Kathy Kraninger can't win

by Ryan Smith04 Aug 2020

Kathy Kraninger can’t get a break. During recent hearings, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau director was blasted by top Democrats in both the House and Senate for what they said was her abdication of the agency’s responsibilities.

In the House of Representatives, Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) called Kraninger’s tenure as CFPB head a “betrayal” of consumers. And at a Senate Banking Committee hearing, ranking member Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) blasted Kraninger for weakening regulations on big banks, turning a blind eye toward racial discrimination in the financial industry, and weakening requirements that banks make efforts to help mortgage borrowers avoid foreclosure.

“We have the widest homeownership gap in 50 years,” Brown said. “As the Urban Institute put it, ‘The gap in homeownership rate between black and white families in the US is bigger today than it was when it was legal to refuse to sell someone a home because of the color of their skin.’ The racial wealth gap has actually increased – the average white family now has 10 times the wealth of the average Black family.

“…Americans feel like no one is on their side, especially in this administration,” Brown said. “That’s where the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is supposed to come in. Your job, Director Kraninger, is to look out for everyone else – the workers and families without lobbyists, who don’t have wealth and connections to throw around. That’s why we created the agency. And in a moment when Americans of all ages and backgrounds are demanding justice for out Black and brown neighbors and accountability for the corporations that exploit them, you have the power to actually do something about it.”

Brown said that the CFPB had resources to “root out discrimination in lending” and that the agency had actually used those tools under Richard Cordray, the Obama appointee who served as the first CFPB director. Under Cordray, Brown said, the agency returned more than $500 million to Black, Latinx, and Asian Americans.

“Under Director Kraninger and Acting Director [Mick] Mulvaney, the Consumer Bureau did not bring a single case of illegal discrimination for more than two and a half years,” Brown said. “Sadly, that’s about what we would expect from a president who seems to have made it his mission to roll back civil rights protections, and openly uses race to divide us.”

Brown also accused Kraninger of exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to roll back consumer protections, including mortgage regulations.

“Millions of Americans have fallen behind and missed mortgage payments because of the president’s failure to get this pandemic under control,” he said. “But instead of helping struggling homeowners, the Consumer Bureau weakened requirements that banks and lenders contact homeowners to help them avoid foreclosure.”

Brown also blasted a January decision to narrow the CFPB’s definition of abusive behavior by businesses.

“Director Kraninger has even gone so far as to tell financial firms that [the CFPB] will give them a pass when they break the law, so long as they make a ‘good faith’ effort to comply. This is exactly why most people think our system is broken,” he said. “If your utility payment is withdrawn before your paycheck clears, and you overdraw your account, your bank doesn’t waive the fee because you made a ‘good faith’ effort to deposit that check. We have one system for corporations and the wealthy and the well-connected, one where you get away with just about anything – and a different one for everyone else, where your ‘good faith’ effort never seems to be enough.”

Brown accused Kraninger of doing the pro-business bidding of President Donald Trump at the expense of consumers.

“I’ve got to hand it to you, you’ve done exactly the job he asked of you,” he said. “You have protected a system where corporations play by one set of rules, with a different set for everyone else.”