To make sure that the $50 million United Way is investing in the community this year has the biggest possible impact, sometimes it’s not enough to make sure that the exceptional programs we support continue to provide outstanding service to their clients.

Take the example of the more than $5 million we invest in programs that help low-income families build stronger financial futures. We consistently hear from United Way service providers that payday and auto-title loans are barriers for their clients that undermine their work — and United Way’s investments.

The numbers back up what our service providers say:
• 32% of nonprofit clients turn to payday and auto loans — up from 19% just two years earlier (Texas Catholic Conference surveys)

• Four out of every 10 people who take out a payday loan will renew the loan five or more times (Texas Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner disclosure form)

• Texans pay more than $682 million a year in payday loan fees (Center for Responsible Lending research report)

Until changes are made to current loan practices, our community will struggle to decrease the number of people in poverty. Borrowers need a better chance to successfully pay back their loans.

For the past four years, United Way and numerous coalition partners have urged Texas legislators to strengthen regulations on this industry. Although these efforts created lots of buzz, nothing that has passed at the state level will affect major change.

In 2011, we turned to North Texas cities and asked them to take action to protect their residents. We applaud the Dallas City Council and leaders of other cities that have adopted ordinances — and we agree with The Dallas Morning News editorial last week encouraging other cities to follow suit.

However, cities only have limited resources to pursue lawsuits against lenders who violate regulations. State or federal regulations are essential to increase the likelihood that financially vulnerable Texans can successfully repay their debt.

How can you help?

• Indicate your support for our public policy agenda and we’ll let you know about upcoming opportunities to make your voice heard.

• If you know anyone who has struggled to pay back a short-term loan, please encourage them to share their stories with me by emailing me at smace@unitedwaydallas.org. These stories will be very helpful in upcoming advocacy efforts.

Since 2007, Stephanie Mace has managed the public policy efforts of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. Working closely with Advocacy Committee volunteers, she concentrates on strengthening relationships with public officials and on local and state policies that are crucial to the community’s ten-year goals. She tweets @StepherMace.