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Pamelya Herndon believes everyone should have access to financial resources.
She’s spent 20-plus years working toward that goal as a member of the U.S. Eagle Federal Credit Union board of directors. Now the second vice chair, Herndon has examined all angles of the $1.4 billion asset credit union in Albuquerque, N.M., also serving as a member of the supervisory committee, board chair, treasurer, and secretary.
“The purpose of the board is to meet the community’s needs and help the staff, administration, and executive team work together and benefit the people we serve,” Herndon says. “We want to be a place where the unbanked put their money, but we also want to make sure we are meeting people’s needs and financial development. It’s important that we are serving the community and the needs they’re bringing us.”
Her service goes far beyond U.S. Eagle Federal, as she’s currently a Democratic legislator in the New Mexico House of Representatives. She’s also a CPA and president/CEO of the KWH Law Center for Social Justice and Change, a nonprofit law center with the mission of supporting the well-being of women, families with children, and communities by promoting equity.
“I was very honored to have that recognition,” Herndon says. “To be in the African American Credit Union Hall of Fame is absolutely awesome.”
Herndon’s wide-ranging career path has allowed her to see both sides of advocacy. As a representative, she’s noticed that advocates’ positions pack more punch when they are collaborating with other groups.
“Tell them why they need to listen to you,” she says. “I’m concerned when people think nobody’s listening to them. It’s not enough to just say, ‘I want changes A, B, and C.’ Show them why a change needs to be made and how it’s going to affect a broader group of constituents who may also have the same issue.
“Then, make sure you have stories to support what you are advocating for, followed by data,” she continues. “Nothing impresses a legislature toward a policy change more than data that backs up what you’re trying to change.”
Herndon has plenty of experience trying to make change. With more than half of New Mexico’s population at a medium income level or right above the poverty line, she believes credit unions play an important role helping people of modest means.
“When nobody else will help or offer to help, credit unions have often come to the rescue,” Herndon says. “I still look back at what happened to my family growing up. Credit unions were willing to take money, lend it, and give African Americans a chance to access financial resources. That’s still true today, but it goes beyond African Americans. We continue to lead in making sure everyone has access to financial resources.”
One of the biggest assets that credit unions have in helping members of modest means is their cap on interest rates. Earlier this year, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a law imposing a 36% rate cap on consumer loans, the lowest it’s ever been in the state. The highest interest rate credit unions can charge for most federal loans is 18%.
Credit unions’ ability to serve goes beyond rate caps. Herndon spearheaded U.S. Eagle Federal’s Credit Union Survivor Alliance for Financial Empowerment (CU SAFE) program, which helps domestic violence survivors find financial stability.
Herndon says many victims stay in abusive relationships because of financial fears about where they’ll live or how they’ll support their kids. With CU SAFE, U.S. Eagle Federal works with domestic violence organizations to offer a $10,000 line of credit at a 9.9% interest to help survivors find somewhere to live, move their kids, buy a car, or work.
“Not everybody is ready to leave their abuser, but when they are, we want to make sure they’re not staying in a relationship because of finances,” Herndon says.
She believes that level of service is exactly what credit unions should strive for. She also believes they can do a better job sharing their message.
“Credit unions should show how they can improve lives,” she says. “Credit unions have an advocacy duty and responsibility for reaching out to members of modest means to say, ‘Look, this can help you raise the well-being of your families.’”
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