Alabama Deserves a Vote on Predatory Lending Reform

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by Dana Sweeney, Organizer

For years, there has been widespread, bipartisan agreement that we must reel in predatory payday lenders in Alabama. According to data collected by the State Banking Department, about 215,000 Alabamians took out 1.8 million payday loans between October 2016 and September 2017, averaging more than eight loans per customer. Even though payday borrowers must be able to show that they have a source of income before being issued a loan, 87% of payday borrowers in Alabama still had to take out multiple, small-dollar loans during the year to get by — almost always to meet necessary living expenses like rent, utilities, and grocery bills, or to account for emergencies like unexpected medical costs or car repairs.

As too many Alabamians know, those small-dollar loans often balloon into large-dollar debts due to high interest rates. Alabama’s payday borrowers pay over $100 million every year on average in loan fees charged to initiate loans and to “roll them over” when full repayment is not possible. There is wide-ranging public agreement that the status quo for payday lending must change, especially when that status quo means that predatory lenders issue loans with interest rates as high as 456% APR and can demand full loan repayment within as few as 10 days.  

This year, Alabama Appleseed has been working with a broad coalition of churches, community foundations, local organizations, credit unions, direct social service providers, and individuals that spans the state and the political spectrum. We are supporting the 30 Days to Pay Bill (SB 138), a simple, modest reform that would set payday loans on the same 30 day repayment schedule as all other household bills. It would start to curb runaway interest rates and prevent many of the debt traps that currently ensnare thousands upon thousands of Alabamians every year. It enjoys bipartisan support in the legislature, and it is an opportunity for the legislature to finally take a step forward on predatory lending reform after years of failing to deliver. All we need now is the chance for senators to vote on it.

The bill has been slowly inching its way through the Senate, but it has not yet been put on the calendar to be debated and voted on. If this bill doesn’t start picking up steam soon, we may run out of time — again — to protect Alabama’s payday borrowers. Alabama deserves a vote. Alabama’s borrowers deserve a vote. We urge you to contact your senator and ask them to do everything in their power to propel this bill forward.

SAMPLE CALL SCRIPT

“Hello, my name is _________________, and I am one of Senator ____________’s constituents from ______[town]_______. I’m calling today because I would like to urge Senator ___________ to do everything in [his/her/their] power to ensure that SB 138, the 30 Days to Pay Bill, passes through the Senate. So many of us have been patient and persistent all session while waiting for this bill to advance through the Senate, just as we have been waiting for years for the legislature to deliver on predatory lending reform. We have waited long enough, and so have Alabama’s borrowers, who continue to suffer because of the legislature’s failure to address this issue. Please let Senator ________ know that SB 138 is a top priority for me as a voter, and that I want to see [him/her/them] doing everything in [his/her/their] power to support and advance this bill. It is bipartisan. It is simple. It is overwhelmingly supported by the public. We deserve a vote, and Alabama’s borrowers deserve relief. Thank you.”

SAMPLE EMAIL SCRIPT

“Dear Senator ____________,

I am writing you to urge you to do everything in your power to pass SB 138, the 30 Days to Pay Bill, through the Senate. As someone who lives in _____[town]______, I know how damaging predatory lending practices are to our community, and as a voter, one of my top priorities is seeing SB 138 passed. So many of us have been writing and calling during this legislative session, and there has been bipartisan agreement that we need predatory lending reform for years. It’s past time that something is done, and it’s past time for the Senate to vote on SB 138. Please work with your colleagues to pass this bill as soon as possible, as we are running out of time — again — to pass reform that protects Alabama’s borrowers from predatory lenders. This bill is simple and overwhelmingly supported by the public. We deserve a vote, and Alabama’s borrowers deserve relief. I will be looking for your leadership on this. Thank you.

Sincerely,

_______________”

Make your voice heard! It can make the difference. 

Introducing Dana Sweeney – Alabama Appleseed’s Organizer

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My name is Dana Sweeney, and I am the newest addition to the Alabama Appleseed team. Continuing the efforts of many Appleseed advocates before me, I will be working as a statewide organizer to put an end to predatory lending practices in Alabama. I will be driving near and far to connect with Alabamians on this important issue, to build coalitions of active citizens that support fair lending practices, and to hold payday lenders accountable for cynically churning profits out of poverty.

My path to this work (and to this state) has been winding, but fortifying. I did not grow up in Alabama: I grew up in the salt marshes of southeastern Georgia reading books and dreaming of the wide world beyond the small town South. For many years, I imagined travelling to faraway places and living in huge metropolises—New York! Los Angeles! London! Beijing! It seemed to me at the time that those were the places where all the excitement was, but fortunately, my visions of extravagant elsewheres were eventually replaced by a deep sense of rootedness in the Southern spaces where I am from.

When (with the generous support of several scholarship programs) I had the opportunity to attend college, I initially hoped to attend school someplace far from home. I got far, but not that far: in August of 2013, I packed my bags and drove about 400 miles west to a new, unexpected, sweet home: The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

While there, I studied English in the classroom, but the most important lessons of my college career came when learning about, from, and with the communities that I was beginning to call home. I began to see how our communities are haunted by the unconfronted ghosts of our past. I began to see how fear and uncertainty have the potential to steal away the best of ourselves, and to steal us away from each other, too. I began to see how injustice has, in so many ways, calcified into complacent normalcy in Alabama and across the South. But I also began to see something else: that no place changes without people committed to changing it. I began to see that no transformation is possible here but by the hard, patient, loving work of people who refuse to give up on the possibility of a more just Alabama that we can all share in together. I began to see that inequities can only persist when we cease to believe that we have the power to change them.

Putting these realizations into practice, I started working however I could to build supportive communities, to spark needed conversations, and to address issues that I saw around me. My journey has taken me in many different directions over the last several years: I have fought for (and won) student voting rights as a Vote Everywhere Ambassador for the Andrew Goodman Foundation, I have grown a literacy-focused creative writing and poetry performance program serving students across western-central Alabama, I have provided free tax preparation services to low-income communities through Impact Alabama, and I have marched on foot from Selma to Montgomery alongside young civic leaders and Civil Rights Movement veterans alike. My experiences have been varied, but they have a few consistent threads: they are all rooted in my conviction that Alabama can do and be better, all driven by my belief that we are capable of making change and being changed together, and all made possible by working in community with others across generations and difference. These are values and commonalities that I will carry forward into my work with Alabama Appleseed.

I am so excited to listen to, learn from, and be with communities across Alabama as we build a coalition to address the predatory lending crisis in our state. These days, I no longer dream of moving to shining cities far away like I did when I was a kid. Instead, I dream of staying put, of rolling up my sleeves and scrubbing the dirt off the small Southern towns that made me, of revitalizing our communities and building a shared, just, prosperous future right here. That future begins with each of us, but it is up to all of us, and I will be working every day at Appleseed to move us closer toward it together.