Advocates Wow Idaho Legislators by Sharing the Credit Union Difference

Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley-27) has served in the legislature for 20 years. He has always known credit unions are critically important financial services partners to consumers and businesses in the Gem State. But until he joined nearly 100 advocates at the virtual Idaho Credit Union Day at the Capitol last week, he did not realize the majority of Idahoans are credit union members.

Speaker Bedke said he was impressed to learn from Northwest Credit Union Association President and CEO, Troy Stang, that 1.12 million Idahoans — 63% of the population — belong to a credit union.

Making Sure All Legislators Understand the Credit Union Difference

As the 2021 Legislative Session kicked off, 24 legislators were newly elected members of the body. The fact that the high percentage of membership was a surprise to a veteran legislator underscores the need for credit unions to engage in a 365-day-a-year advocacy process by providing constant and consistent messaging. The credit union conversation, Stang noted, is a “bright light” that delights legislators.

“In each conversation you have, always stress credit unions’ not-for-profit, cooperative structure,” Stang told advocates. “That is what makes us different. That is what holds us accountable to the members. Wrap in facts and data about how you are helping your members, and have your members tell the story of their financial journey with your credit union.”

Joining Speaker Bedke in giving props to credit unions for the assistance they have given to members historically, and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, was Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Winder (R-Boise-20).

“Keep doing what you’re doing,” Winder said. “You’re in the small-business community, you’re helping families.”

Credit Unions’ Economic and Community Impact

A duo of reports detailing Idaho credit unions’ economic and community impact was unveiled by Jennifer Wagner, NWCUA’s Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy Officer. The data combines an analysis by economists at ECONorthwest, and the NWCUA community impact survey that credit unions participated in over the last several months. At a high level, the reports find Idaho credit unions:

  • Saw membership growth of 13% since the last ECONorthwest analysis in 2018.
  • Drove a $1.2 billion impact on the economy.
  • Went the extra mile to serve members during COVID-19 by hiring staff to help meet member needs at a time when other industries were laying off employees.
  • Helped more than 5,000 businesses to survive the pandemic by funding Paycheck Protection Program loans totaling $232 million.
  • Waived $2.4 million in fees to help members who were financially impacted by COVID-19.
  • Volunteered 25,000 hours to serve communities.

The data impressed advocates and guest speakers alike.

“Clearly, you all have made enormous impacts,” said Patti Perkins, Director, Idaho Department of Finance. “You all pivoted your industry models on a dime. I want to commend you for the things you did to care and continue to do to care for your members.”

‘Epically Successful’ Advocacy

“Idaho advocates have stepped up massively and have been epically successful in the past three years,” noted Ryan Fitzgerald, NWCUA Vice President, Legislative Affairs for Idaho.

Advocacy has resulted in three critical updates to the state’s Credit Union Act in that brief amount of time, Fitzgerald said. He shared several 2021 legislative priorities in the areas of electronic vehicle titling, licensing, and registration; financial literacy curriculum recommendations; garnishment alignment with federal regulations; as well as a number of other issues that could directly impact credit unions.

“Defense of credit unions’ tax structure is paramount,” Fitzgerald said. “We are going to be doing a lot of educating to legislators about the reason for our tax exemption and how it brings so much value to Idahoans and to the economy.”

Through the Eyes of First Timers

It was the first Idaho Credit Union Day at the Capitol for Ashlee Wilks, a Card Service Specialist at Lewiston-based Lewis Clark Credit Union. After attending, she’s ready to advocate!

“I feel more confident having the needed conversations after experiencing the Day at the Capitol,” Wilks said.

Editor’s note: Following the success of Idaho’s Virtual Credit Union Day at the Capitol, credit unions should take advantage of the opportunity to bring more advocates to the Virtual Washington Credit Union Day at the Capitol Feb. 18, and the Virtual Oregon Credit Union Day at the Capitol April 14. Registration is open online.

Posted in Advocacy News.