PROVIDENCE, R.I., JAN. 2 -- Trying to calm thousands of angry depositors cut off from their savings, Gov. Bruce Sundlun announced today that seven credit unions would reopen on Monday after qualifying for federal insurance and that 15 more were expected to open soon afterward.
But the fate remained uncertain for 11 other credit unions, including some of the state's largest ones, that the governor shut down on New Year's Day after the state's private deposit insurance fund suffered a financial collapse.
Sundlun, who was officially notified of the financial emergency 20 minutes after he was inaugurated Tuesday, said his deficit-burdened administration has no plans to use state funds to cover the depositors' losses, which could run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
"We have not contemplated that at all at this time," Sundlun said. He said he hoped that no depositors would lose money, but he offered only general ideas about what steps might be taken.
Today's announcement marked a small first step toward resolving the crisis brought about by the collapse Tuesday of the Rhode Island Share and Deposit Indemnity Corp. (RISDIC), a private company that had insured deposits of 35 credit unions and 10 other state-chartered institutions.
The more than 300,000 accounts in RISDIC-insured institutions contain at least $1.7 billion.
State police today guarded the offices of credit unions and other institutions closed in the bank holiday, the first in Rhode Island since the depths of the Great Depression in 1933. Employees reported to work normally, and there were no reports of violence, but police kept out customers and ensured there was no trouble.
Depositors, who knew they were cut off Tuesday when automatic teller machines stopped issuing cash, expressed anger at the credit unions and state government for allowing the crisis to develop.
"How are you going to pay bills? How are you going to manage?" Evelyn Skillings told the Associated Press as she stood outside an East Providence Credit Union branch.
Manuel F. Phillips, also standing outside the branch, indicated the seriousness of the situation was only beginning to sink in for depositors. "I'm more worried than I was last night. Reality has set in," he said.
He also reflected the anger felt by many of the small savers who used the credit unions.
State regulators "don't do a good enough job," he said. "You can't tell me they do. And who pays for it? The working man with a few bucks."
A special hot line set up by the state Business Regulation Department was inundated by worried callers, the Associated Press reported.
While the biggest risk apparently was faced by depositors in the 11 credit unions that were having trouble qualifying for federal insurance -- plus two tiny ones that already have decided to go out of business -- the future also was unclear for 10 banks and other investment institutions that were closed in the bank emergency. Talks were proceeding with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and Sundlun said he was "hopeful" that federal help would allow their condition to be resolved "in the near term."
Sundlun, a Democrat, said he planned to put "clearer and stronger" state business regulations in effect to keep similar troubles from developing in the future.
The overwhelming majority of banks and credit unions in Rhode Island have federal insurance and were not affected by the emergency. In closing the credit unions and banks, Sundlun enforced a state law that forbade such institutions from operating without insurance of some kind.
Some depositors -- whose paychecks were automatically deposited in their credit union accounts by computer -- complained that they would be unable to buy groceries or make rent payments. And there was grumbling over the legal requirement that customers continue to make loan payments owed to their credit unions or banks at a time when the same customers were unable to withdraw money deposited at those institutions.
Sundlun and his aides spent much of today locked in two meetings with federal officials, as the state sought to obtain federal insurance that would allow the credit unions and banks to reopen.
Sundlun suggested that the 11 credit unions that do not satisfy various standards to receive federal insurance might be acquired by other institutions or receive cash infusions from other sources, which he did not identify.
The seven credit unions scheduled to reopen on Monday include only two big ones -- the Rhode Island State Employees Credit Union and the Westerly Credit Union. The other five have deposits of $3.5 million or less.