Major Victory: CU Field of Membership Bill Passes in House

Maxine Waters, Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee (D-CA)
Maxine Waters, Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee (D-CA)

The House of Representatives has voted 215-to-207 to pass H.R. 2543, a legislative package including House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters' H.R. 7003 — the Expanding Financial Access for Underserved Communities Act.

"We would like to thank Chairwoman Maxine Waters for her outstanding leadership on behalf of credit unions," said Jeremy Empol, vice president of federal government affairs for the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues.

H.R. 7003, which passed the committe just a few weeks ago, allows federally chartered credit unions to apply to serve "banking deserts," or local regions with not many (if any) mainstream financial services options. It will let credit unions do more of what they do best: promote financial wellbeing and advance the communities they serve.

The bill also allows unlimited business lending for all credit unions in these service areas.

For the most part, the House debate among members of Congress on Wednesday did not focus on the credit union title within the bill; instead, it focused on other pieces of the legislation.

In a moment of political maneuvering, a democratic member of the committee offered an amendment that explicitly stated nothing in the bill prohibited community banks from serving the same underserved communities as credit unions. All democrats and 79 republicans supported the amendment, an indication that the credit union provision is merely parity in tackling America’s unbanked population. This will aid the efforts of credit unions and the Leagues as the bill moves to the Senate.

"The bill now remains at the top of our legislative agenda this summer and into the fall," Empol said. "The Leagues will be returning to Washington, D.C. with this and other items during our annual 'Hike the Hill' from Sept. 13th - 15th."

President Joe Biden's administration released a statement on H.R. 2543, saying it strongly supports efforts to promote equity for underserved communities and increase access to safe and affordable financial services, wealth, and economic opportunity for all Americans.

"The wind is in our sails," Empol said. "There is a lot of commitment to see this moved through the Senate and passed into law. We have a lot of good momentum moving forward."

A Long-Term Cooperative Effort
The Leagues, the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), credit unions, and system partners strongly support the bill, engaging House members throughout the process. 

The Expanding Financial Access for Underserved Communities Act represents the most significant update to the Federal Credit Union Act since 1998. It would:

  • Allow all federal credit unions to add underserved areas to their field of membership.
  • Exempt business loans made in underserved areas from the member business lending cap.
  • Expand the definition of an underserved area to include New Markets Tax Credit areas and any area that is more than ten miles from the nearest financial institution branch.
  • House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., introduced the bill shortly after the 2022 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference.

More than 750 census tracts are financial deserts, and a net 7,800-plus bank branches closed between January 2005 and March 2021, according to CUNA research. Credit unions opened more than 1,400 net credit union branches over the same time period.

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