WASHINGTON (CNS) — Payday lending, an issue that has resonated in states with big cities, is now getting on the radar in largely rural Iowa, whose biggest city, Des Moines, barely tops 200,000.

The Iowa Catholic Conference and evangelical Christians are trying to make it an issue in the upcoming Iowa caucuses, to be held Feb.1.

A poll of Iowa Republicans taken earlier in January showed that 60 percent of them opposed payday lending. The rate of opposition, though, jumps to 82 percent when respondents were told the annual percentage rate for a typical loan is 268 percent.

Other findings in the poll showed that 78 percent supported requiring payday loan lenders to first determine whether a borrower can repay the loan before issuing it, and 74 percent backed limiting interest rates to 36 percent a year.

The opposition to payday loans was especially strong among those who called themselves religious conservatives, 87 percent of whom said they opposed payday loans in Iowa once they were told the average annual percentage rate, with 68 percent saying they were strongly opposed.

The Iowa Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, and the Family Leader Awareness Network, an Iowa-based evangelical organization, commissioned the poll, conducted by GCA Public Opinion Strategies and sponsored by the Center for Responsible Lending, which also is opposed to payday lending.

Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference, told Catholic News Service Jan. 25 that inroads are being made on the payday lending issue in the state.

“This is something the Iowa Catholic Conference has been working on for many, many years,” he said.

Chapman said inquiries have been made to some of the GOP hopefuls stumping in Iowa in the run-up to the caucuses, as the evangelical vote has been important in past presidential election cycles.

He added progress also has been made at the legislative level.

An Iowa House bill that would have required lenders to judge the applicant’s ability to pay back the loan, and that would have set caps on the number of loans an individual borrower may take out in a year, passed the lower chamber’s Commerce Committee last year. But because the full House did not vote on the bill, it reverted back to committee.

Chapman said no companion bill in the Democratic-run Senate has been introduced.

He told CNS that caps on borrowing are an important feature of any bill. “If you take out one payday loan, you’re likely to take out a dozen,” Chapman said, adding that 20 percent of payday loan borrowers take out 20 loans a year.

Chapman said the Commerce Committee of the Republican-led House did not have much appetite for lowering interest rates in the bill. “They felt it was too directly regulatory,” he noted.

There are certain deadlines to be met to advance the bill beyond the committee stage once more, the next one being Feb. 19. “I’m pretty pleased we got as far as we did with it,” Chapman said of the bill.

Other Iowa groups likewise support scaling back payday lending in the state.

“Everyday folks want to see elected officials and other regulators step up to the plate and enact common sense regulations to combat usury and predatory lending that too often hurts our families and communities,” said a Jan. 14 statement by Matthew Covington of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.

“Families in Iowa are currently being destroyed by predatory lending practices. Unbelievable interest rates cause people to make the choice of paying on a loan that they probably can never repay instead of paying for housing and food for their families,” said a Jan. 14 statement by Jan Henryson, director of the Center for Financial Education in Sioux Center, Iowa. “These practices need to be eliminated immediately to preserve Iowa families and protect our children.”