In a major victory for consumer advocates, the House yesterday passed legislation getting up a bank to fund consumer cooperative across the country.
"This action represents a resurgence of the consumer movement," said Ralph Nader. The bill, which passed the House by a surprisingly large 236-164 margin, provides the new bank with $300 million in seed money and allows it to borrow up to 10 times that much in the private money markets. That money will be made available to consumer cooperative at prevailing money market rates.
The legislation, already has passed the Senate, and now goes to President Carter for his expected signature.
According to Nader and the bill's principal sponsor, Rep. Fernand St. Germain (D-R.I.), co-ops established by consumer groups to buy such goods and services as auto repair, health care, housing and food, will now be able to secure badly needed financing.
Such operations traditionally have found it difficult to secure financing from banks because they are not profit-making institutions.
The bill, which passed after clearing a House-Senate conference provides that the bank eventually be phased out of the government and into the control of the cooperatives in serves. The federal government would be fully reimbursed, including interest, for its initial capital investment.
An additional $75 million will be made available to co-ops serving poor urban and rural areas through a Self-Help Development Fund created by the legislation.
Passage of the legislation marks the end of a three-year struggle by consumer groups to create such a co-op bank. It was scaled down from a hoped for $500 million in seed money.
Although the bill was opposed by small business interests, who feared competition from newly financed co-ops, White House consumer advocate Esther Peterson said recently, "The Small Business Administration is dealing very, very well with small businesses. They have plenty of opportunities to obtain financing."
Large cooperative include those in Berkeley, Calif. (food), Ann Arbor, Mich. (auto repair), and Seattle (health care).