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Chicagoans Must Rally Around ShoreBank

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ShoreBank, a staple of the Chicago community, may be in jeopardy of seizure if it does not receive TARP funds from the Federal Reserve Bank. Unfortunately, as a recent article in the Chicago Tribune noted, current political jockeying around more bank bailouts has ShoreBank in the eye of the storm.

In 2008, the largest banks in the country received up to $25 billion in taxpayer funds. According to CNN, these banks included Wells Fargo, Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase. Even though many argued that Wells Fargo was particularly guilty of the worst subprime lending abuses against working families, support for its bailout was bipartisan. Congress was convinced that the government needed to step in or risk a major financial calamity. Yet a year and a half after the Wall Street bailout, Republicans are beginning to question the value of smaller, community banks such as ShoreBank, the very banks that are addressing the needs of working families and underwriting community investment projects.

Since its inception in 1973, ShoreBank has been a model bank committed to social justice. ShoreBank's mission has been to develop a triple bottom line of social responsibility, environmental responsibility and profitability, or "people, planet, profit." ShoreBank's website describes it as, "America's first community development bank."

ShoreBank is not the only community bank to come under attack by Congress. The Shriver Center recently blogged about Park National Bank, another community bank with an outstanding community service record that was allowed to fail by the federal government. In particular, Park National was seized on the same day that U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner presented Park National with $50 million in federal tax credits for its community development projects.

The failure of Park National, and now the potential failure of ShoreBank, raises grave concerns. It appears that large "too big to fail" banks which caused irreparable harm contributing to both the housing and economic crisis, should be bailed out, but the smaller, community banks which have been meeting the needs of low-income neighborhoods for decades should be allowed to fail. This is just another indication of how heavy lobbying by the financial industry has swayed Congress to put the needs of working families aside in exchange for campaign contributions and cash.

This time, however, things are not going unnoticed. The Coalition to Save Community Banking, a group of concerned neighbors and activists, formed on Chicago's Westside when rumors arose about the possible take-over of Park National by US Bank, another financial institution which received billions from TARP. Members of the coalition traveled from Chicago to D.C. to support then Park National CEO Mike Kelly. Today they are rallying to promote the interest of local banking, including supporting bailouts for banks that help the community, as opposed to banks that suck money from working families giving little to nothing in return. We cannot afford to let ShoreBank fail the same way that Park National was allowed to fail. It's time to tell the regulators that too important to fail should also include small, community focused banks. Chicagoans should be outraged by threats of another assault on our community and demand action from their congressperson to ensure ShoreBank and others like it remain protected in our state and in our country.

Susan Ritacca, Community Investment VISTA at the Shriver Center, coauthored this article.