Joe Massenburg, 67, retired and on social security, said he knew better than put all his money in one place. Good thing, too. The Friendship House Credit Union, where he has most of his money and where the social security checks that pay his rent and food bills are mailed, closed its doors Sept. 5 and was permanently shut Sept. 20 because of severe financial problems.
Yesterday, for the first time in a month, the Friendship House Credit Union opened its doors to Massenburg and others with money there after the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund moved in to help pay off depositors.
"Just wouldn't be good thinking to put all your money in any one place, would it?" Massenburg asked as he stood outside the credit union at 8 a.m. - an hour before it was scheduled to open. He said a small savings account he had at a nearby bank kept him going while his social security checks and most of his savings were locked in the Friendship House Credit Union.
The credit union will be open to pay out 1,951 checks to its shareholders, with the help of the National Credit Union Administration until 5 p.m. Saturday.
The NCUA ordered the Friendship House Credit Union closed after finding that the 12-year-old institution, which has been closed for an audit since Sept. 5, was insolvent, having only 70 cents to every dollar of its shareholders' money. More than half of its loans are delinquent.
Massenburg, with an old railroad engineer's cap keeping the drizzle off his head, was at the door of the credit union at yesterday morning, waiting to get his money back. Because his social security check is automatically deposited in the credit union, Massenburg has been without income or most of his savings since the credit union shut its doors Sept. 5.
"It's damn scary not knowing if you're going to get your money back," he said.
But as promised on fliers circulated around the Capitol Hill neighborhood in the past few days the doors of the credit union cracked open yesterday morning and D.C. Del. Walter Faunteroy with representatives of the National Credit Union Administration and credit union tellers were there to greet Massenburg and about 30 other people.
"Unlike the era of the '20s, and the'30s," said Faunteroy, "when a person's life savings would be wiped out by the closing of a financial institution, the 1,374 members of this credit union can look forward to being paid their savings by the National Credit Union Administration.
"The big lesson," he added, "is that in order to do good a credit union must do well. We must not give up on the credit union concept."
Carl Zysk, regional director of the National Credit Union, which has headquarters in Harrisburg, Pa., said the Friendship House Credit Union's problem was principally "bad management."
"You've got to watch who you're lending money to, how much money you're lending as compared to how much money you're taking in, all these things," said Zysk. "If you don't watch them they'll get away from you and that is what happened here."
The credit union has been in trouble since 1974, according to Edward Goode, a credit union board member. It allegedly lost more than $337,000 in food stamps and cash in earlier financial mismanagement, according to a report issued in March by the D.C. Department of Human Resources.
The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office are conducting investigations into the loss of the food stamps and cash.