Credit unions and the movement at large are beginning the recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Maria, which caused widespread power outages, massive flooding and a rising death toll in Puerto Rico.

CUNA Mutual Group has activated its Customer Disaster Response Team and Enterprise Crisis team, and in cooperation with partners inside and outside the organization, are securing water, food, alternate power, shelter and other resources needed now and in the time ahead.

“The past weeks have been extraordinarily difficult as multiple hurricanes have stricken the Caribbean, Texas, Florida and other areas of the U.S. mainland,” said Robert N. Trunzo, president and CEO, CUNA Mutual Group. “The latest event, Hurricane Maria, has been devastating and will require vast amounts of time, money and resources to restore and rebuild. And there’s the human and emotional toll – which can’t be measured, but only understood and addressed with the utmost care.

Trunzo assured employees, credit union members and industry partners that “we will bring whatever resolve and resource is required to aid those in need and ease their hardships.”

According to the National Credit Union Administration, there are eight federally chartered and federally insured credit unions in Puerto Rico, and a number of other federal credit unions have branches there. The island is a U.S. commonwealth, and Puerto Ricans are American citizens.

“The Puerto Rican government regulates and insures the cooperatvias, which are, in effect, state charters,” added NCUA Spokesman John Fairbanks. “NCUA has no authority or control over those, as they are also insured by the Commonwealth.”

Employees 'safe and sound'

On Monday, Jeanne Kucey, president and CEO of the $197 million JetStream Federal Credit Union of Miami Lakes, Fla., said all of the employees at the credit union’s branch in Puerto Rico “have checked in safe and sound.”

In a letter to the JetStream board of directors, Kucey said “our branch manager [in Puerto Rico] has been in contact with us daily,” but that AT&T (which the branch manager uses) is reportedly the only phone service provider currently operational. Kucey added although communication on the island has been very poor, “everyone is as well as can be expected under the circumstances. No one has power, most don’t have running water, some have experienced severe flooding in their homes but all in all everyone is safe and unharmed.”

JetStream FCU's Puerto Rico branch, which was damaged by Hurricane Maria.
JetStream FCU's Puerto Rico branch, which was damaged by Hurricane Maria. Photo courtesy of JetStream FCU

JetStream’s Puerto Rico branch manager has also been able to get inside the branch briefly and reported that it suffered “very little” damage, added Kucey.

In response to the storm and its aftermath, JetStream is waiving all fees for members until the end of the month.

“We’ve gone back and reviewed any fees that were charged as of Monday and we are refunding those as well,” she said. ”We are working on a special loan program for the members, but we are still gathering data and will have more information by next week.”

First Technology FCU, a $10.6 billion institution based in Mountain View, Calif., also has two branches in Puerto Rico, said Traci Ketchum-Hallinan senior manager, PR & experiential marketing, both of which are currently closed.

“We are diligently working with officials to ensure the safety of our employees,” she said. ”We are also working with key partners, as we strive to open a branch as quickly as possible. The local community, including our members, are also recovering from this devastating storm and they are in our thought and prayers.”