Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Credit unions charged millions in overdraft fees

 November 29, 2023 at 6:00 AM PST

Good Morning, I’m Debbie Cruz….it’s Wednesday, November TWENTY-NINTH.

A tuberculosis exposure at a downtown San Diego homeless shelter. More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….

Some affordable housing projects in San Diego could receive a financial boost to speed construction.

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria is recommending FIVE projects share FIFTEEN million dollars from the city’s Bridge to Home initiative. This program aims to create FOUR-HUNDRED new affordable homes. Projects recommended for funding are located in Hillcrest, City Heights, Pacific Beach, Clairemont and Palm City.

A low pressure system is moving into San Diego County, bringing a chance of light rain this afternoon through Friday morning. Expect gusty winds across the region’s deserts and mountains today through tomorrow morning. Winds could be as fast as TWENTY-FIVE to FORTY miles-per-hour … and up to FIFTY miles-per-hour through passes and canyons.

The Aztecs will have a new head football coach soon.

University of Colorado Offensive Coordinator Sean Lewis is being tapped for the role. He’d replace Brady Hoke whose final game was on Saturday.

Colorado head coach Deion (DEE-ON) Sanders recently demoted Lewis to co-offensive coordinator. Lewis spent four years as head coach at Kent State.

SDSU is expected to make an official announcement today (Wednesday).

From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

CITIES AND COUNTIES CAN NOW APPLY FOR A SLICE OF NEARLY 300 MILLION DOLLARS TO CLEAN UP HOMELESS ENCAMPMENTS AROUND CALIFORNIA.

GOVERNOR GAVIN NEWSOM SAYS THE GRANT PROGRAM REQUIRES LOCAL GOVERNMENTS TO PROVIDE HOUSING FOR PEOPLE LIVING IN LARGE TENT ENCAMPMENTS BEFORE SHUTTING THEM DOWN.

BUT HE SAYS THE FUND MARKS A SHIFT IN CALIFORNIA’S STRATEGY TO REDUCE HOMELESSNESS.

"We’re not subsidizing those 800, 900-thousand dollar units anymore that take 5, 6, 7, 8 , 10 years. We’re not just writing a check to cities and counties. Admittedly, we did that for a couple years but to be candid with you, I didn’t see the results that you deserved – that all of us deserved."

NEWSOM’S ANNOUNCEMENT COMES DAYS BEFORE HE IS SCHEDULED TO FACE POLITICAL RIVAL, FLORIDA GOVERNOR RON DESANTIS, ON THE DEBATE STAGE THIS THURSDAY.

RESIDENTS OF A DOWNTOWN SAN DIEGO HOMELESS SHELTER ARE BEING TESTED THIS WEEK FOLLOWING A TUBERCULOSIS EXPOSURE.

HEALTH REPORTER MATT HOFFMAN SAYS HEALTH OFFICIALS WON’T KNOW IF MORE PEOPLE ARE SICK UNTIL THE TESTING IS COMPLETED.

Residents at the city’s golden hall shelter operated by the nonprofit Father Joe’s Villages say they received flyers in their bunks about the TB exposure.. County health officials say the exposure happened during most of September -- and a letter to residents says, HHSA believes your personal risk of acquiring TB from this exposure to be low, but cannot exclude the possibility that you may have become infected with tuberculosis. County health officials know of at least one case.. The County’s Chief of Tuberculosis control program Dr. Jeffrey Percak says those who are close contacts are being prioritized for screenings. But that said we’re going to make sure that testing is available to all residents of golden hall, even those who may not have been there in September because we know that people experiencing homelessness are disproportionately impacted by tuberculosis. Matt Hoffman KPBS News.

THE UNITED NATIONS CLIMATE CONFERENCE, CALLED COP-28, BEGINS TOMORROW (THURSDAY) IN DUBAI AND SCIENTISTS FROM SAN DIEGO’S SCRIPPS INSTITUTION OF OCEANOGRAPHY WILL BE THERE.

SCI-TECH REPORTER THOMAS FUDGE HAS MORE.

The UN Climate conference is a global meeting of politicians and scientists that has a strong bearing on the fight against global warming. It’s where the Paris Agreement was adopted in 2015. Oceanography Professor Lynne Talley will be attending her second UN Climate Conference. She points out the ocean absorbs 90 percent of the extra heat generated by global warming, and 30 percent of the excess carbon dioxide. “The ocean provides a huge service in absorbing so much heat and so much of the excess carbon dioxide but those have very negative impacts on the ocean’s ecosystem so we can't just rely on the ocean to take care of the problem.” Environmental effects on the ocean include bleaching coral reefs and rising sea levels. UC San Diego has a total delegation of 30 people, both faculty and students, attending COP28. Thomas Fudge, KPBS. 

COMING UP… CALIFORNIA CREDIT UNIONS HAVE CHARGED CUSTOMERS MILLIONS IN OVERDRAFT FEES LAST YEAR. WE’LL HAVE THAT STORY AND MORE, JUST AFTER THE BREAK.

NOT-FOR-PROFIT CREDIT UNIONS HAVE LONG BILLED THEMSELVES AS COMMUNITY-BASED ALTERNATIVES TO BIG COMMERCIAL BANKS. YET, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER SCOTT RODD FOUND MANY CALIFORNIA CREDIT UNIONS CHARGED CUSTOMERS MILLIONS IN OVERDRAFT FEES LAST YEAR.

I’m standing outside the San Diego County Credit Union on El Cajon Boulevard…when I see a customer walk out in a huff. He's wearing a beanie and dark sunglasses. “Do you mind if I get your name? Ernie. And your last name? …I’m not going to give you that” Ernie…isn’t feeling very talkative. It’s hard to blame him. San Diego County Credit Union earlier today charged him an overdraft fee of more than $30. “I think it’s sh—y because they take fees every month and…I get I went overdraft, but maybe bring the cost down less.” Customers are hit with an overdraft fee when they make a purchase…and their checking account doesn’t have enough money to cover it. Consumer advocates, fiscal watchdogs and even members of Congress have heavily criticized big commercial banks for the billions they collect in overdraft fees. And…turns out…it’s big business for credit unions too. Last year, credit unions chartered in California brought in a quarter billion dollars in revenue through overdraft penalties…according to a KPBS analysis of data collected by the state. “Regulators should treat overdraft as the five alarm fire that is burning through low-income communities and families living paycheck-to-paycheck.” Aaron Klein is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution…a DC-based think tank. For years, big banks have had to disclose revenue from overdraft fees. But Klein says credit unions…which are technically not-for-profit businesses…have avoided this requirement. “Credit Unions have largely escaped scrutiny on overdraft by a combination of wrapping themselves in the ‘good guy flag’ as a nonprofit, mission-oriented entity and by not releasing data to the public.” That is until this year in California…after lawmakers passed the first law in the country requiring the disclosure of overdraft fee revenue from state-chartered financial institutions. San Diego County Credit Union ranked second-highest among the state’s 100-plus credit unions…collecting $18 million in overdraft fees last year. That’s surprising for a credit union that has long marketed itself as the anti-big bank. For years, the credit union ran a series of ads hammering greedy banks and their excessive fees. “So you offer free checking, right?” The bankers in the ads could say only one word… “Money, Money, Money…Money, Money, Money, Money.” The campaign underscores its message in the end. “We’re nothing like a big bank. We’re better…Money…” San Diego County Credit Union declined an interview request and did not respond to multiple follow up inquiries. Other smaller credit unions collected less in overdraft fees…but that revenue made up a substantial portion of their income. Consider Oceanside-based Frontwave Credit Union. They collected nearly $8 million in overdraft fees last year. That amounted to 12 percent of the company’s overall income…and 140 percent of its net income. In other words, Frontwave easily could have lost money last year without revenue from overdraft fees. “We call it a service. We don't call it a fee, it’s not a junk fee.” Bill Birnie is the CEO of Frontwave. He says many Frontwave members rely on overdrafts at the end of month as a “bridge” before their next payday. The credit union has rebranded it as “courtesy pay.” Frontwave charges $20 per overdraft, up to five times a day for each negative-balance purchase. That means a Frontwave customer could be hit with $100 in fees … in ONE day. “So it is an important source of income to us. I just don't think we do it in a predatory away. Consumer watchdogs aren’t buying this argument. Keara O’Laughlin is a researcher and policy advocate at the San Diego-based Center on Policy Initiatives. She says overdraft fees are inherently onerous — even if they’re rebranded to sound like a benefit. “Any business or organization that's profiting off of exploiting other folks’ vulnerabilities is not helping people. It's hurting people.” The scrutiny on big banks has made a difference. Some allow repayment grace periods…while others have done away with the fees altogether. It’s unclear if credit unions plan to do the same any time soon. Scott Rodd, KPBS News.

GIVING THE BRAIN A MEASURED ELECTRIC JOLT REMAINS AN EFFECTIVE WAY TO TREAT SEVERE DEPRESSION.

SCI-TECH REPORTER THOMAS FUDGE SAYS WE NOW HAVE A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF WHY ELECTROCONVULSIVE THERAPY WORKS.

Once called electroshock therapy, the procedure seen in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest had a bad reputation. It used to be done without the patient's consent and with no pain relief. But psychiatrists still find it effective, and now researchers at UC San Diego have linked the treatment to a brain process called aperiodic activity. Sydney Smith, a PhD candidate  in neurosciences, says ECT massively increases the amount of aperiodic activity in the brain. “It's increasing aperiodic activity, it’s increasing the brain’s ability to kind of shut itself off a little bit, which is really necessary for patients with depression.” The electroconvulsive treatment seems to restore the brain’s ability to suppress neurons that cause mental disorders, according to UCSD neuroscience professor Bradley Voytek. He says in the field of mental health, doctors just know the treatment works and that’s why they’ve used it for close to 90 years. “In medicine if something works, and it shows to have very low side effects, then keep doing it again. Right?” But he adds that scientists want to understand why it works, and we’re a step closer to that with electroconvulsive therapy. Thomas Fudge, KPBS News.

A CANOE THAT HAS SAILED AROUND THE WORLD IS DOCKED IN SAN DIEGO.

REPORTER KATIE HYSON CLIMBED ABOARD TO LEARN HOW THE CREW IS TAKING BACK ANCIENT POLYNESIAN VOYAGING.

Hidden behind ships at the Maritime Museum is a small double canoe lashed together with 6 miles of cords – the Hōkūle’a. It’s modeled after ancient Polynesian vessels. When we were young, there were no canoes like this. They were just stories. That’s Captain Bruce Blankenfeld. He’s sailed the boat for over 40 years. All of this was created at a time . . . when . . . the Hawaiian culture had just been relegated to past tense. It was brought out of history books and back onto waves during what became known as the Hawaiian renaissance in the 19-70s. Voyaging again became a way of recapturing a tradition erased by colonizers. When all of us who had been educated in a Western model thought about . . . guiding a canoe across . . .  2500 miles guided by the stars, the ocean swells, seabirds . . . . It was like something in our minds so impossible. But two hundred thousand miles later, they’re still going. The crew navigates using the same methods as their ancestors, who crossed the ocean centuries before Columbus. San Diego is their last stop before returning to show aloha to those still recovering from the fires in Maui. Katie Hyson, KPBS News.

That’s it for the podcast today. As always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Debbie Cruz. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

Plus, San Diego scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography will be at the United Nations Climate Conference in Dubai Thursday. Finally, a crew has docked their small, double canoe – the Hōkūle’a – in San Diego. The boat, modeled after ancient Polynesian vessels, has sailed around the world. It made its last stop in San Diego before returning to those still recovering from the fires in Maui.