The three federal agencies that oversee U.S. banks and savings institutions have adopted special Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) guidelines for the COVID-19 emergency period which, among other things, allow regulated lenders to seek CRA credit for “Loans, investments or services that support digital access for low- and moderate-income individuals or communities”.
A “Joint Statement on CRA Consideration for Activities in Response to COVID-19” was issued on March 19 by the Federal Reserve System, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). The statement covers a number of lending, investment and community development activities, during and immediately after the Federally declared health emergency, for which banks can expect favorable CRA treatment by their regulators. Here’s the relevant passage (emphasis added):
Community Development Activities: In light of the declaration of a national emergency, this statement clarifies that financial institutions will receive CRA consideration for community development activities.
Qualifying activities include those that help to revitalize or stabilize low- or moderate-income geographies as well as distressed or underserved nonmetropolitan middle-income geographies, and that support community services targeted to low- or moderate-income individuals. Such activities may include, but are not limited to:
• Loans, investments or services that support digital access for low- and moderate-income individuals or communities…
This statement shall be effective through the six-month period after the national emergency declaration is lifted, unless extended by the agencies.
While potentially groundbreaking for community digital equity efforts, the three agencies’ Joint Statement received little public attention when it was released two months ago in the midst of a blizzard of COVID-19 announcements by federal and state officials. NDIA learned of its existence from the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank’s “Connecting Communities During COVID-19: A Quick Guide to Broadband Solutions for Local Governments”, which includes a brief description and a link to an earlier Dallas Fed article about the emergency guidance.
This temporary guidance on CRA and “digital access” is not directly related to the permanent new rules for CRA oversight issued last Wednesday by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, under which banks regulated by OCC can now seek CRA credit for their support of some digital inclusion activities.
The Community Reinvestment Act is the federal regulatory framework for ensuring that financial institutions provide equitable banking and credit services to all parts of their operating territories, especially low and moderate income (“LMI”) neighborhoods. CRA compliance reviews are part of the regular bank examination process. Learn more at https://www.ffiec.gov/cra/.