In Missouri, as in every other states of the Union and in Canada (and I assume overseas as well), there are lending companies that provide a service generically called the “pay-day loan.”
These companies provide signature loans of $500 to $1,500 to those who need a short term financial boost and for those who cannot receive a loan from a traditional source because of past credit problems or owning no assets. The only requirements are having an active checking account, a job, and the ability to sign the loan documents.
These companies are, in fact, a necessary evil in some communities, especially in our current financial status. But there is a problem.
Though there are limits on the number of loans, the APR for these high risk loans average about 450 percent with highs being reporter over 1900 percent APR. For most trying to avert a financial crisis, this just adds to the formula for financial disaster.
Missouri is now offering a bill that would limit pay-day loan interest to 36 percent APR. HB-1294 was filed by state representative Mary Still, D-Columbia, and is moving nowhere fast. As of March 1, 2012, it has not been scheduled for its first reading in the House chambers. The reason will be discussed in a bit.
Is HB-1294 fair for the consumer? Yes. Fair for the companies? It depends with whom you are speaking.
As a social-economic issue, faith-based organizations are stepping into the fray. On Tuesday, February 28, the St. Louis based Metro Congregations United (MCU), along with More2 of Kansas City, and others representing mostly Christian congregations, held a lobbying effort in the state capital in Jefferson City to lobby for the movement of HB-1294 out of the partisan quagmire.
MCU and More2 represent over 100 faith congregations in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas according to David Gerth of MCU. About 75 individuals attended a lobbied Missouri legislators.
Faith-based organizations like MCU and More2 have become a collective voice and a collective voice is hard to ignore. And when one collective joins with others, the volume is so loud that ignoring could mean political death.
Churches, temples, synagogues, and mosques see their role, in part, as the protection of the poor and suffering. Ministers, priests, rabbis and imams have become the majority voice of the poor and ill. The voices of these religious leaders are the collective voices of the frustrations and feelings of non-existence of the lower economic and social classes to those under the various legislative domes though out the United States.
Not the only voices, mind you, but a very powerful collective of voices, and they are using their chorus for the betterment without evangelizing and this is a good thing.
On January 11, 2012, I wrote a commentary in the Columbia Missourian concerning state Senate Bill that would not change the interest rate, but change the maturity time from 14-days to 90-days, effectively reducing the actual dollars in interest paid by one-half, if not more.
SB-476, proposed by state Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis, is a logical alternative to HB-1294. Unfortunately, because Ms. Still is not from the majority party HB-1294 has not been placed on the House calendar. SB-476 has passed through the House hearing process. This is what the collective voices of the religious groups are concerned about in Missouri.
In this case the collective voices of the MCU, More2 and other religious groups calling for the advancement of HB-1294 must yield results or those in the majority (the Republicans in Missouri’s case) will soon be in the minority.
More so, it is the duty of these religious organizations and our legislators to acknowledge that there are good competing bills.
Can religious organizations do good things without proselytizing? Absolutely.
In such cases, should religious organizations include secular groups like the American Atheists, Community Action, and other organizations working with America’s poor? Absolutely.
Should religious groups, especially these two organizations, be condemned for taking independent action? Absolutely not.
So where are the secular groups? There have been small rallies, some mailings, and a bit of media coverage. Are the media outlets ignoring them? I do not think so.
I believe that there is a lack of organization and inter-group cooperation among the secular organizations that the faith-based groups have overcome. This is a cooperation that secular organizations, such as the Missouri Association of Community Action, the Missouri chapter of the American Atheists, the Missouri chapters of Grass Roots Organizers, and alike, must now organize on a state wide basis.
Not just for the payday-loan issue, but all issues affecting the economic and social downtrodden.
It is time for state and national secular organizations to organize, bringing together the greater voices of the people who fall outside or alongside those within the religious circles. It is time that the citizens who are not seen or heard be given a secular voice when it comes to today’s economy – their economy.
We must congregate under the Humanist banner that surrounds atheists, skeptics, rationalists, humanist, and nonprofit secular communities to force our government to do what it is meant to do – protect those who are unable to protect themselves.
It is time the secular world is heard by our various state and federal legislators – loud, clear, and united.
David Rosman’s newest book, A Christian Nation? An examination of Christian nation theories and proofs is now available through Amazon.com in paperback or eBook versions.
You can invite David to speak to your group or organization. For more information, please contact him at Speaker@InkandVoice.com