Oregon Credit Unions Step up to Distribute $35 Million in COVID-19 Relief Funds to Main Street

When Oregon legislative leadership established a $35 million fund to help people bearing the brunt of COVID-19’s financial impact, they turned to financial institutions – 80% of them credit unions – to get the job done.

Credit unions delivered.

Within two-and-a-half days of the program’s launch on Aug. 19, the state informed participating financial institutions that between branch walk-ins, pending scheduled appointments, and applications in the queue, all funds had been allocated.

“The eight participating credit unions did an incredible amount of work in a short time, helping hundreds of people through long lines for walk-in applications, scheduling appointments, and processing thousands upon thousands of applications,” said Pamela Leavitt, the Northwest Credit Union Association’s Policy Advisor, Oregon State Advocacy and Grassroots. “It was hard to see the funds exhaust when there is still so much need, but the credit unions did everything they possibly could to help.”

The credit unions that participated included Central Willamette, Clackamas Federal, InRoads, Old West Federal, OnPoint Community, Oregon Community, Rogue, and SELCO.

The Emergency Checks program provided one-time $500 payments to help consumers whose jobs were impacted and who did not receive or who fell victim to a backlog of claims in the state’s unemployment insurance department. There was enough funding for 70,000 Oregonians to benefit.

During a news conference announcing the program results Friday, House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate  President Peter Courtney — the program’s architects — applauded credit unions’ work in the first-of-its-kind state/financial institution partnership, calling each out by name.

“At the end of the day, 70,000 people are getting $500,” Kotek said. “This really is about Oregonians helping Oregonians.”

Both legislators vowed to seek more relief funding.

When Courtney flipped the tables and asked reporters what they, “as human beings,” thought of the program, one of the journalists said,  “I talked to several people for whom this was the only aid they’ve received, and it really helped their self-esteem.”

The program came together in just weeks and wasn’t easy to implement, but for the credit unions on the front lines, it was a remarkable experience.

“I was very pleased to be part of this initiative, and proud of our leadership team for volunteering us,” said a Branch Manager for Central Willamette. “I loved getting to share not only the Credit Union Difference, but the Central Willamette difference. Fast, furious,  and very rewarding!”

Brian Alfano, Chief Operations Officer at OCCU, was in the branches for both days of the program and reports seeing a lot of tears, laughter, and appreciation.

“We should all feel proud that we helped make a positive impact on our state,” Alfano said. “For us at OCCU, we were able to live our vision and enrich lives.”

What do the consumers think? Daelon Floyd of Portland told the Oregonian that OnPoint Community managed the process and the long lines very well.

“Everybody’s been really calm and collected. They’ve been showing a lot of love out here,” Floyd said.

It was a monumental task to stand up an unprecedented program, but it was a job well done by the credit unions.

Jennifer Wagner, NWCUA’s EVP and Chief Advocacy Officer, worked closely with Leavitt, the eight credit unions, and state officials to prepare for the program launch. She reached out to each credit union Friday to thank them for the truly remarkable work they did in just 72 hours.

“These credit unions’ above-and-beyond efforts are testament to just how vital they are, and how each and every day they demonstrate the People Helping People philosophy,” said Troy Stang, NWCUA President and CEO.

Have a question or comment about this story? Email us!