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Financial well-being looks different for everyone, say Marsha Majors, president/CEO at $1.5 billion asset U.S. Eagle Federal Credit Union in Albuquerque, N.M.
This concept drove the formation of the Credit Union Survivor Alliance for Financial Empowerment (CU SAFE), which provides financial counseling, affordable loans, safe housing and transportation, and other services to survivors of domestic violence.
The program, which is part of the CU Sol credit union service organization, provides a hand up when members need it most, says Majors.
“Statistics show that 99% victims of domestic violence return or stay in abusive relationships because they don’t see a pathway for independent financial stability if they were to leave their abuser,” she says. “CU SAFE has become a part of our larger business platform of people helping people where we can be a proactive part of helping domestic violence survivors visualize their future.”
Through CU SAFE, U.S. Eagle Federal partnered with the Domestic Violence Resource Center in Albuquerque.
Majors credits Pamelya Herndon, second vice chair on the U.S. Eagle Federal board, with developing the program’s concept.
“When survivors decide to leave their abusive partner, the first major step is finding safe housing and the second step is obtaining reliable transportation,” Herndon says. “In New Mexico, we don’t have a great mass transit system, and access to reliable transportation is essential.”
CU SAFE provides a low-rate, unsecured line of credit to participants. To keep payments manageable, recipients pay interest only on the amount they draw during the first year they enter the program.
Herndon would like U.S. Eagle Federal’s independent nonprofit organization to develop partnerships with community organizations to provide domestic violence survivors with sustainable and safe housing, and acquire reliable transportation through a special program with local auto dealerships.
Majors stresses that CU SAFE is not just a loan program. “We’re working to develop sustainable financial solutions for a special segment of our membership,” she says.
Majors and Herndon hope to replicate the program at other credit unions.
Rio Grande Credit Union in Albuquerque has joined CU SAFE, and U.S. Eagle Federal is working with the Filene Research Institute to scale the program.
“Domestic violence is an issue across the country,” says Majors. “We're trying to make it easy for other financial institutions to adopt this program in their communities by having a best practice approach to partnerships and long-term sustainability. We want this program to be a fresh start with financial freedom.
“These words take on new meaning when the members we’re serving are survivors of domestic violence,” she continues. “CU SAFE provides financial solutions and a path to safety.”