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Faleomavaega reaches out for help with banking crisis in territory

Contacts Federal Reserve, FACE and NCRC
reporters@samoanews.com

Congressman Faleomavaega Eni has reached out to two off-island organizations to support and help the territory as Bank of Hawai’i moves to shut down its operations in American Samoa — which now has a closing date of June 15th, after a 90-day extension was agreed to by BoH, after a request by Gov. Lolo M. Moliga for a 12-month delay to the bank’s announced departure of Mar. 15, 2013.
 
In a news release sent early yesterday morning from Washington D.C., the Congressman announced that the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (FRBSF) will hold Mar. 12 in Hawai’i and American Samoa a public meeting over BoH’s planned branch closure (see separate story in today’s edition).
 
The Congressman also noted that last week he discussed the BoH issue with Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga, who was in Washington D.C. for several meetings.
 
Soon after, the Congressman’s staff met with Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE) — Hawai’i to discuss the impact of BoH’s departure on those residing in Hawaii with relatives and roots in American Samoa, according to the statement.
 
In response to the matter,  Faleomavaega immediately wrote to the Federal Reserve regarding the deficiencies in the notification process to BoH customers regarding their scheduled closure, and the significant impact on the economy of American Samoa once they depart on March 15, 2013.
 
Earlier this week, Faleomavaega met with representatives from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), an organization that strives to provide access to credit for low income communities, and also had a phone conference with representatives of the Federal Reserve where he was able to share his concerns about the closure of the BoH branches, the news release pointed out.
 
“In discussing the closure of all of the BoH branches in American Samoa with the FRBSF, I advocated for a face-to-face meeting in Hawaii with all the interested stakeholders to discuss this important matter,” Faleomavaega said.
 
“The FRBSF has agreed to host a series of meetings to discuss the closure of the BoH in American Samoa.  The initial public meeting will be held simultaneously in Hawaii and American Samoa,” he said, adding that he will testify at the Federal Reserve public meeting in Honolulu.
 
According to the news release FACE will host a community meeting with Faleomavaega to discuss the impact of BoH’s closure in American Samoa on residents in Hawaii with families residing in American Samoa, including military service personnel.
 
 The FACE meeting is Saturday, Mar. 9 at 12 P.M. at the UH Manoa Business Center.  Contact person: Drew Astolfi, FACE State Director, at (808)782-3674 or via e-mail at drewastolfi@facehawaii.org
 
“I cannot highlight enough the urgency of this matter. The people of American Samoa will face severe economic difficulty if the BoH leaves the territory,” he said and noted that there  currently is no bank in American Samoa that offers comparable services to those offered by BoH.
 
He highlighted, what he calls “several key issues” that American Samoans will face when BoH leaves the territory and they are forced to use ANZ Amerika Samoa Bank, the only other commercial bank in American Samoa:
 
•            ANZ does not offer a Visa or Mastercard debit card, and customers will have to use a proprietary card that works at local terminals. ANZ debit card holders who travel outside American Samoa could face high usage fees.
 
•            Transferring money from the mainland U.S. could take up to three weeks. On their website, ANZ discloses that checks drawn on “mainland USA financial institutions” will not be available until 21 business days after the deposit.
 
•            American Samoan families in Hawaii, especially those who serve in the military, will no longer be able to share remittances with family in American Samoa using joint accounts since ANZ has no Hawai’i branches; and
 
•            Employees of the American Samoan government (ASG) may have to wait 21 business days to receive funds from their paychecks once they switch to ANZ, since ASG uses BoH to process their payroll.
 
Faleomavaega said he is confident that BoH will work together with ASG to ensure a smooth transition, while ASG solicits other U.S. banks or credit unions to provide banking services in the Territory.
 
“As we all know, American Samoa is in a unique situation, because unlike other areas of the U.S., our residents cannot travel to the next town to go to a U.S. bank. If BoH leaves American Samoa, after 44 years of service, the nearest American chartered bank will be across thousands of miles of ocean,” he said.
 
The congressman also said that BoH’s departure, without time to adequately prepare for the transition will likely cause an economic and social crisis in American Samoa. “We must convince BoH to reconsider their immediate departure given that we contributed to their success for the past 44 years while in American Samoa,” he added.
 
“I cannot thank Governor Lolo and his Administration enough for working together in finding solutions on this critical issue. I also want to extend my appreciation to FACE, NCRC, and, importantly, to the FRBSF for responding promptly to the concerns of the people of American Samoa as well as those affected in Hawaii,” Faleomavaega concluded.



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