Washington Credit Unions’ Pandemic Relief Efforts Make History

The Senate Financial Institutions Committee held its first-ever virtual hearing to learn more about services provided, particularly the Paycheck Protection Program loans.

WECU President and CEO, Jennifer Kutcher, presents her testimony during the Senate Financial Institutions Committee’s virtual hearing.

6/2/2020

When the Washington Senate’s Financial Institutions, Economic Development & Trade Committee gaveled in for a hearing last week, it wasn’t in the hallowed halls of the capitol building in Olympia. The setting was virtual — a first for the legislative body as the state continues a phased approach to re-opening.

Specifically, the committee wanted perspective from businesses and financial institutions about the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program. They learned about the program’s bumpy start – with high demand for the forgivable loans and technology glitches. But they also learned about success stories – from credit unions.

Joe Adamack, Northwest Credit Union Association Vice President, Legislative Affairs for Washington, testified that 31 credit unions based in the state provided PPP loans to 9,500 Main Street businesses.

More than 700 of those were from Whatcom Educational Credit Union (WECU) in Bellingham.

“When this pandemic hit, we didn’t hesitate to begin making concessions for our members impacted by COVID-19, to do all we could to support them and our community, because as a credit union, it is part of our DNA.”
– Jennifer Kutcher, WECU President and CEO

WECU has been providing financial services to businesses for nearly 20 years and has had a well-established Small Business Administration lending program since 2014. WECU’s team knew the system and hit the ground running when funding became available in early April.

“This really drove our employees to get up early, stay up late, work over the weekends to do whatever is possible to support our local businesses in our communities,” Kutcher testified. While the average loan amount was for just under $46,000, Kutcher said, her team worked just as hard to make PPP loans happen for very small businesses, funding one loan for $200.

As of May 22, WECU’s PPP loans had kept paychecks flowing to more than 4,200 people.

And that’s the credit union way.

“We’re seeing that credit unions — only about half of which provide some business lending on a regular basis — have stepped up in a major way to serve many of those very small businesses and non-profits that struggled to gain access during the first round and fill in many of the gaps in access to many of our state’s smallest businesses,” Adamack told the committee.

Stories such as WECU’s resonate with legislators, but Kutcher was quick to point out their work was “just a fraction” of the work all credit unions are doing to support members and businesses during these challenging times. 

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