Consumer advocates working to save the Consumer Financial Protection Agency from being limited or dismantled by Congress got some unexpected help this week.
The U.S. Armed Forces rode to the rescue.
Senior enlisted leaders appeared at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee to sing the praises of the CFPB, telling lawmakers it has served to protect and educate military families.
They urged the committee not to cut off CFPB funding, as some members have proposed.
Enlisted military personnel don't earn a lot of money, and as a result often get into financial trouble. The U.S. military has gone to great effort to persuade soldiers and sailors to avoid payday lenders, for example, and the Pentagon has supported efforts in a number of states to limit payday lending.
Serious morale problem
For the Defense Department, military personnel mired in a cycle of debt is a serious morale problem. In fact, it has taken steps to provide alternative sources of loans.
On its website, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society advises Sailors and Marines that they may qualify for emergency financial assistance through an interest-free loan. The money may be used for basic living expenses, temporary needs, and family emergencies -- the types of events that often send people to payday lenders.
“I know that our sailors think about when they get the calls from debt collectors, they think about mortgages, and they think about interest rates,” Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Steven Giordano told the subcommittee. “We continue a weekly battle rhythm with the office to continue to figure out any support that can be provided in the realm of financial literacy.”
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody said military officers are not experts in financial literacy. The Pentagon relies on the CFPB to provide that expertise.
Military protection office
The military leaders specifically praised CFPB's dedicated military protection office. Led by Holly Petraeus, the office got $120 million in refunds, handled 70,000 complaints, and provided financial education at 145 military facilities to servicemembers, veterans, and their families.
The Consumer Federation of America says two Republican Senators, both members of the Armed Services Committee, have introduced legislation targeting the CFPB. The group says Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has introduced a bill to shut down the agency and Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) has introduced a bill to cut funding.
Cruz is unapologetic, saying the CFPB does little to protect consumers. Since its creation during the Obama administration, Cruz says the agency grew in power without any accountability to Congress.