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Underbanked in Georgia
Access to banking
Affordable, clean energy
2013 Session Highlights
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April 5, 2013


The Georgia General Assembly ended its 2013 Legislative Session last week. Georgia Watch worked actively throughout the session to promote  pro-consumer policies and prevent legislation that would harm consumers from passing. We achieved good results, highlighted below, as the voice for consumers at the Capitol.


With the legislative session now behind us, we continue our hard work looking out for consumer interests throughout the year. Check out the programs we're working on for you below.



Elena Small Signature

Elena Parent
Executive Director

Understanding Georgia's banked and unbanked

Our research on the issue

The evidence is clear: Americans who participate in mainstream banking are financially better off than those who do not. Bank accounts benefit accountholders in several key ways, such as providing the means to make basic, day-to-day financial transactions, facilitating the growth of one's savings, and helping to build and improve personal credit.


Those who do not have traditional checking accounts face numerous negative consequences. Without access to mainstream financial services, consumers have no way to access money remotely and are less likely to build assets. Unbanked and underbanked individuals may also spend tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime on the high fees associated with check cashing, money orders, and other alternative financial services. Unbanked and underbanked individuals are more likely to fall prey to short-term, high-interest, and even predatory loans - thus entering into a vicious cycle of lifelong debt.
Although unbanked and underbanked consumers live all over the United States, the problem is particularly acute in Georgia. An alarmingly high percentage of Georgia households either do not maintain bank accounts or supplement their bank accounts with costly alternative financial services (a 19.4% and 12.2%, respectively), making Georgia the fifth most unbanked and underbanked state in the nation.  
Georgia Watch intern, Gillian Bialer, a second-year JD candidate at Emory University School of Law, recently conducted research studying this problem. She prepared both a summary of the findings as well as a policy paper with more in-depth analysis. 
Expanding access to banking in Georgia
Our new financial literacy initiative

Georgia Watch is expanding our existing personal finance program to assist vulnerable populations by providing focused financial literacy education to low and moderate-income households, including to minorities, seniors and students. We are developing training workshops and materials to empower individuals to set financial goals; identify money service options available to pay debt, and connect unbanked individuals with low-cost bank accounts. We will conduct financial literacy workshops in the Atlanta metro area in the communities that need it most.


Yesterday, Georgia Watch staff members met with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to discuss our initiative. We are honored to have his pledge of support as we launch this effort.


Georgia Watch has partnered with CredAbility, the Atlanta-based non-profit credit counseling and education organization, to carry out our goals of reaching thousands of low- and moderate-income individuals. CredAbility has committed to provide donated time from employees in their credit-counseling department, which will enable us to impact large numbers of people, resulting in a drop in the unbanked and underbanked in the Atlanta metro region, more proactive financial planning, and a better financial outcome for low- and moderate-income families.  


Working for affordable, clean energy in Georgia 

In March, Georgia Watch formally intervened in the 2013 Georgia Power Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) proceedings before the Georgia Public Service Commission and yesterday, we cross-examined Georgia Power witnesses in the first hearing. We will ensure consumers have a voice in opposition to unreasonable rate increases and in favor of more clean, lower-cost renewable energy resources in Georgia, including solar. 


On September 26, 2012, Georgia Power filed its Advanced Solar Initiative (ASI) and received Commission approval of the program on November 29. Georgia Watch spoke in support of this ASI proposal, since it promoted diversification of Georgia Power's resource mix and an increase in renewable energy, but we will continue to argue during the IRP that this is one small step in the right direction. In the 2012 legislative session, we took a position in support of legislation that would allow outside companies to install, own and maintain alternative energy systems, such as solar panels, for homeowners, who would contract to acquire electricity generated by the system. Georgia Watch fully supports the kind of Power Purchase Agreements authorized by this legislation. Our board member Clark Howard testified passionately in favor of it during the Utility Committee hearing on the bill.


Georgia Power argued that this bill runs counter to the state's Territorial Act, governing Georgia Power as the state's regulated electric monopoly. Their powerful lobbying got the bill tabled in 2012, but it resurfaced in 2013 along with other legislation to allow community-based solar programs. While the legislature continues to grapple with the exact form increased solar power will take in Georgia, it appears its day is finally dawning in the state, in no small part due to partnerships between the solar industry and Georgia Watch voicing the consumer perspective. 
Consumer highlights from 2013 Session

The Utilities Subcommittee of Energy, Utilities and Telecommunications held two hearings and a vote on HB 267, which would prevent Georgia Power from collecting their 11.15% profit from residential and small business customers on cost overruns at Plant Vogtle. While we are disappointed all but one committee member voted not to pass the bill out of committee, we are encouraged that the bill received two hearings, significant attention in the media and around the Capitol, and remains alive today. Several legislators have expressed interest in working with bill sponsor Rep. Jeff Chapman and Georgia Watch to move legislation through the next session to protect consumer interests.


The House Banks and Banking Committee held a hearing and vote on HB 465 with all but two members voting against the bill. In testimony at the hearing, Georgia Watch raised concerns about provisions in the bill related to debt settlement services, a relatively new approach to debt elimination wherein a consumer is advised to default on his or her debts before attempting to settle them. We stated that debt settlement is a problematic business model that has unintended negative consequences for consumers and highlighted provisions that would allow unlimited fees for services.  We urged committee members to vote against the bill to allow time for more careful study of the legislation.  


The Senate Health Committee held hearings on both SB 141 and 202 and voted to table both bills for further study and consideration. If enacted, SB 141 would virtually eliminate the right of a Georgia resident to bring a cause of action in court against any provider for medical malpractice. Georgia Watch provided testimony against this bill. SB 202 could deny Georgia's most vulnerable citizens, our parents and grandparents, their most basic constitutional rights with proposed wholesale changes to the adjudication of claims against nursing homes and the constitutional rights of Georgians who reside in long-term care facilities. Georgia Watch urged the committee to delay a vote and further consider harmful provisions in this bill.