One of Alabama's most outspoken opponents of payday lenders has been the Rev. Shannon Webster, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Birmingham.
President Barack Obama praised Webster's work and singled him out in the crowd this afternoon during his speech at Lawson State Community College.
"One of the people that I met with was Rev. Shannon Webster, of Birmingham's First Presbyterian Church," Obama said. "Where's pastor? There he is in the back. Stand up so everybody can see you."
Obama pointed him out.
"Pastor Webster's one of the pastors leading the effort to protect consumers here in Alabama," Obama said. "At a public hearing a few years ago, he explained why he decided to work on this issue. 'When our people are trapped in debt,' he said, 'they cannot escape, and we're all hurt.' We're all hurt. And that's a simple statement but it captures so much of what it means to be an American. We are a country of rugged individuals. We don't expect folks to give us a handout. We expect people to work hard. We expect that hard work to be rewarded."
Obama invoked scripture for his proposed regulation of payday lending.
"You've got some very conservative folks here in Alabama, who recognize that, they're reading their Bible, they're saying, well, that ain't right," Obama said. "The Bible's not wild about somebody charging $1,000 worth of interest on a $500 loan. Because it feels like you're taking advantage of somebody."
Obama cited payday lending as one area among many that needs regulation.
"One of the main ways to make sure
paychecks go farther is to make sure working families don't get ripped off," Obama said. "That's why we've taken steps to protect student borrowers from unaffordable debt. We want them to know before they owe. Here in Alabama there are four times as many payday lending stores as there are McDonald's. Think about that. 'Cause there are a lot of McDonald's."
Webster met with Obama as part of a roundtable before the speech, but being called out during the speech floored him.
"I had no idea he was going to do that," Webster said. "I had no idea he was going to call me by name. There were seven of us in a roundtable with him for 40 minutes before the speech. Mainly he was listening to what the local issues were and local experiences."
Webster takes part in The Faith and Credit Roundtable, an effort to reform predatory lending nationwide. Birmingham Faith in Action and the Alliance for Responsible Lending tackle the issue of payday loans here in Alabama.
"It's organized in such a way that we've let certain businesses be predators of middle and working-class people," Webster told AL.com.
Churches and church-run credit unions may be able to offer an alternative, he said. "We have not figured out a way to do that yet," Webster said. "There are alternatives. It's a matter of getting the will to do it."
But getting the president's personal shout-out may give Alabama momentum in addressing the issue, he said.
"This has to help," Webster said. "That kind of attention and focus has to be helpful."
Category: Payday loans