By Ray Birch
MIAMI LAKES, Fla.—One credit union is making a big difference in the lives of several Puerto Rican residents who have fled the island in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
And one of the biggest ways the credit union is helping is giving these new mainland residents a way to get back and forth to their new jobs.
JetStream FCU is allowing Puerto Rican residents migrating to the continental U.S. to ship the vehicles they own but on which they still owe money. It’s a big assist, says JetStream CEO Jeanne Kucey, who explained that JetStream may be one of only a few financial institutions with a presence on the island permitting residents to bring their financed cars with them.
As CUToday.info reported, a massive exodus of residents is underway in Puerto Rico following the devastation from Maria, which has further damaged an already troubled economy and likely the future of some credit unions here. (CUToday.info has also reported here on steps mainland CUs can take to help Puerto Rico’s financial co-ops.)
Kucey explained that financial institutions regulated by Puerto Rico’s government won’t permit residents to ship their financed cars to the mainland U.S.
“The problem for these financial institutions is that they have no way to follow the car and the loan to the U.S.,” said Kucey. “We are based in Florida and we can repossess a car in Texas if we needed to do that. We have the resources and the networks.”
Kucey said that as a result, many Puerto Rican members of JetStream, which has one office on the island in the town of Carolina, have been turning to the credit union to refinance the car loan they have at another FI. With the refinancing completed, the members are shipping their cars to the mainland with Jetstream’s permission.
“We really do not want this to be our lending niche in Puerto Rico, but at the same time we don’t want to put the brakes on something that is helping so many people,” explained Kucey. “We told ourselves, if someone has a good job in the U.S. and they want to move their car here, that is a positive for everyone.”
No Good Alternatives
The alternative is for people to abandon or sell their cars, often at low auction prices. JetStream also is providing personal loans to cover shipping expenses.
The credit union does not get involved in the shipping of the vehicle, but does walk the member through the process of registering and insuring their vehicles in Florida. As the lien holder, the credit union must sign off with the Puerto Rico motor vehicle department.
The $197-million, low income designated, community development financial institution is helping the island’s residents in many other ways.
“Since we began our partnership with the Puerto Rican people in 1994, when FAA Federal Credit Union was merged into JetStream, we have encouraged savings, provided financial literacy and funded a variety of loans in an effort to meet our members’ financial needs,” said Kucey, who noted that following Hurricane Maria the credit union has taken that commitment to a higher level. “We are assisting members, helping them rebuild and repair homes that suffered hurricane-related damage.”
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, JetStream rolled out its Disaster Relief Program, which allowed all members to suspend their loan payments for 90 days. Kucey said JetStream has processed 284 of these requests.
“That provided our membership with both debt relief and peace of mind at a time when they needed it most,” she said. “The devastation to homes and related personal belongings following Hurricane Maria has not been seen in modern times. Once water and electricity were restored to most of the island, the process of home repairs began. Unfortunately proceeds from insurance claims were often not sufficient to cover the costs of needed home repairs and flood damage.”
JetStream stepped in to fill this void by granting unsecured personal loans to assist with critical items such as replacement of furniture and appliances, flood damage to flooring, repair of fences and decks, and migration support for members transitioning to the U.S. mainland, Kucey explained.
“With the people that are resettling in Florida, within the communities we serve, we are helping them with credit builder loans, loans for a rental deposit, a personal checking account and more,” said Kucey.
Kucey said that the Puerto Rican government expects the mass migration to the mainland to continue.
“There is a huge number of people resettling in the Orlando area,” she said. “It’s just amazing the number of people who have left the island. I think there are less than three-million people there now.”
An NBC News analysis found more than 200,000 people have left Puerto Rico since the hurricane.
Kucey said that the majority of those leaving Puerto Rico are young.
“I think more of the younger people feel there is no future there,” said Kucey. “And they are the ones who have the education and the stronger career paths. Still, the people of Puerto Rico are extremely nationalistic—they love the island. I think Puerto Rico will come back, it will just take time. And our plan is to help our members turn things around, help them on their journey to be whole again.”
CUToday.info recently reported how credit unions in Puerto Rico are seeking assistance from their partners in the mainland U.S.
Credit unions interested in partnering with CUs in Puerto Rico should contact Pablo DeFilippi, VP of membership and business development at the Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, at firstname.lastname@example.org