Credit Unions That Serve Federal Workers Prep for Government Shutdown

Credit unions catering to federal workers are preparing to reestablish emergency relief programs as the deadline to avoid a government shutdown fast approaches.

Republican and Democratic officials in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives continue to further conflicting funding plans for the 2024 fiscal year, remaining deadlocked on cuts to discretionary spending limits as well as key issues such as border security with Mexico and aid to Ukraine amid the ongoing war with Russia. President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., worked to pass a bipartisan agreement earlier this year that suspends the debt limit until 2025 and features spending constraints.

“Our work is far from finished, but this agreement is a critical step forward and a reminder of what’s possible when we act in the best interests of our country,” Biden said in a press release in June.

Avoiding a temporary stoppage of non-essential federal work — the fourth such shutdown in the last 10 years — would require members of Congress to pass legislation for Biden to sign into law by midnight on Sept. 30 or approve a continuing resolution that would allow the government to remain operating in full.

In response to the looming possibility that the Senate and the House fail to gain any ground, credit unions’ leaders are re-establishing tailored aid services for families enduring the loss of work.

Executives with the $35.5 billion-asset Pentagon Federal Credit Union in McLean, Virginia, will offer qualifying members who receive their paycheck directly into a PenFed checking account access to funding through a no-interest loan equal to their net pay, up to $6,000. Other programs include modified payment plans for home loans and a low-interest personal loan for those whose pay isn’t deposited directly into a PenFed checking account.

Similarly, the $165.3 billion-asset Navy Federal Credit Union in Vienna, Virginia, will offer furloughed members paycheck advance funding and other special services.

Industry experts at the helm of smaller institutions are looking to bring back programs they’ve used in the past.

Greg Keller, president and chief executive of Federal Employees Credit Union in Birmingham, Alabama, began reviewing the programs his credit union offered during the December 2018 shutdown to determine how he could adapt them to best meet the needs of affected members.

“Last time a shutdown happened, people started calling with concerns like, ‘What am I gonna do’ and, ‘How am I gonna make my payments,’ so people will be ringing the phones off the hook once again to find out what they want to do,” Keller said. The credit union has roughly 1,800 members employed by federal agencies ranging from the Social Security Administration and the United States Postal Office to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Keller explained that the $18.4 million-asset Federal Employees will allow current eligible members to skip payments on their outstanding loans for the duration of the closure and apply for an emergency $1,000 loan featuring zero interest and a six-month repayment time frame.

“Some government employees, just like employees [in other industries], struggle paycheck to paycheck to afford their basic essentials,” Keller said.

Many credit union and bank leaders have experienced past government shutdowns, but the record-breaking closure that started under former President Trump’s administration in December 2018 and lasted for 34 days created new challenges to overcome.

Approval rates for mortgage applications were slowed due to the lack of income verification documents from the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Housing Administration pulled back on helping institutions underwrite loans, submissions to the Small Business Administration piled up, and more.

Industry advocates with the Credit Union National Association are encouraging members to be proactive by reaching out to their institutions and determining what programs may or may not be available to them.

Jason Stverak, deputy chief advocacy officer for federal government affairs at CUNA, underscored that the impasse between the two legislative bodies will most likely lead to a shutdown, but that leaders should remain optimistic about representatives “passing the necessary legislation to keep the government open and keep the lights on,” he said.

“While things may look dire at this time, there could be agreements at any moment and they could work at legislative lightning speed, so to speak,” Stevrak said.

Courtesy of Frank Gargano, American Banker