Indiana Community Action Network E-newsletter

March 2019






Bill designed to trap consumers in high-cost debt passed Indiana Senate 26-23, moves on to Financial Institutions

Vectren donates $348,400 to INCAA as Share the Warmth program donation


Wiping out poverty — one roll of toilet paper at a time

Humbled by the help: Fort Wayne woman relieved to receive new furnace this winter


Indiana Institute for Working Families' Jessica Fraser named one of IBJ's Forty Under 40

Pace's Tanya Bezy earns master teacher credential

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April 2019 issue deadline:
Monday, April 1.


Bill designed to trap consumers in high-cost debt
passed Indiana Senate 26-23, moves on to Financial Institutions

Left: On Jan. 23, Steve Hoffman, Brightpoint President and CEO, appeared before the Senate Insurance and Financial Institutions committee to testify in support of Senate Bill 104, a bill that would have limited short-term loans to 36% APR. Right: On Feb. 21, just hours after the Senate Commerce Committee stripped and rewrote SB 613 (via a 69-page amendment), Erin Macey, policy analyst for Indiana Institute for Working Families, testified against the bill, before the Senate ultimately voted to pass it, 26 to 23.

* ANNOUNCEMENT: Shortly before this newsletter was scheduled to publish, we learned that SB 613 will receive a hearing on Tuesday, March 26. The Indiana Institute for Working Families will cover the progress of the bill on its Inside the Statehouse blog. Watch for updates! **

A bill that massively expands payday and subprime lending in Indiana passed the state’s Senate 26-23 and is now moving on to the Indiana House of Representatives. It has been assigned to the Financial Institutions Committee in the House, where it is awaiting a hearing.

SB 613 is a horrifying bill with disastrous consequences.

The bill:

  • makes sweeping changes to our consumer lending laws covering home equity loans, car loans, personal installment loans and other consumer credit products that will significantly drive up costs for already-struggling borrowers.
  • preserves the current payday loan product and adds a new payday installment loan similar to what was in HB 1319 last year.
  • adds a new loan type called a “small-dollar loan” that appears to cost 99% APR but will actually cost much more.
  • changes definitions within our criminal loansharking law and lifts the 72% APR cap. (Indiana Department of Financial Institutions' analysis of the bill suggests that, while they are not clear of intent, one possible interpretation could define criminal loansharking as lending at a cost well over and above 700% APR!)

As part of its testimony against the bill, the Indiana Institute for Working Families published this graphic, which shows the differences between the current lending law (at left) and what will become legal if the bill passes the Indiana House.

How this new lending law will affect low-income Hoosiers

The lenders backing this bill target low-income borrowers, charging eye-popping interest rates and/or packing loans with credit insurance and fees that drive up the cost. Doing this allows lenders to profit even when a borrower ultimately fails, because as long as the borrower makes several payments or renews the loan several times, the lender will have recouped more than he originally put forward — and then some. The lender walks away flush, and the borrower experiences the cascade of financial consequences that defaulting on a loan incurs.

It’s not only going to affect payday borrowers

The effect on low-income borrowers alone should be sufficient to render these bills dead on arrival. However, there is also the bigger picture in which loosening of our lending laws would occur – one that should make us all concerned about the consequences of increased subprime lending.

Debt statistics are sobering:

  • This year, national household debt has peaked at $13.54 trillion — $869 billion higher than its peak in the third quarter of 2008, during the peak of the nation’s economic crisis. 
  • Non-housing-related balances (rising auto loan and credit-card balances) are growing.
  • Outstanding education debt has tripled over the last decade. 
  • One in three Hoosiers has a debt in collections. The number of individuals 90+ days late on auto loans just ratcheted up, especially among people under age 30. Many see this as a red flag for our economy, as making payments on auto loans is typically a priority for households.
  • Meanwhile, many of these same younger borrowers are also struggling with student loan payments – and if current trends continue, nearly 40% of borrowers are expected to default on student loans by 2023.
  • Older Americans are more likely than ever to find themselves in bankruptcy court. Their rate of bankruptcy has increased between 200% and 300% since 1991. Older Americans are also the fastest-growing group of borrowers with student loan debt.

Households are already swimming in debt, and many borrowers are now showing signs of distress.

Declaring bankruptcy, having delinquent debt or debt in collections, and overextending the credit a borrower has available all land borrowers in the lower end of the credit spectrum.

Lobbyists make it sound like they’re helping borrowers. They’re not.

When lobbyists in our statehouse talk about their lenders' ability to lend to individuals who have damaged credit, what they mean is extending high-cost credit to individuals who are underwater financially or who have recently experienced significant distress through lending practices that allow the lender to be successful even when a borrower ultimately defaults.

It is bad public policy to allow this to happen. 

Statehouses set the limits on non-bank financial institutions’ practices. It is a weighty responsibility, and one that has the potential to help or harm many individuals. Rather than pile more and higher-cost debt on Hoosiers’ already-precarious balance sheets, we need to tell our state lawmakers to reject the dangerous proposals in SB 613 and begin making choices that will actually support the financial well-being of Hoosier consumers and our economy.

Learn more:


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Vectren donates $348,400 to INCAA as Share the Warmth program donation

Teresa Cullum and Karis Pharr from Vectren recently presented a donation check in the amount of $348,400 to INCAA for the 2019 Share the Warmth program.

Funding for this program comes from customer donations and Vectren’s corporate match. The funds are distributed to 17 Community Action agencies in an effort to help make homes more energy efficient for income-eligible customers in Indiana.

This marks 12 years that Vectren has been able to provide funding for the Share the Warmth program. INCAA would like to thank Vectren and their customers for the generous donation.

(Above, from left) Teresa Cullum and Karis Pharr from Vectren; Tammy Cunningham, INCAA board president; and Kristine South, INCAA assistant business manager gather for a photo opp with the check signifying Vectren's donation to INCAA.


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Wiping out poverty — one roll of toilet paper at a time

Jamie Berger’s son came to call Jamie “the crazy toilet-paper lady” and even wrote a college essay on the subject. But it’s a good kind of crazy.

In 2008, Jamie Berger and her then-eighth grade daughter were at Congregation Achduth Vesholom sorting items that had been donated for a local food bank. “The Temple,” as the congregation is known, is a Reform synagogue in Fort Wayne that is home to one of Brightpoint's six Allen County Head Start Centers.

A Head Start mother approached Jamie and told her that toward the end of the month, she had to decide whether to buy toilet paper or food for her family. Then she confessed, “I’ve been stealing your toilet paper.” Jamie told her that she wasn’t stealing it because it was intended for whoever needed it.

After hearing this exchange, Jamie’s daughter looked at her mother and said, “What are we going to do about this?” Jaime knew they had to do something.

She proposed a new program to the board of her congregation. She suggested creating a program that would send food and other items home with the children attending preschool in their own building. In making her case, she said, “We help all of these organizations in our community, but this is right in our own backyard.” The board agreed, and Thoughtful Thursdays was born.

One of the goals of Thoughtful Thursdays is to provide a meal that will feed a family of four in each bag that is sent home. Jamie and her volunteers look for new recipes and try to vary the menu. They gather at the synagogue on Wednesdays and put together the packages. They send home four bags a month - and they always include toilet paper.

Brooke Hartman (on left in photo above, pictured with Jamie Berger) is the Brightpoint Head Start Center Supervisor at The Temple. She says Thoughtful Thursdays has grown to address other needs over the nine years it’s been operating. “They do much more than just the food bags,” says Brooke. “All the kids have snow boots this year... and every family went home with a turkey (for Thanksgiving.)” Later Brooke recalls another request. “I put a call out for backpacks this year, and (Jamie) got us backpacks for every child.”

Alicen Coleman and Eric Baumgartner, parents to twins Toni and Jaxson who attend Head Start at The Temple (family pictured at right), say their family really appreciates the extra help. They have four children, and they both work full-time. Alicen says it seems they are always on the go so they need quick and easy meals. “It definitely helps out to not have to worry about at least a couple of meals a week.”

Thoughtful Thursdays is supported by Congregation Achduth Vesholom, the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne, Congregation B'nai Jacob, the Dr. Harry W. Salon Foundation, and numerous individual and business contributions. “I’ve had tremendous community support,” Jamie says. “People have been so incredibly generous.” She says she thinks it’s because her requests are specific and she explains why they are needed. It may also be that Jamie’s passion is contagious.

Indeed, what started as a result of a shocking revelation [“I was so overwhelmed that people had to choose between food and toilet paper,” says Jamie] has become a passionate mission. “A friend of mine came up with this motto: We’re going to wipe out poverty!” And they’re starting by respecting their neighbors.

Jamie admits that she can be a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to packing the bags because she cares so much. “I want the people who are receiving it to feel good about receiving it – like this bag was prepared with respect.”

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Humbled by the help: Fort Wayne woman is relieved to receive new heater this winter

In January, we had a record-breaking cold spell. Imagine, if you will, what you would have done if you didn’t have a working heat source during that dangerously cold weather. It’s a scary thought and one that Teri Rosalez, thankfully, did not have to face.

Teri (shown in photo at right) lives in a house on the northeast side of Fort Wayne. She is 68 years old and survives on retirement income from former jobs at a social service agency and Fort Wayne Community Schools. Last fall, she was hit with two major expenses that she could not afford.

“My furnace started going out ... and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have options. I couldn’t get a loan. I couldn’t afford anything,” Teri says. Shortly after her furnace quit, her car stopped working, too. “I was just praying – I prayed all the time.”

Teri was talking with a close friend who suggested she call Brightpoint. “If nothing else, maybe they could point me in the right direction,” Teri remembers thinking. “Brightpoint has helped me tremendously with my utilities. I don’t know how I would make it – I really don’t,” Teri says, beginning to cry. She is surprised by the tears and apologizes. “It’s been a rough few years.”

Teri explains that she has a couple of health issues that have been making things extra difficult for her. “One of the conditions I have, you can’t regulate your body temperature - and I freeze.” In addition to this, Teri is battling cancer. She has had chemotherapy and lost all of her hair. On the day we are visiting, she is excited that her eyebrows are starting to grow back. But she has another surgery coming and multiple doctor appointments. For now, she is borrowing her son’s truck to get to these.

When Teri contacted Brightpoint, she found out we did have a way to help with her furnace - the Emergency Repair and Replacement (ERR) program. She was surprised and excited that help was available. Teri had a new furnace installed in October thanks to the program.

“Isn’t it pretty?” Teri says proudly pointing out the shiny new equipment. As she poses with the furnace for a photo, she pats it lovingly and says, “It’s my baby.”

Teri is clearly grateful to Brightpoint and struggles to find the words to express herself. “Thank you – that seems so inadequate. I just hope when I get through all of this, I can somehow pass something on to somebody else. That’s all I can hope for.”

Being an independent person, Teri says it was hard to ask for help. “Life can really take you down. Sometimes things happen that you don’t anticipate. If people would just reach out ... You never know when you’re going to need help.”

As Teri thinks about her situation, she wonders why she was so fortunate to get the new furnace. “There are so many people that need help. It’s so humbling — why me?” Teri starts to cry. “Thank you,” she says softly once again.

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Indiana Institute for Working Families' Jessica Fraser named one of IBJ's 2019 Forty Under 40

Indiana Community Action Association is proud to announce the selection of Jessica Fraser, director of the Indiana Institute for Working Families, to the Indianapolis Business Journal’s Forty Under 40, Class of 2019.

There were more than 250 nominees this year, all of whom demonstrate leadership, initiative, and dedication in pursuing their careers, and who are likely to achieve in the future.

While Jessica’s dedication to research and policy change with and for working families alone merits this distinction, it was also her commitment to supportive, strengths-based leadership that motivated Institute staff to nominate her for this honor. Jessica joined the Institute in 2008 after working tirelessly to secure better wages and benefits for Indiana janitors as a staff member at the Service Employees International Union. She quickly became a subject matter expert on workforce issues and social safety net policies.

Jessica stepped into the role of director of the Institute for Working Families in 2012. Since that time, the Institute has flourished under her leadership, addressing the benefits cliff in child care, helping to stop predatory lending, working to raise the asset limit for SNAP, guiding the Indianapolis City-Council on a minimum wage increase, and enhancing workforce opportunities for low-income adults, among many other things.

Congratulations, Jessica, on this honor!

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Pace's Tanya Bezy earns master teacher credential

In December 2018, Tanya Bezy, Head Start program manager with Pace Community Action Agency, earned a master teacher credential from Ball State University, in collaboration with Early Learning Indiana’s Partnerships for Early Learnersand Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children (IAEYC).

The credential consisted of five graduate-level courses covering the field of early childhood education. The courses help early-childhood professionals take the next step in their career paths. The certificate program is a stepping stone to a master of arts in education degree through the Department of Elementary Education at Ball State University. Tanya began the program in January 2017.

“The courses refreshed my knowledge of the foundation of early childhood education and the theories and practices behind it, Tanya said. “They provided me with valuable information, references, and new knowledge that I am eager to share with other professionals working in early childhood.”

Tanya is taking advantage of the opportunity provided by T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood Indiana Project and Early Learning Indiana’s Partnerships for Early Learners and continuing on to receive her Master of Arts in Elementary Education. 

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