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  • President Trump Releases 2018 Budget Proposal; Key Areas of Reform Target Financial Regulators, Cybersecurity, and Student Loans

    Federal Issues

    On May 23, the White House released its fiscal 2018 budget request, A New Foundation for American Greatness, along with Major Savings and Reforms, which set forth the President’s funding proposals and priorities. The mission of the President’s budget is to bring spending under control by proposing savings of $57.3 billion in discretionary programs, including $26.7 billion in program eliminations and $30.6 billion in reductions.

    Financial Regulators. The budget stresses the importance of reducing the cost of complying with “burdensome financial regulations” adopted by independent agencies under the Dodd-Frank Act. However, the proposal provides few details about how the reform applies to federal financial services regulators. Identifying the CFPB specifically, the budget states that restructuring the Bureau is necessary in order to “ensure appropriate congressional oversight and to refocus [the] CFPB’s efforts on enforcing the law rather than impeding free commerce.” Major Savings and Reforms assert that subjecting the Bureau to the congressional appropriations process would “impose financial discipline and prevent future overreach of the Agency into consumer advocacy and activism.” The budget projects further savings of $35 billion through the end of 2027, resulting from legal, regulatory, and policy changes to be recommended by the Treasury once it completes its effectiveness review of existing laws and regulations in collaboration with the Financial Stability Oversight Council. The Treasury review is being performed as a result of the Executive Order on Core Principals.

    Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. As previously reported in InfoBytes, the budget proposes that funding be eliminated for the following: (i) small grant programs such as the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program, which includes, among others, the Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing Program (a savings of $56 million); (ii) the CHOICE Neighborhoods program (a savings of $125 million), stating state and local governments should fund strategies for neighborhood revitalization; (iii) the Community Development Block Grant (a savings of $2.9 billion), over claims that it “has not demonstrated results”; and (iv) the HOME Investment Partnerships Programs (a savings of $948 million). The budget also proposes reductions to the Native American Housing Block Grant and plans to reduce costs across HUD’s rental assistance programs through legislative reforms. Rental assistance programs generally comprise about 80 percent of HUD’s total funding.

    Cybersecurity. The budget states that it “supports the President’s focus on cybersecurity to ensure strong programs and technology to defend the Federal networks that serve the American people, and continues efforts to share information, standards, and best practices with critical infrastructure and American businesses to keep them secure.” Law enforcement and cybersecurity personnel across the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Department of Defense, and the FBI will see budget increases to execute efforts to counter cybercrime. Furthermore, the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center—which DHS uses to respond to infrastructure cyberattacks—will receive an increase under the budget.

    Student Loan Reform. Under the proposed budget, a single income driven repayment plan (IDR) would be created that caps monthly payments at 12.5 percent of discretionary income—an increase from the 10 percent cap some current payment plans offer. Furthermore, balances would be forgiven after a specific number of repayment years—15 for undergraduate debt, 30 for graduate. In doing so, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and subsidized loans will be eliminated, and reforms will be established to “guarantee that borrowers in IDR pay an equitable share of their income.” These proposals will only apply to loans originated on or after July 1, 2018, with the exception of loans provided to borrowers in order to finish their “current course of study.”

    Dept. of the Treasury. The budget proposes to, among other things: (i) eliminate funding for new Community Development Financial Institutions Fund grants (a savings of $220 million); and (ii) reduce funding for the Troubled Asset Relief Program by 50 percent, “commensurate with the wind-down of TARP programs” (a savings of $21 million).

    Response from Treasury. In a statement released by the Treasury, Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said the budget “prioritizes investments in cybersecurity, and maintains critical funding to implement sanctions, combat terrorist financing, and protect financial institutions from threats.” Furthermore, it also would “achieve savings through reforms that prevent taxpayer bailouts and reverse burdensome regulations that have been harmful to small businesses and American workers.”

    Federal Issues Treasury Department POTUS HUD budget Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Student Lending Bank Regulatory FSOC

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  • Fed Releases List of Small Issuers Exempt from Debit Card Interchange Fees

    Federal Issues

    On May 22, the Federal Reserve Board announced its lists of institutions that either are or are not exempt from the its debit card interchange fee standards found in Regulation II, which implements section 920 of the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA). The lists are intended to facilitate compliance by assisting payment card networks and others in determining which issuers qualify for the statutory exemption. The lists were generated from available data and contain institutions in existence on Dec. 31, 2016. Exempt institutions, together with their affiliates, have reported assets of less than $10 billion and are not subject to the interchange fee standards under the statute. Institutions that are not exempt have, either individually or together with their affiliates, reported assets of $10 billion or more, and therefore must comply with the interchange fee standards under the statute. Debit card issuers that do not appear on either of the lists must certify to their participating payment card networks that they are exempt from the interchange fee standards. The EFTA requires the Fed to biennially report on interchange fee revenue and costs incurred by debit card issuers and payment card networks. The Fed’s last report—for calendar-year 2015—cites interchange fees across all debit and general-use prepaid cards totaled $18.41 billion.

    Federal Issues Federal Reserve Debit Cards EFTA

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  • OCC Updates Guidance on Violations of Laws and Regulations in Comptroller’s Handbook

    Federal Issues

    On May 23, the OCC issued OCC Bulletin 2017-18 announcing updated guidance on its policies and procedures regarding violations of laws and regulations for its examiners. The updates will be reflected in its “Bank Supervision Process,” “Community Bank Supervision,” “Federal Branches and Agencies Supervision,” and “Large Bank Supervision” booklets as well as other sections of the Comptroller’s Handbook and internal guidance. According to the Bulletin, an International Peer Review Report from 2013 noted that the OCC could improve its supervisory effectiveness. In response, the OCC released Bulletin 2014-52 to address the report’s concerns. These latest updates are an extension of the 2014 Bulletin to support the OCC’s mission of ensuring a safe and sound federal banking system by “emphasizing timely detection and correction of violations before they affect a bank’s condition.”

    The OCC’s updated guidance implements certain goals and practices, including:

    • ensuring the consistency of the purpose, processes, and procedures within and across all OCC lines of business, including: community, midsize, and large banks; federal branches and agencies; and banks overseen by the OCC’s Special Supervision group;
    • communicating violations using a consistent format such as: (i) using legal citation and description; (ii) summarizing relevant statutory or regulatory requirements; (iii) including facts supporting the violation and root causes; (iv) outlining required corrective actions; and (v) noting commitments to corrective action by board and management;
    • reinforcing the importance of timely and thorough follow-up and tracking of bank management’s corrective actions and milestones;
    • conveying the relationship of violations to “matters requiring attention, CAMELS/ITCC or ROCA ratings, and the bank’s risk appetite and profile;” and
    • emphasizing the need for examiners to timely and effectively communicate with the bank’s board of directors and management team as well as with OCC supervisors.

    The policy goes into effect July 1, 2017.

    Federal Issues OCC Bank Supervision Community Banks

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  • Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Testifies Before Senate Banking Committee, Provides Overview of Policies and Goals

    Federal Issues

    On May 18, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs held a hearing entitled “Domestic and International Policy Update” with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin—his first hearing since being sworn in. Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) opened the full committee hearing asserting that “[w]e want our nation’s banks to be well-capitalized and well-regulated, without being drowned by unnecessary compliance costs. Undue regulation chills innovation and imposes significant and unnecessary costs and burdens on financial institutions and companies, often disproportionately on smaller ones.” Sen. Crapo further stressed that “[h]ousing finance reform remains the most significant piece of unfinished business following the crisis, and it is important to build bipartisan support for a path forward.” Ranking member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) likewise delivered opening remarks. Sen. Brown stated that regulation improvements for banks, shadow banks, and the financial services industry must be “based on facts” and that a better way to improve the economy and create jobs would be through “an effective means like infrastructure investment” rather than the “thoroughly discredited” trickle down approach.

    Mnuchin was the only witness at the May 18 hearing, offering testimony and answering questions concerning, among other things, (i) currency manipulation; (ii) the establishment of a “Monitoring List” of closely watched economies; (iii) comprehensive tax reform (stating that a goal of 3 percent GDP or higher is “achievable if we make historic reforms to both taxes and regulation”); (iv) regulatory reform (noting that the Treasury’s initial report will offer “recommendations to provide relief for community banks and make regulations more efficient and effective and appropriately tailored”); (v) imposing sanctions and efforts to combat terrorist activities and financing; and (vi) housing finance reform (maintaining that Treasury plans to work with Congress to ensure both ample credit for housing and that taxpayers are not put at risk).

    Mnuchin faced questions from several Senators after he testified, including Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), and Bob Corker (R-Tenn). In response Sen. Tester’s question as to whether Mnuchin could commit that the President’s tax relief plan would not add to the debt, Mnuchin replied that “any plan that we put forward we believe should be paid for with economic growth.” Sen. Cortez Masto asked what the Treasury was doing about the Trump Administration’s lack of focus on policies supporting American consumers and homeowners, questioning, “Why doesn’t President Trump’s Executive Order that rolls back Wall Street reforms mention consumer or investor protection even once? Why doesn’t it direct you to consider the financial needs of borrowers, students, service-members, seniors, homeowners?” Accordingly, Sen. Corker asked whether Mnuchin is "strongly committed to finally dealing with housing finance reform in an appropriate way,” to which Mnuchin replied, “My strong preference is to do it through congressional action.”

    Federal Issues Treasury Department Senate Banking Committee

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  • Senators Reintroduce Truth in Settlements Act to Increase Transparency of Agency Settlements

    Federal Issues

    On May 17, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.) reintroduced a bipartisan bill entitled the Truth in Settlements Act of 2017 (S. 1145) to increase the transparency of major settlements reached by federal enforcement agencies. The bill—which was referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs—seeks to inform the public and hold federal regulators accountable for the true value of these settlements by requiring more accessible, detailed disclosures and “adequate information regarding the tax treatment of payments” made by companies and individuals under settlements with federal agencies. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the bill was first introduced in 2014. Sen. Warren commented that “more transparency means Congress, citizens and watchdog groups can better hold regulatory agencies accountable for enforcing laws so that everyone—even corporate CEOs—are equal under the law.” Similarly, Sen. Lankford remarked, “Taxpayers deserve an open and transparent government that is accountable to the American people.”

    Notably, the proposed bill would demand more specificity and transparency by requiring federal agencies to post online, in a searchable format, a list of each covered settlement agreement, criminal or civil, with payments totaling $1 million or more. Furthermore, agencies will be required, among other things, to justify confidentiality provisions and explain whether any portion of the settlement amount is potentially tax deductible. The Senators also released a fact sheet detailing past settlements by federal agencies that have allowed tax deductions, offset credits, or designated agreements as confidential.

    Federal Issues U.S. Senate

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  • House Democrats Seek Full Review of Financial CHOICE Act by Appropriate Committees; Investor Group Claims Act Will Undercut Shareholder Rights

    Federal Issues

    As previously covered in InfoBytes, on May 4 the House Financial Services Committee approved the revised Financial CHOICE Act of 2017, H.R. 10, in a party-line vote, 34-26. Earlier this month the Ranking Members of two House committees sent letters to their respective Chairmen, urging their committees to not waive their jurisdiction over H.R. 10 and allow their respective committees to debate and vote on the legislation given its wide ranging effects on the U.S. economy. Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-Va.) of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce stated in his letter that Democrats on the Education and the Workforce Committee “have expressed great concern over the attempts to weaken oversight and enforcement power of the [CFPB] and the important role it plays regarding the integrity of student loan finance services.” Ranking Member John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) of the House Committee on the Judiciary urged the Chairman in his letter that “[i]t is particularly critical that our Committee examine and vote on this legislation given numerous provisions squarely within our Rule X jurisdiction that will prevent government agencies from protecting the rights of consumers and hold the financial marketplace more accountable.” As reported previously in InfoBytes, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) also called for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to assert jurisdiction over H.R. 10.

    Additionally, on May 17, an advocacy group of institutional investors called upon the House of Representatives to oppose H.R. 10, saying the bill will undercut shareholder rights. The Council of Institutional Investors (CII) submitted a letter to all members of the House, urging them to oppose the bill. It was signed by CII and 53 institutional investors that collectively hold more than $4 trillion in assets, including representatives from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, Colorado Public Employees’ Retirement Association, and New York State Teachers’ Retirement System. The letter said the bill would rollback curbs on “abusive” executive pay practices, restrict shareholder rights in board elections, and raise the cost of proxy advisers. The letter also cautioned that the bill would impede the SEC’s oversight of financial markets by requiring “excessive cost-benefit analysis” and including “unwise limits on enforcement.”

    Federal Issues Financial CHOICE Act House Financial Services Committee CFPB

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  • Legislation Reintroduced to Make CFPB Spending Accountable to Congress

    Federal Issues

    On May 19, Rep. Andy Barr, (R-Ky.) reintroduced legislation that would amend the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 to make the CFPB’s budget subject to congressional appropriations. As set forth in a press release issued by Rep. Barr’s office, the Taking Account of Bureaucrats’ Spending Act (H.R. 1486), first introduced in March 2015 to the House and referred to the House Financial Services Committee, would give Congress power over what Rep. Burr terms an “unaccountable agency.” “I am reintroducing the TABS Act because the Bureau deserves the same scrutiny and the same checks and balances as any other federal agency,” said Rep. Barr. “Congressional oversight and accountability will ensure that the Bureau stays true to its mission of consumer protection, and avoids politically motivated overreaches, wasteful spending, and unnecessary regulations.” Currently, the CFPB is funded directly by the Federal Reserve. As previously covered in InfoBytes, House Republicans are also trying to overhaul existing financial regulations with the approval of the Financial CHOICE Act (H.R. 10) by the House Financial Services Committee, which would subject the Bureau to greater congressional oversight and tighter budgetary control.

    Federal Issues CFPB House Financial Services Committee Financial CHOICE Act

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  • FHFA Director Testifies Before Senate Banking Committee, Provides Overview of Housing Finance System and Prospects for Reform

    Federal Issues

    On May 11, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing at which FHFA Director Mel Watt fielded questions from lawmakers about the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the Enterprises) and prospects for housing finance reform. In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) noted that Fannie and Freddie have been in conservatorship for close to nine years, and stated that “a housing finance system dependent on two government sponsored enterprises in perpetual conservatorship is not a sustainable solution.” According to Sen. Crapo, because approximately 70 percent of mortgages are backed by the federal government, “if the housing market experiences a downturn, taxpayers could again be on the hook for billions of dollars.” Ultimately, the Chairman set forth his position that housing finance reform should be considered the “most significant piece of unfinished business following the financial crisis.” 

    Meanwhile, FHFA Director Watt testified that, under his leadership, FHFA has “responsibly balanced” and met its “multiple statutory mandates to manage the Enterprises’ day-to-day operations.” He also identified some of the key changes and reforms that have taken place during the conservatorships, including: (i) requiring the Enterprises to emphasize sound underwriting practices in their purchase guidelines; (ii) reducing the Enterprises’ retained portfolios by over sixty percent since 2009; and (iii) developing effective loss mitigation programs, which include aligning the Enterprises’ loss mitigation standards and developing updated loan modification and streamlined refinance products to follow the Home Affordable Modification Program and the Home Affordable Refinance Program.

    Director Watt also acknowledged that “FHFA knows probably better than anyone that these conservatorships are not sustainable” and urged Congress to act on several issues related to housing finance reform, including:

    • developing a transition process to a new housing finance system to avoid disruption to the housing finance market;
    • determining whether the federal government should provide taxpayer backing for the conservatorship, and if so, in what form;
    • addressing the role the Enterprises might play in the reformed housing finance system and what statutory changes to their organizational structures, purposes, ownership and operations will be needed to ensure that they play their assigned roles effectively; and
    • identifying what regulatory and supervisory structure and authorities will be needed in a reformed system, and who will have responsibility to exercise those authorities.

    Furthermore, Director Watt noted that under the provisions of the Enterprises’ Preferred Stock Purchase Agreements, on January 1, 2018 the $1.2 billion buffer protecting the Enterprises against having to make additional draws of taxpayer support in the event of an operating loss in any quarter would be reduced to zero, at which time “neither Enterprise will have the ability to weather any loss it experiences in any quarter without drawing further on taxpayer support.” Director Watt warned that such a situation could erode investor confidence and “stifle liquidity in ways that could increase the cost of mortgage credit to borrowers.” Accordingly, the Director argued that the Enterprises “need some kind of [capital] buffer to shield against short-term operating losses” that could “result in an additional draw of taxpayer support and reduce the fixed dollar commitment Treasury has made to support the Enterprises.”

    Reaction of Industry Organizations. In a statement issued shortly after the hearing, Camden R. Fine, President and CEO of Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA), expressed support for Director Watt after his testimony, agreeing about the need for Fannie and Freddie “to retain their earnings and to start rebuilding their capital buffers.” Meanwhile, Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) financial policy expert John Berlau was critical of what he called “an unfair, ongoing government policy of confiscating all Fannie/Freddie shareholder profits.” According to Mr. Berlau, the Enterprises’ “perilous financial state is the direct result of the Obama administration’s 2012‘Third Amendment’ policy, which confiscates all of Fannie and Freddie’s profits for the US Treasury.” He argued that curtailing this policy would allow the Enterprises to “retain some earnings and build capital to spare taxpayers another bailout.”

    Federal Issues FHFA Senate Banking Committee Fannie Mae Freddie Mac ICBA Treasury Department

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  • OCC Places Wisconsin-Based Bank into Receivership

    Federal Issues

    On May 5, the OCC announced that it had put a Wisconsin-based a federal savings association (Bank) with branches in five states into receivership and appointed the FDIC as receiver. According to the OCC, the decision to close the Bank was made after determining that the Bank: (i) had experienced substantial dissipation of assets or earnings due to unsafe or unsound practices; (ii) was significantly undercapitalized; and (iii) failed to submit a capital restoration plan acceptable to the OCC.

    To protect the depositors, the FDIC announced it has entered into a purchase and assumption agreement with a North Carolina-based bank to assume all of the failed Bank’s deposits and to purchase approximately $892 million of the failed Bank’s assets. The remaining assets will be retained by the FDIC for later disposition. The North Carolina bank announced that it will reopen 12 of the failed Bank’s brick-and-mortar locations but will not reopen any of the failed Bank’s 107 branches in retail outlets. Current FDIC estimates are that this failure—the fifth FDIC-insured institution to fail this year—will cost the Deposit Insurance Fund (DIF) $146.4 million. This closely follows the April 28 closure of a New Orleans-based bank, which the FDIC estimates will cost the DIF almost $1 billion.

    Federal Issues OCC FDIC

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  • New York AG Announces Settlement with Virginia Developer for Violating Servicemembers Civil Relief Act

    Federal Issues

    On May 10, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that a Virginia-based company has agreed to pay $69,000 to settle allegations that, among other things, it violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by unlawfully charging fees to servicemembers who terminated their residential leases early. Under the provisions of the SCRA, servicemembers and their families are allowed to terminate leases early without penalty if they are deployed, receive orders for permanent change of station, or their military service is honorably terminated. According to the Attorney General’s office, the company—which owns a community of townhomes in close proximity to Fort Drum and actively markets its housing to servicemembers and their families—also violated New York law by including “numerous unconscionable provisions” in its lease agreements, and advertising amenities that were either not included in the rent, or unavailable. Under the terms of the settlement, the company must pay more than $59,000 to over 125 servicemembers, reform its lease and other business practices to comply with New York law, and pay a civil money penalty of $10,000 to the State.

    Federal Issues Consumer Finance SCRA Servicemembers State AG

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