By Sara DePaoli
Thanks to ACTIONN, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and Consumers Union, I was fortunate to represent Nevada at the Consumer Lobby Day in Washington DC this past May. I was able to join three other Renoites in representing Nevada.
The experience began with an extensive training, which allowed us to effectively share our stories with our legislators. We spent several hours reviewing the primary talking points and role-playing talking to different senators and representatives.
After a pep talk from the amazing SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN (fans self*), we were ready to go out and lobby for consumer protection and regulatory reform. Our primary talking points were the payday loan, prepaid accounts rule, and the CHOICE Act.
The Payday loan rule primarily helps protect consumers from payday lenders making loans at 200% to 400% APR without regard to ability to repay. This is one of many problems with current payday lenders that hurt consumers on a daily basis. It is a particularly serious problem in Nevada where casinos often take advantage of these lending services.
The prepaid accounts rule protects consumers against fraud, unauthorized charges and errors, and would require companies to clearly state all fees. To paint a picture, think of a nutrition label for all account fees. Many companies in northern Nevada pay their employees with prepaid cards and there is a huge number of hidden fees that are not clearly stated when a person receives a prepaid card. Imagine discovering that your prepaid card charges you $2 to check your balance and $3 for each withdrawal. And if you overdraft, you’ll be charged $35 per overdraft. This only deepens a vulnerable consumer’s debt cycle. This rule is an easy to fix problem that would save consumers thousands of dollars.
During the lobby visits, we met with one of Senator Heller’s staffers, Senator Cortez-Masto, and Representative Ruben Kihuen’s staffer, Mark Snyder.
Senator Heller’s staffer stated that Senator Heller does not support the current structure of CFPB or increased regulations on payday lending and transparency for prepaid card holders, but does support the CHOICE ACT. The staff said he would relay our concerns to Senator Heller.
Senator Cortez-Masto and Mark Snyder from Representative Kihuen’s office were both extremely supportive of the measures. Senator Cortez-Masto reassured us she is on our side. Mark Snyder spoke about Representative Kihuen’s dedication to consumer protections and assured us he supports the CFPB.
I have met with state senators and assembly members, but never with congressional representatives. My experience with Senator Heller’s staff was frustrating. I understand that the Senator and I have very different ideas of what is best for Nevada, but I was most frustrated because I didn’t feel heard. In 40 minutes of conversation, the staffer failed to write down any notes, despite claims that he would relay our concerns to the Senator. While I hope that those concerns were relayed, I did not feel that my voice was heard.
On the other hand, Senator Cortez-Masto was kind, listened to our stories with concern, and shared her own thoughts and concerns about consumer protections. Her staff was incredibly welcoming, well-spoken, and genuine. Mark Snyder was no different. We talked as if we had all known each other for years. Mark spent almost a full hour with us, listening to our stories, talking about consumer protections, and talking about what several of these processes look like from the inside.
This trip was truly an inspiration. It was reassuring to see with my own eyes that the people we chose to represent us are good, kind, brilliant people. And they are fighting for us every day.
If anyone has the chance to attend a Lobby Day in the future, do it. If there is a bill that will affect you and you want to talk to meet with a representative. Do it. Make the call. Schedule the meeting. Go to the city council meeting. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have. Tell your story. Be impossible to ignore. You have more support than you think. If you aren’t sure about how to go about lobbying, please reach out to ACTIONN for support. They’re there to help.