Prosperity Now’s Most Important Federal Policy Developments in 2018
This year, we experienced exponential growth in our advocacy efforts. Our Community engaged 82 percent of senators and 33 percent of representatives in Congress through emails, phone calls, tweets, petitions and in-office visits. Thousands of new advocates joined our federal policy campaigns. With a new Congress, and your continued advocacy, stronger wealth equity policies can become a reality next year.
But before looking to the future, let’s review 2018’s policy outcomes.
Credit Reporting and Scoring
The Credit Access and Inclusion Act (CAIA)—a bill that will help working families access more affordable mortgages by building their credit scores—passed unanimously in the House and was introduced with bipartisan support in the Senate. The Senate has not yet voted on the bill.
Fair Lending and the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA)
During early 2018, the Duty to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing (AFFH) rule was delayed for three years. AFFH combats housing segregation and promotes fair lending by requiring communities to adopt strategies to overcome discriminatory patterns and practices.
The process for reforming the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which increases access to mainstream finance, began in late summer. Prosperity Now published a comment letter wrote a comment letter proposing that any reform should preserve the CRA’s mission. The letter also offers recommendations to make the CRA even stronger.
Home Loan Funding
Congress could potentially announce 2019 funding levels for the 502 Direct Loan and 504 Home Repair Programs as early as the end of this week. 502 Direct provides affordable loans to low-income families for home purchase in rural areas, while 504 helps these same households repair and modernize their homes. Take action by asking your members of Congress to maintain current funding levels for the 502 and 504 programs.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have taken meaningful steps to fulfill their Duty to Serve obligations that require Fannie and Freddie to expand safe and affordable financing options to manufactured homebuyers, including putting together market plans and receiving public feedback on them. However, this progress was accompanied by significant challenges. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) fired agency officials in the Office of Manufactured Housing (OMH) who favored sensible and consumer-friendly regulation of the sector. This was followed by officially opening all manufactured housing regulations to re-examination. Prosperity Now wrote a comment letter warning that a proposed overhaul could lower safety and quality standards of this important housing stock.
Earlier this year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) payday lending rule withstood a Congressional challenge that would have permanently prevented the Bureau from addressing predatory payday lending in the future. Despite surviving the Congressional challenge, the CFPB is expected to revise the rule to focus on watering down or eliminating the requirement that payday lenders consider a borrower’s ability to repay before issuing a loan.
Financial Deregulation and Constraints on Legal Actions
A large financial deregulatory bill, the Financial CHOICE Act, was enacted this year. Additionally, the CFPB’s arbitration rule fell to a successful Congressional challenge, making it easier for corporations that have wronged consumers to avoid accountability.
New Leadership at the CFPB
A year after outgoing Acting Director Mick Mulvaney was put in charge of the CFPB by President Trump, the Bureau has been weakened, putting consumers at high risk. Although Mulvaney is no longer in charge of the agency, it remains to be seen as to what direction his successor—CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger—will take in leading the agency over the duration of her five-year term. However, we will continue to push for the CFPB to be as effective and independent as possible in its efforts to protect consumers against predatory financial practices.
Defending SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
Earlier this year, the House passed a Farm Bill that would cut benefits for two million Americans through increased work requirements and the elimination of states' ability to increase or remove savings penalties (sometimes known as asset limits). However, the final version of the Farm Bill will move forward without major changes to work requirements or eligibility for SNAP—a huge victory for the program.
Helping Low-Income Workers Access Free Tax Preparation
The House passed the VITA Permanence Act in April, which permanently authorizes the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program and allows funding of up to $30 million. Several bills in the Senate currently include this provision, including the Taxpayer First Act of 2018 (S. 3246) and the Protecting Taxpayers Act (S. 3278).
On the funding side, the Senate appropriations bill would increase VITA funding from $15 million to $20 million for fiscal year 2019. This Senate bill alongside a House bill that would level-fund VITA at $15 million are now being negotiated. The potential increase in VITA funding wouldn’t be possible without the advocacy efforts of the Prosperity Now Community, especially the Taxpayer Opportunity Network.
Building Emergency Savings
The Strengthening Financial Security Through Short-Term Savings Plans Act (S.3218) would make it easier for employers to offer emergency savings accounts to their workers through automatic contributions. For more information on these accounts, see our report, Saving for Now & Saving for Later.
The Refund to Rainy Day Savings Act (S. 3220) would allow tax filers to set aside a portion of their refund as emergency savings for later in the year. The legislation would also establish a pilot program to gauge the impact of matching funds with lower-income tax filers. The bill includes language to expand the flexibility of the Assets for Independence (AFI) program, which offers matching funds and other incentives to help low-income workers save money and build assets.
We’re hopeful that these bills will be re-introduced in the new Congress.
Funding Children’s Futures and Narrowing the Racial Wealth Divide
In the final weeks of 2018, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) plans to introduce the American Opportunity Accounts Act, which would give every child a fair shot at the American Dream by providing them up to $45,000 to invest in wealth-building opportunities, such as higher education or homeownership.
Was this recap of 2018 useful? Let us know by emailing Anju Chopra, Senior Policy Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org! Stay tuned for a follow-up piece on what to expect in 2019 and how you can keep supporting strong policies for working families. Happy Holidays!