Meet the 116th Congress: Interview with Rep. Katie Porter

Rep. Katie Porter, D-CA
Rep. Katie Porter, D-CA

The California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues are continuing interviews with both states’ congressional delegations—a series running periodically in CU Weekly. It’s an opportunity to hear directly from your members of Congress and their views on credit unions.

Our second in this series is with Rep. Katie Porter, D-Orange County, who recently sat down for a brief conversation with Jeremy Empol, vice president of federal government affairs for the Leagues. Rep. Porter’s district spans the communities of Irvine, Laguna Hills, Rancho Santa Margarita, Lake Forest, and portions of Santa Ana, Orange, Villa Park and other localities in the county. Rep. Porter, in her first term, holds a seat on the House Financial Services Committee.

What has been your experience with your local credit unions?

Local credit unions—whether it’s Orange County’s Credit Union, SchoolsFirst, NuVision, Comunidad Latina or Credit Union of Southern California—are deeply invested in the communities they serve and dedicated to the mission of extending accessible and affordable financial services to their members. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with credit union leaders several times since I became a member of Congress in January, and each time I’ve been impressed with new initiatives they’ve launched—whether it’s small dollar credit programs or forbearance initiatives to help workers get through the government shutdown.

This is consistent with my experience before coming to Congress, where I served as a monitor for the settlement between large banks and the State of California over foreclosure misconduct. While the nation’s biggest banks often foreclosed on families without regard for offering timely loan modification options, credit unions did a much better job of keeping their members in their homes.

What are your priorities for the district? And are any related to the financial services sector?

My top priority is to address the squeeze facing middle-class Orange County families. The cost of housing, childcare, healthcare, prescription drugs and college continue to outpace incomes. Congress needs to do more to invest in families, which includes undoing the harmful limits on state and local tax deductions enacted last year—which hit Orange County households hard.

Finally, helping the middle-class also means encouraging access to affordable credit, including and especially from our local credit unions. I’m excited to work on these issues in the House Financial Services Committee.

The average California congressional district has roughly 150,000 credit union members. Do you see any challenges in accessing financial services within your district?

California’s 45th Congressional District is highly educated and tech-savvy, and they’re smart customers when it comes to choosing a financial services provider. Families continue to be concerned about data privacy and the many breaches at credit reporting bureaus and retailers that have compromised their personal data.

Parents in our district want their kids to start investing early and learn the power of prudent financial management. Access for young people and people heading off to college are top priorities for our constituents.

Finally, access for families for whom English is not their first language is also important. I’ve been impressed by local credit unions’ commitment to serving these families.

Credit unions are not-for-profit financial cooperatives that are very community oriented by providing local lending. An example is our recent efforts to provide assistance to federal employees during the federal government shutdown. How do you view to the role of credit unions in the community and see our interests on Capitol Hill?

The very first letter I drafted as a member of Congress was to large banks asking them to do more for furloughed employees harmed by the needless government shutdown. When I sent those letters, I used the example of credit unions to show what banks ought to be doing.

I also lauded credit unions’ efforts during my first speech on the floor of the House. Whether it is providing fee waivers or debt repayment extensions, credit unions—who are invested in local communities’ success—stepped up when their members were in need.

That’s consistent with what I’ve seen during my long career in financial services, including during the 2008 crisis. Credit unions were much more likely to work with borrowers to arrive at outcomes beneficial for the lender, the family and the community.

Here’s our turn to let you say anything. You have the attention of roughly 5,000 credit union executives, volunteers, and supporters of our industry. Please indulge us with any information about one of the members of Congress from California.

In January, I was sworn in as the representative from California’s 45th Congressional District. Before coming to Congress, I spent my life studying how to make financial services work for middle-class families, especially those in distress.

Most recently, I was a law professor at the University of California in Irvine. The most important lesson I learned through my research on bankruptcy and the 2008 crisis is that families need access to sustainable financial services.

Credit unions are well-positioned to fill that role. I support robust consumer protection that is tailored to the size and business model of financial institutions, as well as protecting credit unions’ tax status, which allows them to continue serving their members in an affordable manner.

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