ITHACA, N.Y. — A credit union here has launched a loan program for people undergoing gender transition.
The program helps transgender and non-binary people with funds to cover costs related to hormone replacement therapy, surgery, travel to appointments, vocal coaching, and even the loss of a job or housing due to discrimination, according to the Ithaca Voice.
The TransAction Financial Empowerment Program has been introduced by Alternatives FCU in partnership with Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes and is believed to be among the first of its kind nationwide. The program mirrors Planned Parenthood’s first-in-the-state transgender healthcare services, according to the report. In 2013, PPSFL provided services to 28 transgender people; in 2018, it served 482 people, the Ithaca Voice said.
According to PPSFL, some of its patients have traveled four or five hours to reach its clinics, and many face high deductibles and prescription costs even if their health insurance covers some medical expenses.
Reiley Schoen, chief operations officer, with Alternatives FCU, told the Ithaca Voice the credit union's leadership team discussed the financial challenges transgender and non-binary people in the community face and saw an opportunity to help.
"We thought, how can we step up with a program and product that's going to have an impact and not just be lip service to 'we welcome everybody'? We do welcome everybody, but we want to do better than that," Carol Chernikoff, chief lending officer at Alternatives, told the Ithaca Voice.
"I’m a trans person myself and I thought this was a really great idea and a unique way to support the community," Schoen told the publication.
According to the Ithaca Voice, Liz Hudson, director of development, secured federal funding for staff training and program development from NCUA. Schoen and Chernikoff worked with Ritz to create a referral program to bring people who are transitioning through Alternatives' door and to put best practices in place to ensure they feel welcome, the publication said.
Chernikoff said one barrier to accessing financial services "is having to open an account with a driver's license with a name or a picture that no longer looks like you, and the awkward, disrespectful response most people get."
In addition to taking part in sensitivity training, Alternatives staff set up a system for recording clients' preferred names so front-facing employees can greet clients correctly. "The name you want to go by is something we can absolutely respect and accommodate here," Schoen told the Ithaca Voice.
“Recognizing that it would uncomfortable and inappropriate to require program participants to disclose personal information about their transition to a credit union employee, Alternatives and Planned Parenthood developed a referral sheet for healthcare providers, including mental health professionals, to sign,” the Ithaca Voice said.
Alternatives FCU said its program includes both personal loans and lines of credit, designed to accommodate one-time and ongoing needs associated with transitioning. While specific plans will be tailored to each individual's financial position and needs, Chernikoff told the publication the upper limit for borrowers is currently $20,000.