Payday loan businesses are not operated from the colony, and members of Habematolel Pomo interviewed during a recent visit said none of them had a job related to the payday loan. In fact, there are few jobs of any kind here. William Snow, 51, left the colony straight out of high school. “There is nothing for young people to do here,” he said.
Today, at least seven of California’s 45 rancherias are involved in online payday loans, although it is not clear to what extent they actually run the businesses they are affiliated with. In total, around 30 Native American tribes are in the industry, according to Barry Brandon, who heads the Native American Financial Services Association, a trade organization for tribal lenders.
“We are talking about a very small group of very small tribes,” said Ellen Harnick, a lawyer at the Center for Responsible Lending, a consumer advocacy group. There are 566 federally recognized Native American tribes in the United States
Like the Habematolel Pomo, these tribes appear online as the owners of payday loan businesses. But the call centers and other operations are elsewhere, and the tribes themselves receive only one percent of the income. The entire online payday loan industry generated nearly $ 4.3 billion in revenue in 2012.
Until last year, when federal regulators began cracking down on tribal payday loan companies, they made up about a quarter of the online payday lending industry, said John Hecht, an analyst specializing in payday loans.
California rancherias are located in remote areas of the state and have little land and a scattered composition. There are few economic options for them: casinos, traditional income generators for tribes, are not always viable, especially in remote locations.
The Habematolel Pomo know this. Most of the rancheria’s land is already occupied by the wigwam-shaped Running Creek Casino, which opened in 2012. But Running Creek, with its 349 slot machines, six gaming tables, and two restaurants, did not. not kept its promises. Income, wrote Tribal Council chief Sherry Treppa, “has fallen short of expectations.” The construction of the casino cost Habematolel Pomo $ 30 million.
The income generated by the payday loan companies, Treppa said, funds the tribe’s youth, infrastructure and cultural programs. A part is also used to pay for the education of tribal children.
But rancheria members such as Vanessa Niko have said they don’t see these benefits over the rancheria itself, possibly because none of the tribal council members live there. And Niko doesn’t see any new job opportunities opening up for herself or her five children.
“They don’t have a job for us unless you’re a board member,” she said. Treppa has declined all calls for comment after emailing a list of talking points.