By Commissioner Thomas E. Hampton
The year 2007 has just reached its half-year mark and DISB is already moving full speed ahead. With renewed focus on consumer protection among the District’s top leaders including the Mayor, the Council of the District of Columbia and DISB, we are becoming increasingly involved in citywide initiatives and adding value to a growing list of partners both in the government and the community.
In 2006, DISB received a $1 million fund from the Council earmarked to enhance our consumer protection work throughout the agency. Examples of some new initiatives based on our needs assessment include:
- A new Consumer Advocate position that addresses overall consumer protection issues, and coordinates consumer complaints among all bureaus to ensure quality and consistency in consumer service delivery and acts as liaison with consumer groups and community partners.
- An integrated branding and social marketing campaign that brands DISB as the District’s premier financial regulator and raises broad public awareness of DISB’s services and resources among District residents. The campaign is in the concept development stage and is expected to be launched mid-summer.
- A consumer financial service study that examines the effects of subprime mortgages and predatory lending abuses in the District of Columbia.
We are fortunate to have the strong support of both Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), chair of the Council’s Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs with oversight of DISB, and the District’s Attorney General Linda Singer in our consumer protection initiatives.
Since the beginning of 2007, Councilmember Cheh has introduced the Home Equity Protection Act of 2007, legislation that would prevent equity stripping during foreclosure by predatory lenders and the Payday Loan Consumer Protection Act of 2007 that would cap the interest charges and fees charged to consumers. In addition, Councilmember Cheh has scheduled a public roundtable on financial literacy and education on June 28 at 10 am at City Hall (1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW) to solicit public input on how best to enhance the District residents’ access to financial information.
Reflecting our shared commitment to consumer protection, Attorney General Singer and I are hosting a joint town hall meeting on June 27 to get our common messages across about the District government’s commitment to fighting fraud and abuse and to get communities’ input on the problems and issues they are experiencing.
Though lending issues, especially residential mortgage lending, took center stage due to the housing market fallout, as the Commissioner of DISB, I am acutely aware of the broad range of consumer financial issues including the lack of access to and knowledge about insurance. The recent Eastern Market fire was just another reminder of the importance of consumer education on insurance. Thanks to the partnership of the Department of Small and Local Business Development and the Washington, DC, Economic Partnership, this June we are launching Insure U for Small Business, a national educational campaign developed by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. We will introduce this great resource to the District, along with our certified capital companies program that provides growth funds to local and small businesses.
Other insurance related initiatives include launching a new Health Insurance Awareness Month in collaboration with the DC Department of Health in November. A key feature of this theme month is the development of a new Web site that serves as a one-stop information clearinghouse for consumers on how to make informed heath insurance choices and what are the eligibility requirements for government-sponsored programs that help those who are uninsured or uninsurable. I am also pushing on the legislative front for quality and affordable health insurance, including the establishment of a high-risk pool that would provide insurance choices for residents whose income is 300% or above the Federal poverty level, which are not covered by existing programs. I am also working with the nonprofit health clinics to establish a District of Columbia-owned captive insurance company to cover the medical malpractice liability risks of these clinics, which offer much needed health services in the community.
As we strengthen our partnership with the Council and other agencies in the District government, our growing network of community partners are also fast becoming an integral part of our work in consumer education, services and protection. I want to thank all of our partners for your support and I am confident my next Commissioner’s Column will have even more exciting news to share!
Commissioner Thomas E. Hampton is the head of the District of Columbia Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking.