope Francis, “Religious freedom is not simply freedom of thought or private worship. It is the freedom to live according to ethical principles, both privately and publicly, consequent to the truth one has found.”







STATEMENT BY TEXAS CATHOLIC BISHOPS ON UNACCOMPANIED MINOR INFLUX

unacom minorsTexas' Catholic Bishops are deeply concerned about the increasing number of unaccompanied children and mothers from Central America and Mexico who are crossing into the United States through our state. Some of these children, as young as four years of age, are reportedly being held in crowded conditions in Customs and Border Protection detention facilities until they can be processed and accepted into a temporary living shelter. So far this year, some 47,000 unaccompanied minors have been apprehended, with estimates that the number could grow to 90,000 by the end of September.

The Catholic Charities agencies across Texas have expanded their commitments with the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency--who has been tasked with leading the federal effort--and the Federal Office of Refugee and Resettlement to provide for the basic needs of these mothers and children while their cases are being resolved or they are reunified with their families. Not only does this include opening new temporary shelters, but also providing social workers, immigration lawyers, and medical personnel to meet immediate needs.

We must not lose sight of the fact that these are young, scared, and desperate mothers and children. They need and deserve our protection and support. Now is not the moment for inflammatory political rhetoric, but of compassionate and orderly resolution to the conditions of these women and children who are already in a difficult humanitarian situation. We are immensely grateful for the generosity of those who are selflessly giving of their time in bus stations and shelters to alleviate the confusion and desperation of the immigrants. We call on our fellow Texans to pray for the safety and wellbeing of these young refugees and for the continued efforts of both public and private aid officials in resolving this potential humanitarian crisis along the border.


Texas Catholics For Fair Lending

payday loansTo raise public attention to the issue of predatory lending, the Texas Catholic Conference (TCC) has announced, Texas Catholics For Fair Lending, an initiative to bring greater awareness to the responsibility we have as Christians to provide protection to the poor, vulnerable and victims of usury.

Texas Catholics For Fair Lending will provide a variety of resources such as, latest news on payday and auto title reform and city ordinances, information on filing a complaint, testimonies concerning victims of payday and auto title loans and many other helpful tools on the matter. The TCC
 seeks to promote Catholic social teaching on fair lending coupled with our teaching on economic justice to animate our questioning of current payday lending practices.

Read More and Visit: www.txcatholic-fairlending.org

 

Texas Mercy Project Addresses Death Penalty, Criminal Justice System

To raise public attention to the issues of criminal justice and the death penalty, the Texas Catholic Conference (TCC) has announced the Texas Mercy Project, an initiative to bring greater awareness to the mercy of God for those who have sinned and sought redemption.

According to TCC Executive Director Jeffery R. Patterson, Ph.D., the Texas Mercy Project will concentrate on promoting Catholic principles in reforming the Texas criminal justice system and ending the death penalty in the state. 

"Our hope is to raise public awareness and provoke collaboration on the issues of criminal justice and the death penalty across the state.  The goal is to bring about policy changes that reflect the mercy of God for those who have sinned and sought redemption," Patterson said.

"Essential to Catholic principles for justice and forgiveness is our belief that every person is created in the image of God, and therefore entitled to dignity, forgiveness, and the true  reverence of life.  We also emphasize that individuals are responsible for leading moral lives, and that we stand in solidarity with victims of crime in their pain and offer them our understanding, compassion and healing," Patterson said. 

The highest priority of the Mercy Project is the abolition of capital punishment.  Bishop Curtis Guillory, Bishop of Beaumont, explains, “We believe that capital punishment contributes to a climate of violence in our state.  This cycle of violence has been diminished by life imprisonment without parole.  The words of Ezekiel are a powerful reminder that repentance, not revenge, and conversion, not death, are better guides for public policy on the death penalty than the current policy of violence for violence, death for death."

The Mercy Project works to educate Catholics about current Church teaching on the use of the death penalty and restoring a sense of community that resists both the violence and vengeance that has engulfed so much of our culture.  The Mercy Project has an online petition (www.txcatholicmercyproject.org) calling for an end to the death penalty in Texas, and urges Governor Rick Perry and the Texas Department of Pardons and Paroles to clemency for each death ruling ruling.  In addition, the Mercy Project has joined with other advocates in calling for more humane conditions for those on death row.

"Jesus rejected revenge and retaliation and was ever hopeful that offenders would transform their lives and turn to be embraced by God's love.  We are all sinners, and our response to sin and failure should not be abandonment and despair, but rather justice, contrition, reparation, and rehabilitation as a way to understand and respond to crime, its victims, and its perpetrators," said Patterson.

For more information, visit the Texas Mercy Project at www.txcatholicmercyproject.org


TCC Joining Catholic Agencies in Aiding Children of Immigrants

The Texas Catholic Conference is joining with non-profit immigration legal service providers to host workshops across the state to assist young, undocumented youths in applying for the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

The DACA program was instituted by the federal government more than a year ago, to address the numbers of children of undocumented migrants who were stuck in legal limbo: having grown up in the United States, they were unable to go to college or get jobs due to their status.  While not a means for establishing permanent residency or U.S. citizenship, DACA nonetheless offers undocumented low-income youth protection from deportation, a work permit, and a Texas driver's license.  In Texas, only about half of the DACA-eligible population has applied for DACA, which leaves an estimated 48,000 young people left in Texas who are eligible but have not applied.

The circumstances of these children are important to the Church.  Sacred Scripture teaches that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, that Jesus Christ redeems us and that we are called to share the burdens of others. Scripture demands special concern for aliens, strangers, and others who are vulnerable.

Through these workshops, parishes across the state are providing a location for one-day workshops so eligible youth can complete application packets with the expert guidance of lawyers and immigration counselors. These one-day DACA workshops also provide parishes with additional means to fulfill the gospel mandate to "welcome the stranger in our midst."

Several Catholic entities across the state are currently participating in the project, including St. Frances Cabrini Center for Immigration Legal Assistance in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Catholic Charities of  Dallas, Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services of El Paso, Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and St. Mary's University Law School in the Archdiocese of San Antonio. 

For more information about this exciting and worthy initiative, please email Irving Tapia at   This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  or call the Texas Catholic Conference at 512-339-9882.

Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC) has additional resources, including testing sites and webinars on the issue. VIEW HERE.


Immigration: A Different Narrative

bishop-flores-thumbnailYesterday May 1, I had my annual brunch with members of the local media to help observe the Church's World Communication Day. The occasion gives me a chance to talk a little bit about what is on my mind, about what is going on in the Diocese, and to take a few informal questions from the media representatives present.

The topic of immigration arose and I tried to describe the realities I hear about first hand here in the Rio Grande Valley. These are very painful realities, involving men, women and children who are here because of violence or the fear of violence in their native countries. I do not think that the national discussion on immigration in this country sufficiently reflects the complex realities that cause families to seek security for themselves and for their children. Nor does the national discussion sufficiently reflect an encounter with the human lives devastated by what is a hemispheric tragedy. Reporter Steve Taylor from the Rio Grande Guardian was there, and filed a report on what I said with regard to immigration and violence. His account gives you a good synopsis of what the discussion yesterday was like. Here is the story:

SAN JUAN —The Bishop of Brownsville says the reality of immigration in the Rio Grande Valley provides a narrative far different from the discussions heard in other parts of the nation. Bishop Daniel Flores discussed the issue at a brunch he hosted for reporters at the San Juan Basilica on Thursday. Flores holds such an event every year on World Communications Day.
 
“I am convinced that the Valley has a story about the reality of immigration that is unique in the national scene. I try to communicate this when I go to nationwide meetings. There is a reality that is affecting immigration patterns that is different from the traditional narrative that says people come to this country from Mexico or South American or Central America simply because they are looking for work. It is more complex than that,” Flores said.
As he has articulated in the past, Flores said the issue of immigration in the United States is closely tied to hemispheric pressures in Central and South America. 

Read more...

Texas Catholic Conference Seeks Federal Extension Of Children's Health Insurance Program

chip children healthAUSTIN--Concerned that the troubled implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) could have dramatic effect on the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Texas Catholic Conference has sent written to Texas Governor Rick Perry and the members of the Texas Congressional delegation urging them to push for continued federal funding for the program.

The Children's Health Insurance Program is a joint federal-state program that covers children in some families who have incomes too high for regular Medicaid. It covers about 8 million children in families with incomes from 100 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty threshold. Since its implementation in 1997, Texas CHIP has grown to provide insurance to more than 500,000 children a month.  These services include offering vital prenatal and preventive services for pregnant women, helping ensure the best possible birth outcomes for children, and averting costs associated with poor birth outcomes. 

Unfortunately, the massive changes in the nation's health insurance coverage under the ACA have created uncertainty about the continued provision of coverage to children and mothers, according to Jeffery Patterson, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference.

"Policymakers initially planned to end CHIP funding after October 2015 because they presumed that the ACA would expand insurance coverage to uninsured children and mothers--in part due to Medicaid expansion." Patterson said.  "Unfortunately, it did not happen that way.  The troubled implementation of the ACA, coupled with the number of states--like Texas--which chose not to expand Medicaid, raises the very real possibility that children and mothers could lose the health insurance they have relied upon,” said Patterson. 

Read more...

The Perils Of Payday And Auto Title Lending

By Carolyn Fernandez, Stephanie Lundgreen and Coquese L. Williams
Catholic Charities of Southeast Texas

  During the 2013 session of the Texas Legislature, many of us anticipated that our representatives in Austin would enact legislation to protect Texans from the sometimes questionable business practices of payday and auto title lenders. Unfortunately, proposed bills died in Committee, and the payday and auto title lending industry has continued to lure vulnerable Texans into financial situations from which recovery will be difficult.

Dreams of quick fixes to financial problems too often become nightmares with spiraling interest rates of 500 percent, rollover loans that have consumers paying 4 and 5 times the initial amount borrowed, direct debits from bank accounts that leave no money for rent or food, and repossessions of vehicles that take the only transportation available to get to work. 
The examples cited are real, and they have happened here in the Diocese of Beaumont. These stories are typical of clients that we see at Catholic Charities, through our Emergency Assistance Program and our Asset Building Case Management Program.
 
Following the lack of action by the Texas Legislature during the 2013 legislative session, leaders of several statewide advocacy groups, including the Texas Catholic Conference, decided to coordinate a series of events across the state to assist local communities in responding to the problems associated with payday lending. Catholic Charities served as the host and convener for the Beaumont stop.

The “roadshow” that stopped in Beaumont in January involved an education presentation with community leaders, including a presentation on local alternatives that could be developed. We were pleased that Bishop Guillory participated in the session, as did members of the Catholic Charities Board and our Board Advocacy Committee.

Evelyn’s Story:
“I had two daughters who died within seven months of each other. One of them was sick with breast cancer and I needed money to get her medication. She encouraged me to get a loan to get it for her and so I did. The loan was $380 and she’s been dead a year and every month I pay on it but it’s the same thing and never goes down. When you pay for five months, even though some of my notes are $85-100, then when five months are up, they tell me that I need to roll it over and it starts over as the same thing and I don’t get credit for all of the payments that I made during the five months. I’m 81 years old. I retired a long time ago. I get my husband’s social security and widow’s pension. I would never go to one again. I’ve got to keep paying to try to pay it off. If they take money from my bank account, I won’t have money for other bills. I have no other choice but to pay it off. There are other bills that I need to pay that I can’t because of these payments.”

Read more...

Appeal To Governor Of Texas For Stay Of Execution of Hernandez-Llanas

The Texas Catholic Conference has appealed to Governor Rick Perry to intercede on behalf of Ramiro Hernandez-Llanas who's scheduled execution is at 6:00 p.m. today. 

While expressing the deepest sympathies and prayers to the families of the victims for their loss and suffering, the Catholic Church continues to oppose the use of capital punishment. At a time when the sanctity of life is threatened in so many ways, state-sanctioned killing is not a solution, but undermines society's respect for life. 


TCC Appeals To Governor Of Texas For Stay Of Execution: Jasper

TCC Appeals To Governor Of Texas For Stay Of Execution 
The Texas Catholic Conference has appealed to Governor Rick Perry to intercede on behalf of Ray Jasper, who is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at 6:00 p.m. today. Jasper was convicted of capital murder for killing a man during a robbery. The Church has tremendous sympathy for the family of the victim. In no way does the Church diminish the suffering the family has endured as a result of this tragedy. 

The Catholic Church opposes the use of the death penalty as a means of punishment or a deterrent to crime because there are alternative means to protect society available. 


© 2013 Texas Catholic Conference
Phone: (512) 339-9882   •   Fax: (512) 339-8670 
Physical Address: 1600 North Congress Avenue, Suite B, Austin TX 78701
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 13285, Austin, TX 78711
The Texas Catholic Conference is the association of the Roman Catholic Bishops of Texas. We accredit the state's Catholic Schoolsmaintain records that reflect the work of the Church in Texas, and represent the Bishops in the public policy sphere.