Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie & Payday Lending




What's not to like about the Texas Rangers?

As of today, at 80-54, they own the best record in the American League. They are an exciting team that knows how to play offense and defense and are an odds on favorite to return to the World Series for the third consecutive year. There are those of us who have been fans for awhile, who remember what it was like to wait to see how the Rangers would blow whatever challenge for second (or even third place) after the All-Star break! By almost any conceivable measure, this has been a great team for nearly five years.

Now I'm not posing as a diehard baseball fan, but I do watch and have been a Ranger fan from almost the day they moved here from Washington, D.C. My affection for the team grew, when I had the priviledge of preaching chapel services for them and their opposing teams back in the '90's. And it is great to see them really, really good!

So again, what's not to like?
Well, one thing that has nearly driven me to distraction are the payday loan commercials run during broadcasts of Texas Rangers baseball games.
The Texas Rangers have a really good image as a sports organization that is concerned about the community. So, to say the least, I am dismayed by their endorsement of an industry business that relies on exploitation of economically vulnerable consumers.

Last week, I wrote a letter to Ranger President Nolan Ryan, General Manager John Daniels and Team Manager Ron Washington to let them know of my concern. I hope it registers. It's more likely to register if you join me and send your own message to the team and let them know this is not becoming of such a  cherished sports franchise...

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Messers Nolan Ryan, John Daniels, Ron Washington,

My name is Rev. Gerald Britt, Jr., and I serve as Vice President of CitySquare, a social justice, social service faith-based organization in Dallas working on issues of poverty through direct service and advocacy.

I and baseball fans throughout Texas am incredibly proud of the management and players of the Texas Rangers baseball team. We are all greatly impressed with the hard work and dedication of everyone involved and are looking forward to another great year and the prospect of a World Series Championship.
There are many of us, however, who are deeply concerned about the club’s promotion of payday lending (specifically Ace Cash Express) by such a beloved and respected manager as Ron Washington.
These are businesses which ensnare people, particularly poor and low income citizens, in a cycle of debt with interest rates of anywhere between 300-900%. Patrons who are unable to repay these short term loans usually end up going to other small dollar lenders to borrow the money to repay the original loan. Statistics tell us that this happens at least four times. The industry counts this type of churn as evidence of ‘the need’ for their product, when in actuality their usurious practices are creating the need.

Our agency, which serves nearly 50,000 people annually, has helped provide financial assistance and counseling to an alarming number of people who have found themselves trapped in debt because they sought assistance from this industry.

One such neighbor (we don’t call the people we serve ‘clients’), got a $300 loan to buy school supplies and uniforms for her three children. Her inability to pay back the loan in the two week period ended up costing her more than $900 – more than her monthly rent! She, and others like her, represented nearly 40% of the people helped by the program which assisted her (a program that has since lost its funding). Similar and even worse stories are told by other non-profit agencies.

CitySquare has fought to regulate this industry for almost two years now. Along with the Anti-Poverty Coalition of Greater Dallas (which includes the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas; Jewish Community Relations Council, AARP, the Urban League of Greater Dallas and about 12 other faith-based and non-profit agencies) we have fought to call attention to and get local ordinances passed which will stop the most egregious predatory practices of these businesses.

A little more than a year ago, working with Dallas City Councilman Jerry Allen, we were successful in getting the toughest regulatory ordinances passed in the country; at the state level, working with Catholic Charities, Texas Appleseed, Christian Life Commission, we were successful in getting legislation passed resulting in rules for greater consumer disclosure, registration and reporting by the industry. These are laws which we will work to strengthen during the next legislative session.

Ron Washington is highly respected throughout the baseball community in Texas, and throughout the general community. His endorsement of ACE Cash Express, one of the most high profile payday lenders, is seen to have legitimacy not simply because of his support, but by implication the support of the legendary Nolan Ryan and the entire Texas Ranger Baseball Club. Yet there those of us, who cringe every time we see these commercials during a game broadcast, who refuse to believe that neither he nor the Texas Ranger organization are aware of their negative impact of these businesses on individuals and whole communities. There are more payday and auto title loan businesses in the state of Texas than there are McDonald’s and Burger King’s combined. In the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, on Camp Wisdom Road, on a 2-3 mile stretch west of Highway 67 going into Duncanville, there are more than 20 payday and auto title lenders. They have, for all intents and purposes choked out economic development in an area that once thrived with commercial diversity.

Neither CitySquare, the Anti-Poverty Coalition of Greater Dallas, or any other organization working with us and counted as allies, are asking for a donation or even a public statement by the organization. We simply ask you to cease the promotion of this business on your broadcasts. Stop giving an air of legitimacy to an industry that takes advantage of your fans, their families, their neighbors and their friends.
Again, we appreciate your hard work and the history of dedication to the community. We are proud to be Ranger fans. Make us even more proud by ending your support of exploitation that masquerades as commerce.

Sincerely,
Rev. Gerald Britt, Jr.
Vice-President of Public Policy
CitySquare

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If you'd like to write your own letter to the Rangers send it to:
Texas Rangers Baseball Club
1000 Ballpark Way, Ste. 400
Arlington, TX 76011






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