Payday loans and churches: RNS delivers a fascinating trend piece with a familiar byline

Several months ago, the Washington Post wrote about a debate over payday lending unfolding in the black church.

The Post described how African-American congregations had “become an unexpected battleground in the national debate over the future of payday lending.”

Unfortunately, I don’t think we ever ended up commenting on that piece here at GetReligion. It ended up in what we call our “guilt folders” — those stories we'd like to mention but for whatever reason never get around to.

But today offered a perfect excuse to bring up that past report: Religion News Service published a fascinating trend piece on churches nationwide using political pressure and small-dollar loans to fight predatory payday lending.

The compelling lede:

(RNS) — Anyra Cano Valencia was having dinner with her husband, Carlos, and their family when an urgent knock came at their door.

The Valencias, pastors at Iglesia Bautista Victoria en Cristo in Fort Worth, Texas, opened the door to a desperate, overwhelmed congregant.

The woman and her family had borrowed $300 from a “money store” specializing in short-term, high-interest loans. Unable to repay quickly, they had rolled over the balance while the lender added fees and interest. The woman also took out a loan on the title to the family car and borrowed from other short-term lenders. By the time she came to the Valencias for help, the debt had ballooned to more than $10,000. The car was scheduled to be repossessed, and the woman and her family were in danger of losing their home.

The Valencias and their church were able to help the family save the car and recover, but the incident alerted the pastoral duo to a growing problem: lower-income Americans caught in a never-ending loan cycle. While profits for lenders can be substantial, the toll on families can be devastating.

Now, a number of churches are lobbying local, state and federal officials to limit the reach of such lending operations. In some instances, churches are offering small-dollar loans to members and the community as an alternative.

I love that the RNS story opens with a real-life scenario. That immediately draws the reader into the piece.

I also appreciate that the report contains relevant context (such as the fact that an estimated 12 million Americans each year take out “payday loans”).

Finally, it’s impressive that the article includes examples from all over the U.S., including Texas, Illinois, California and, yes, Florida (as RNS references the scenario covered in the Post report I mentioned, linking to a Miami Herald overview):

The opposition is not universal, however: Earlier this year a group of pastors in Florida lobbied state lawmakers to allow one payday loan firm, Amscot, to expand operations.

Regular GetReligion readers will recognize the byline on the RNS story: Mark Kellner, a former contributor at this journalism-focused website.

Kellner (full disclosure: he’s a friend as well as a colleague) is doing some excellent freelance work for RNS.

Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all his latest headlines.

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