FORT DRUM — Newly proposed legislation could help give regulators more teeth in pursuing claims of abusive financial practices against service members, including thousands at Fort Drum.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., said he was concerned about soldiers who deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, only to return home to events such as evictions and car repossessions.
“These practices are abhorrent. They make your stomach churn,” he said. “They have to be focused on the task at hand, not a bank thousands of miles away.”
The new bill, called the Military Consumer Protection Act, would authorize the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to oversee and enforce compliance of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
The law covers transactions such as rental agreements, security deposits, eviction, credit card and mortgage interest rates, automobile leases and insurance.
Sen. Schumer said the laws on the books were sufficient, but a lack of a clearly designated enforcement agency allowed predatory businesses to slip through the cracks.
“To borrow a military phrase, ‘What good is an arsenal of weapons if there are no soldiers to wield them?’” he said.
He said federal enforcement of the act has been bounced between agencies such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the U.S. Department of Justice, but is not based out of one office, calling it “inconsistent at best.”
According to Schumer’s office, the Office of Servicemember Affairs within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau saw more than 17,000 complaints in 2014 from service members and their families. In 2012, the Government Accountability Office reported that there were more than 15,000 documented violations of the SCRA.
“Men and women protect this nation bravely. It’s important to see them protected by this nation,” Sen. Schumer said.
The north country has an estimated 17,373 active-duty service members, 511 National Guard personnel and 491 reservists, according to the senator’s office.
Sen. Schumer is co-sponsoring the bill with Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.
Federal and state officials have pushed against multiple companies that have targeted Fort Drum soldiers in recent years, including SmartBuy and Rome Finance, which financed unwieldy consumer debts for products such as computers and home items exclusively to service members.