Economic Justice

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Fines Predatory Student Lending Practices; Religious Groups Pray for Student Debt Relief

 

Synagogues and churches held prayer services for students as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fined Discover Bank $18.5 million for illegal student lending practices. The bank must repay students $16 million, pay a $2.5 million civil penalty and reform its lending practices. The Bureau accused Discover of overstating the minimum amount due in billing statements, misrepresenting students' total interest payments and engaging in illegal debt collection practices. The penalty is the first of its kind by the Bureau against a student loan company

"This fine sends a strong message to companies that take advantage of students," said Eric LeCompte, executive director of the religious anti-poverty coalition Jubilee USA Network, which advocates for responsible student lending policies. "Predatory lending traps students in debt."

This past weekend, 64 faith communities from 26 states prayed and acted for fair student lending policies as part of Jubilee USA's national interfaith "Jubilee for Students" prayer event. In 2012 and 2013, the event pushed congressional legislation to stop federal student loan interest rate increases. 

"Unfair lending practices put our young people at risk," said Rabbi Barnett Brickner of Temple Israel in Alameda, Calif. "It's important we protect our students and ensure they can graduate college without mountains of debt."

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Puerto Rico Public Utility Reaches Debt Deal; Congress Could Provide Bankruptcy Protection

 

Puerto Rico's public utility company, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), reached a dealWednesday with investors to extend debt negotiations. PREPA will pay $416 million immediately and then will have untilSeptember 15 to reach a long-term deal. PREPA owes a total of $9 billion in debt. Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla announced this week that the island cannot pay its $72 billion debt burden and asked to extend payment terms. 

"Without access to US bankruptcy law or emergency financing, Puerto Rico has few options," said Eric LeCompte, executive director of the religious development organization Jubilee USA Network. ‎It's good news that Puerto Rico won't default in the short term, but we need a long term solution."


Meanwhile, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) announced Tuesday he will introduce a bill to allow PREPA to access US Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection. Puerto Rico's representative in the US House introduced a similar bill (HR 870) in February. Puerto Rico is currently unable to access bankruptcy protection because it is a territory and not a US state.

"Congress should immediately extend bankruptcy protection to Puerto Rico. The island should have the same protections as any US city or state," LeCompte stated. "Bankruptcy law protects both investors and debtors from crises just like this."

Read more about HR 870.

Read more about Puerto Rico's debt situation.

Jubilee USA Network is an alliance of more than 75 US organizations and 400 faith communities working with 50 Jubilee global partners. Jubilee's mission is to build an economy that serves, protects and promotes the participation of the most vulnerable. Jubilee USA has won critical global financial reforms and more than $130 billion in debt relief to benefit the world's poorest people. www.jubileeusa.org

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Nepal Post Earthquake Aid Falls Short of Goals: No Debt Relief Pledged at Nepal Recovery Conference

 

This week's Nepal donor conference pledged $4.4 billion in aid to Nepal, short of the $6.6 billion Nepal requested for earthquake recovery. About half of the total financing is loans and half is grants. Nepal did not receive any pledges of debt relief while world leaders gathered in Kathmandu. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said Thursday Nepal will not qualify for its new emergency debt relief trust fund.

"The initial aid pledges are helpful and we can close the $2 billion gap quickly with debt relief," said Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of the religious development organization Jubilee USA Network. "One of the quickest ways that the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and governments can deliver rebuilding grants is by canceling debt."

Nepal spends $600,000 a day paying its debt, or more than $35 million since the first April earthquake.‎

The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank pledged a combined $1.1 billion in new concessional loans and grants. Nepal already owes the World Bank and Asian Development Bank approximately $3 billion.

Although the World Bank has not announced plans for a debt relief fund, the IMF created the Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust in the wake of the Ebola crisis and cancelled $100 million of West Africa's debt. IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice said ThursdayNepal met the first requirement for relief but that the earthquake did not cause enough total economic damage. Rice did not reference whether or not damage to Nepal's "productive capacity" pulled another trigger for the fund to release about $23 million in debt relief. 

International Monetary Fund Offers No Debt Relief‎ for Nepal

 

International Monetary Fund (IMF) spokesperson Gerry Rice announced Nepal will not receive debt relief from a special IMF trust fund that helps poor countries when they face natural disasters. The IMF's Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust cancelled nearly $100 million in debt owed by Ebola-impacted West African nations. Jubilee USA Network, a religious development organization, advocated for the trust fund and debt relief for West Africa and Nepal. A powerful earthquake struck Nepal April 25, killing more than 8,600 people and destroying over 500,000 homes. 

"This is troubling news," said Eric LeCompte, a United Nations debt expert and executive director of Jubilee USA Network. "Given the devastation in Nepal, it's hard to believe that the criteria was not met."

Nepal is one of 38 low-income countries eligible for relief from the new fund. To qualify for that relief after a natural disaster, an eligible country must meet certain criteria. The disaster must impact at least one-third of the country's population and either destroy 25% of the nation's productive capacity or cause damage equal to the size of the country's economy. According to Rice, Nepal met the first condition but the earthquake did not cause enough total economic damage. Nepal's earthquake and its aftershocks caused $5-10 billion in damage, about one-third of the country's total economy. However, Rice did not comment on whether or not Nepal's productive capacity met the the threshold to trigger debt relief under the trust. 

"This fund was created for situations just like this and debt relief in Nepal could make a significant difference," said LeCompte.‎ "Beyond the IMF, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank who hold about $3 billion of Nepal's debt have unfortunately not announced any debt relief plans yet."

At G7 Summit Trade and Debt Policies Take Center Stage ; Bishops Call on G7 to Enact Global Bankruptcy Process to End Poverty

The upcoming G7 summit focuses on global economic issues and conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East. Pending international trade agreements and ongoing debt crises around the world will dominate the ‎conversation. 

"Debt, tax and trade issues will take center stage at this year's meeting," noted Eric LeCompte, Executive Director of the religious development organization Jubilee USA Network. LeCompte was in Dresden, Germany, for last week's G7 Finance Ministers gathering. "It's right that economic stability is a priority on the agenda. Inequality and poverty drive conflict and instability around the world."

Prior to the summit, G7 Finance Ministers met in Dresden, Germany, to address debt and tax issues. ‎During the finance minister meetings, Jubilee Germany organized a prayer service led by Dresden's religious leaders that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble attended. The Dresden Catholic Bishop and leading Protestant Bishop called on the G7 to enact a global bankruptcy system for countries to address global poverty and inequality.

FIFA Scandal Highlights Corruption in Global Financial System

US Banks Named in FIFA Indictment

The President of international soccer's governing body, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), is resigning amid corruption allegations. Sepp Blatter led FIFA for 17 years before resigning June 2 after winning re-election to another term as the organization's leader. Just before his resignation, Swiss authorities arrested seven FIFA executives as part of an FBI probe that indicted 14 people on bribery and corruption charges. Twenty-six banks are named in the indictment, including major US firms such as Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase.

"This level of corruption was only possible with the complicity of the global banking system," said Eric LeCompte, executive director of the religious development organization Jubilee USA Network. "The FIFA scandal shines a light on how corruption is protected and supported by US banks."

The corruption and bribery charges relate in part to FIFA's process for awarding world cups to host nations. Authorities are investigating South Africa's 2010 World Cup as well as upcoming World Cups in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022. More than $150 million in FIFA bribes flowed through the US financial system, but in only one instance did a bank reject a money transfer out of suspicion. While US investigators are still determining if any banks broke US law, experts indicate that the transactions were likely structured to avoid triggering US anti-money laundering alarms.

The indictment also alleges that defendants used shell companies to move bribe money around the globe. The United States is currently one of the easiest countries in the world in which to open a shell company without disclosing the company's true owner. Jubilee USA supports bipartisan legislation to address shell companies - the Incorporation Transparency and Law Enforcement Assistance Act.

Governments Negotiate UN Agreement on Global Development

IMF's Lagarde and World Leaders Will Attend Historic Ethiopia Summit

 The United Nations, International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and finance ministries are meeting in New York to finalize an agreement for the Financing for Development Conference (FfD) to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in July. The summit seeks to tackle global poverty and features the IMF's Christine Lagarde, heads of state, business leaders and humanitarian groups such as Jubilee USA Network. Pope Francis has committed to attend the Sustainable Development Goals Conference to follow up on the commitments from the Financing for Development process.

"These negotiations are critical for billions of people living in poverty," said Eric LeCompte, executive director of the religious development organization, Jubilee USA Network. LeCompte and Jubilee USA are involved in negotiating the FfD outcome document. "This is a rare opportunity to create a binding global plan to drastically diminish poverty in our lifetime."

This summer's conference is the third Financing for Development summit. The first summit was held in 2002 in Monterrey, Mexico. It produced the "Monterrey Consensus," which laid out six areas of development financing. The 2008 summit in Doha, Qatar, led to commitments from developed nations to continue aid to developing nations and to address a number of systemic global economic concerns that contribute to global poverty such as debt, trade and tax issues. As the United Nations Millennium Development Goals expire, current negotiations continue to focus on these "systemic" issues in the form of domestic resource mobilization, or supporting developing countries to raise more revenue in their countries.

"The Financing for Development outcomes can curb corruption, tax evasion and unsustainable debts in the developing world," noted LeCompte, who serves on UN expert groups that focus on global finance. "If we succeed in changing tax, trade and debt policies, we can raise trillions of dollars to address poverty."

Poor countries pay several times as much on debt payments as they receive in official aid. There are also efforts to address so-called "illicit financial flows" through the FfD process. Developing countries lose nearly $1 trillion each year to these flows, which include corruption, tax evasion and crime, according to the research organization Global Financial Integrity. The recent Africa Union high-level panel led by former South African president Thabo Mbeki noted that Africa loses $50 billion annually to such flows. Another aspect of "domestic resource mobilization" is transparency and accountability in the budgets of countries. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) developed principles for responsible lending and borrowing. The final agreement in Addis Ababa could standardize such accountability principles across the globe.

"Lending, borrowing and budget transparency is key," said LeCompte, who helped UNCTAD develop the principles. "Adopting responsible lending and borrowing raises billions of dollars and costs nothing."

 

 

World Bank and IMF Announce $1.1 Billion in Debt Relief for Chad

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank announced $1.1 billion in debt relief for Chad. The money comes through the IMF and World Bank's two major debt relief programs: the Heavily Indebted Poor Country Initiative (HIPC) and the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI). Chad is the 36th country to receive HIPC relief and the first since 2012. Chad is the fourth-least developed country in the world. More than half its population lives in poverty.


"Debt relief for Chad means an investment in education and healthcare," said Eric LeCompte, executive director of the religious debt relief organization Jubilee USA Network, which advocated for the IMF and World Bank debt relief programs. "This is an important way to give Chad's people help."

As of 2013, Chad owed $2.2 billion to foreign lenders and spent over $100 million annually paying off debt. Prior to receiving debt relief, Chad owed around $800 million to the World Bank and $400 million to the African Development Bank. Chad also owes approximately $500 million to other governments. Under the relief plan, Chad receives $18 million in debt relief from the IMF, nearly $600 million from the World Bank and $236 million from the African Development Bank. Thirty-nine countries are eligible for HIPC debt relief. Qualifying countries must meet certain criteria and implement poverty reduction plans. Chad was granted relief even though it didn't meet all criteria. Critics of these plans argue that to qualify for debt relief, countries should not reduce any budget areas that protect vulnerable populations. The three other qualifying countries yet to receive relief are Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea.

Chad is one of the poorest countries in the world. Barely one-third of Chad's people are literate and life expectancy is just 50 years. It has the third highest mortality rate for children under five years old. Chad's people endured a civil war from 2005 to 2010 that required a United Nations peacekeeping intervention. Chad also faces significant regional challenges. Chad's military recently intervened in Nigeria's battle against Boko Haram militants and more than 260,000 Sudanese refugees from the Darfur conflict live in camps inside Chad.

"Debt doesn't exist in a vacuum," noted LeCompte. "Chad has immense challenges and its debt burden worsens all of them. Less debt means more hope."


Jubilee USA Network is an alliance of more than 75 US organizations and 400 faith communities working with 50 Jubilee global partners. Jubilee's mission is to build an economy that serves, protects and promotes the participation of the most vulnerable. Jubilee USA has won critical global financial reforms and more than $130 billion in debt relief to benefit the world's poorest people.www.jubileeusa.org

 

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