Jewish and Catholic groups partner in fight against predatory lending

David Lander

By David Lander

An alliance of Jewish and Catholic organizations recently scored a victory over payday lenders in the city of Florissant. 

In response to a recommendation contained in the Ferguson Report, Jews United for Justice (JUJ) teamed up with the National Council of Jewish Women St. Louis (NCJW-STL) to fight predatory lending. 

Predatory lending is any lending practice that imposes unfair or abusive loan terms on a borrower. It is also any practice that convinces a borrower to accept unfair terms through deceptive, coercive, exploitative or unscrupulous actions for a loan that a borrower doesn’t need, doesn’t want or can’t afford. Payday loans — short-term, very high-cost loans, generally for $500 or less, typically due the next payday — are one type of predatory lending. 

Because the city of Florissant is a jurisdiction that has several payday lenders, the group was connected to the Social Justice Committee of St. Rose Philipine Duchesne Catholic Church in Florissant by the Archdiocese Commission on Peace and Justice. The church was delighted to help, and Florissant Councilman Robert Parson was a very strong sponsor of the legislation. They worked together for two years on an ordinance that would require payday lenders to notify customers of alternatives to their payday loans and provide extensive warning information.  JUJ and NCJW-STL felt this was an important Jewish issue because the Jewish people consistently have advocated for justice and fairness for all, and, in particular, for the most vulnerable among us. Payday loans and other similar high-rate small loans adversely impact the financially challenged, from the most impoverished to the “working poor.” The City Council of Florissant had long been concerned about these high interest lenders and voted unanimously to pass the ordinance.  

The victory was celebrated at a luncheon with Florissant Mayor Tim Lowery, two council members, the priest from St. Rose and several representatives of JUJ and NCJW and the Social Justice Committee of St. Rose Church. The next steps for the effort are an anti-predatory lending town hall meeting in North County and an effort to bring the payday lending regulatory efforts to other jurisdictions in the metro area. 

The JUJ-NCJW partnership has also searched alternatives to payday loans for borrowers on more reasonable terms. Some of the best sources are available only if the borrower’s employer has enrolled in the lending program.  It costs the employer nothing and there is no risk to the employer to enroll in the best of these lending programs.  Among these sources are TrueConnect. Recently the Social Policy Center at Washington University has studied TrueConnect and given it a very high recommendation (read an article for more information here: http://bit.ly/loans-article).  

CAASSTL (Community Action Agency of St. Louis County), a local nonprofit, also offers such a lending program to employers.  Finally, if the employer enrolls in Payactiv, employees are eligible to obtain advance payment of a portion of their earned but unpaid wages at a very reasonable fee. 

Borrowers may also be eligible for direct loans from several Jewish organizations such as the Jewish Loan Association (Call Jewish Family Services at 314-993-1000), the NCJW-STL program Healing Hearts (only if a constituent of participating organizations), and the loan program sponsored by Central Reform Congregation. In addition, Prosperity Connection and Justine Petersen offer small loan alternatives to payday loans. 

For more information about payday lending or to team up with JUJ and NCJW-STL, contact Jerry Hochsztein, chair of the group, at [email protected]

David Lander is a retired attorney who lives in Creve Coeur. He  helped found Jews United for Justice more than two decades ago. In 2018, the Jewish Light honored Lander as an Unsung Hero in the community.