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Preachers oppose payday loan expansion

On Thursday, Florida faith leaders pushed forth a single message: payday lending expansion bills currently under consideration in Tallahassee (HB 857 and SB 920) are usury and should be stopped.

Both bills seek to authorize annual interest rates of up to 208 percent, via compounding interest, for larger loans and with longer terms than the payday loans currently allowed under Florida law.

Rev. Rachel Gunter Shapard of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida, noted that faith leaders are “deeply concerned” about the bills that would “trap people in debt.”

Shapard advocated for a 30 percent interest rate cap, saying that lending “traps people … in a cycle of never-ending debt,” and questioning why lawmakers are privileging the concerns of lenders over people.

Bishop Adam J. Richardson of the Florida AME Church asserted that the legislation permits “usury with poor people as victims.”

“I consider it an economic justice issue,” Richardson asserted, also advocating a cap of 30 percent on interest rates (an issue on which he filed a constitutional amendment).

Pastor Lee Harris of Mt. Olive Primitive Baptist in Jacksonville is “appalled that we have legislators who would pass” these bills in committees, contravening the “express concern of the people.”

“They are still insisting on passing these bills,” Harris lamented, “bills designed to trap people in a cycle of debt … not being able to pay back without renewing the loan.”

Harris noted that his inner-city congregation has been bedeviled by these lending practices, adding another type of “high-cost debt trap” that targets the most economically vulnerable.

As with the others on the call, Harris advocated for the aforementioned Constitutional amendment.

Elder Wayne Wright described his experience with payday loans. A former computer programmer, Wright had to go to school to become a nurse after layoffs.

A high electric bill drove him to borrow, not realizing the “danger in stepping in that water.”

A $425 payday loan led to payments that made him short somewhere else, and he took out more loans online, taking hundreds of dollars of interest from each paycheck.

“You’re borrowing from the devil to pay the devil,” Wright said.

Rev. Dr. Russell Meyer of the Florida Council of Churches pointed out that the “payday lending industry” has given certain pastors financial incentives to speak up in favor of payday lending in Tallahassee and elsewhere.

Meyer bemoaned “predatory lending” and “predatory lobbying,” noting that the industry raked in $311 million in profit in 2017, with compounding interest trapping unwary borrowers.

“We need to get rid of these kinds of products altogether,” Meyer said.

Written By

A.G. Gancarski has been a working journalist for over two decades. Gancarski has been a correspondent for since 2014. In 2018, he was a finalist for an Association of Alternative Newsweeklies "best political column." He can be reached at

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