Testimony on An Act Regulating Use of Credit Reports by Employers (as prepared)

Testimony on House Bill 1736 and Senate Bill 123 – An Act Regulating Use of Credit Reports by Employers (as prepared)

Delivered by Aaron Agulnek, July 21, 2015

Good Afternoon Chairman Wolf and Chairman Scibak and members of the Committee. My name is Aaron Agulnek and I am from the Jewish Community Relations Council and I am here to testify in support of House Bill 1736 and Senate Bill 123, which would restrict the ability of employers to run pre employment credit checks on applicants and potential employees.

I do not need to tell you about the significant barriers to employment faced by many people in our communities.  Whether it is the lack of reliable child care, access to affordable transportation, insufficient vocational and skills training opportunities, limited English proficiency, or a disability; the odds are stacked high up against people trying to get back on their feet and into meaningful employment.  As we all know, good-paying jobs with defined career ladder opportunities are an essential path to economic mobility.

However, a trend has emerged where employers are running pre-employment credit checks and rejecting qualified individuals with so called “bad” credit out-of-hand.  This is bad policy and in most cases not even relevant to an individual’s fitness for employment! Our senior Senator Elizabeth Warren filed similar legislation in Congress and she stated that: “It makes no sense to make it harder for people to get jobs because of a system of credit reporting that has no correlation with job performance and can be riddled with inaccuracies." I can’t agree more.  It just makes no sense!

There are a multitude of reasons why an individual can have bad credit, from large medical debt, student loans, foreclosures, and yes, even errors by the credit rating agencies. One of the main reasons, however, is because of unemployment!  Basically, we have employers telling job seekers that because they are unemployed they are not qualified to be employed and therefore must remain unemployed.  So our friends, family, and neighbors are plunged further and further into debt, put more strain on the safety net, are more despondent about their future prospects and so on.  This is a cycle that needs to end.

As a Commonwealth, we have a duty to work together to create policies that support our citizenry and reduce obstacles so all people have the tools to provide for themselves and their families AND to live lives of dignity.  The Jewish community, through the innovative work of JVS, has been honored to work with this esteemed Committee, and our community partners to develop and implement innovative educational, vocational and skills-based programs that get people into jobs, with defined career ladders and opportunities for growth, and turn perceived obstacles into employable strengths. But even the best support and training cannot overcome this pre-employment credit rating threshold.

We have been your partners in efforts to increase the minimum wage, to extend earned sick leave, and to invest in crucial job training efforts. As a Commonwealth, we have come a long way towards focusing on opportunities for shared prosperity and economic opportunity; but we still have a long way to go.  We respectfully request that you report  House Bill 1736 and Senate Bill 123 out favorably and put an end to the arbitrary and unnecessary use of credit history in employment.

I also wanted to note on the record the JCRC’s strong support for An Act to Establish Equal Pay (House Bill 1733 and Senate Bill 983); Resolutions to Encourage Equitable and Diverse Gender Representation on the Boards of Companies in the Commonwealth (Senate 1007); and An Act Establishing the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (House 1769) and are proud to stand with the Equal Pay Coalition and urge a favorable report out of Committee.