Wrapping up 2018 Lani Habrock, CAIR Oklahoma Government Affairs Director, had sent out a survey to CAIR OK members to ascertain what issues members regarded as important for CAIR OK to tackle in the 2019 legislative year. The results came back from the survey that criminal justice reform and economic well-being are two of the top priorities. Because I have been personally following CAIR OK and the advocacy it provides for our community, I was very excited to attend the first annual Legislative Summit Saturday, January 12, at the Northwest Library in Oklahoma City. We heard from two special guest speakers, Tina Pollard, a financial expert who has been instrumental in lobbying against predatory lending since 2013, and Nicole MacAfee, Smart Justice Campaign Manager for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma.

Tina Pollard has worked for the Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation since 2008 and served as the Consumer Lending Manager since 2009. She provides one-on-one credit counseling and serves as the Government Relations Chair for the Oklahoma Jump$tart Coalition. Ms. Pollard is also the Chair for the Public Awareness Committee for the Salvation Army’s Bridges out of Poverty Getting Ahead program in Shawnee. She has successfully lobbied against predatory lending during the 2013 and 2017 Oklahoma legislative sessions.

The presentation started with the definition of predatory lending. Predatory lending is defined as imposing unfair and abusive loan terms on borrowers. Some states do not allow predatory lending and banks are prohibited from engaging in this malicious practice. There are many methods in which this kind of lending can be carried out. The most well known is the “cash your paycheck here” places. Predatory lenders tend to open shop in economically depressed areas and prey on those unable to get better lending options. Interest on these kinds of loans can be as high as 400% according to Ms. Pollard. Its very easy to get behind on these types of loans when its a choice between paying back these loans or paying for food and or medications. If someone is not able to pay, the predatory lenders will simply renew the loan but at a higher fee which results in an endless and vicious cycle of debt that is very difficult to break. These lenders are also notorious for constantly calling and harassing borrowers and even showing up at places of work to collect. Ms. Pollard emphasized that all this stress also has affects on other areas of life and well-being, including work, health, family and children. She has spent countless hours teaching a range of personal finance subjects to adults and children. At the end of her presentation Ms. Pollard announced that she would like to hear the story of anyone that has been a victim of predatory lending. There may be a monetary reward for shared stories. To contact Tina Pollard follow this link: https://cpcdc.org/about

Nicole McAfee joined the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma in August of 2017 as the Smart Justice Campaign Manager. Ms. McAfee has a variety of organizing experience, including running field programs in the Cherokee Nation, and serving as the 2016 Oklahoma campaign manager with Hillary for America. Her presentation began with a powerful video from the ACLU called Lavette’s Choice. The video portrays the plight of single mothers like Lavette Mayes from Chicago. Lavette was arrested after getting into an altercation with her mother-in-law while defending herself. But without being able to defend herself in a court of law, her bail was set so high that she had no choice but to sit in prison for 14 months while awaiting sentencing. In the mean time, Lavette ended up losing her small business. But the worst part was that her children were left without the only parent they had to provide for them. She had no choice but to take a plea deal so that she could be with her children. Unfortunately Lavette’s ordeal is quite commonplace in a troubling growing trend. Across the United States debtors’ prisons are ruining lives because those charged cannot afford the cash bail and other fees and fines owed to the courts. Women are the fastest growing incarcerated population, with 219,000 women now in prisons in the United States. And the population taking the most devastating direct hit are single mothers of color who are far more likely to live in poverty. The struggle to pay for their debts while providing for their families is resulting in job loss, evictions, broken families, and leaving them in prisons regardless of guilt or innocence. The cash bail system was originally designed to ensure that people return to court as their case progresses, but it has morphed into a for-profit system of wealth-based incarceration. To contact Nicole McAfee follow this link: https://www.acluok.org/en/biographies/nicole-mcafee

At the end of both presentations I asked both Ms. Pollard and Ms. McAfee if they have had any indication how the new incoming administration felt about predatory lending and criminal justice reform respectively. Ms. Pollard said the new administration have been open to listening to all the issues regarding predatory lending but have yet to take a public stance on the issue. Ms. McAfee said she is very cautiously optimistic and felt that the tide is changing slowly with continued awareness. Both presenters encouraged continued advocacy from voters. Ms. Pollard suggested that concerned citizens speak with their legislative leaders and show up at town hall meetings so that their representatives get to know them. And not to feel intimidated to show up at their offices in our State Capitol. Their doors are always open and they welcome their constituents and want to hear the issues. CAIR OK members have an opportunity to attend Muslim Day at the Capitol taking place Monday March 4. This would be a great chance to let our voices be heard. However members should let their voices be heard not just on this day, but anytime throughout the year. We have a great advocate in Ms. Habrock, and you should reach out to her at lhabrock@cair.com  with any questions on guidelines to speak with our representatives.

 

This guest post was written by Betty Lee. Born overseas in Taiwan, she now calls Oklahoma home. After attending Edmond Memorial, she went on to obtain a professional degree in Architecture from the University of Oklahoma. Ms. Lee currently resides in Oklahoma City. She loved helping people with their real estate needs. From helping them buy and or sell, to providing rental homes, all the way to custom designing their forever dream home. When not helping people with their dreams, Betty also loves photography, drawing, jewelry making, and most of all, traveling.

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