If, like many people in New Jersey and the U.S., your financial situation could use some protection from the current economic circumstances we all face, then there’s a public servant whose name you should know: Rohit Chopra, President Biden’s nominee to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
For much of the past four years, the CFPB, as it is known, has been run by people who don’t believe that American consumers deserve an ally in the federal government, an agency that fights on their behalf against Wall Street, predatory lenders, and other bad actors. Congress created the CFPB in 2010 as a “cop on the beat” allied with consumers, but the Trump-appointed leadership decided to simply do what the financial services industry wanted.
Fortunately, President Biden’s choice of Mr. Chopra is a good one. Mr. Chopra was an early employee of the CFPB when now-Sen. Elizabeth Warren fought for and then set up the agency in the years after the 2008 financial crisis. He proved his worth, doing battle on behalf of students who’d borrow money to finance their education, only to be faced with abusive treatment by lenders.
Having a real ally of consumers at the CFPB matters for the people of this country. When it was under good leadership, the bureau returned $12 billion in returned fees and cancelled debts to over 28 million Americans, many of them in New Jersey. Predatory lenders are constantly trying to get around our state laws protecting consumers; having a strong CFPB in Washington helps keep them at bay. We are joining other consumer groups in supporting his nomination, which is getting a hearing during National Consumer Protection Week.
Also, Mr. Chopra’s first priority at the CFPB this time will be fighting to ease the economic burdens associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Ensuring that homeowners don’t face foreclosure, protecting people’s credit reports from damage, and backing them up in disputes with their banks will be among the priorities.
There are other challenges that go well beyond the problems created by the pandemic. For too long, banks have nickel-and-dimed their customers with overdraft fees and other “gotcha” charges. And new kinds of online lenders are trying to outflank existing rules to protect consumers from high interest rates. The list is long.
And throughout his work. Mr. Chopra will have to pay attention to the vast racial disparities that have opened up — in homeownership, in wealth, in access to loans — over the past 30 years. The previous leadership dismantled many of the structures that the CFPB had in place to combat the very real problems facing communities of color.
Mr. Chopra is also, quite simply, a good man, which is why he enjoys the support of Sen. Warren and other strong progressives. He knows why he works in government, and it’s not about doing favors for powerful companies or rich people. “In my job, every day I get calls, emails, letters from people who are drowning in debt,” he said during his first stint at CFPB. “I hear the panic in their voices as they worry about their financial future. They aren’t numbers on a spreadsheet. I want to help make things better for them.”
The Senate needs to confirm Rohit Chopra as director of the CFPB as soon as possible.
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