Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was joined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other Democratic lawmakers on Thursday in calling for the U.S. Congress to implement postal banking pilot programs in rural and low-income urban neighborhoods, where millions of households cannot access or afford standard banking services.
Gillibrand, who introduced the Postal Banking Act with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) last September, called on lawmakers to invest in the programs as part of the Senate and House appropriations bills for the 2022 fiscal year, pointing to the economic injustice which forces many families to turn to check-cashing companies and other predatory financial institutions.
Ninety percent of zip codes lacking banks are in rural areas, the senator said, and many low-income urban areas are underserved by mainstream banks.
"That leaves families in those communities with nowhere to turn but to predatory lenders, predatory practices who charge them interest rates that can be 20 times higher than the average credit card interest rate," Gillibrand said at a press conference on Capitol Hill.
I'm live now with @RepAOC, @BillPascrell, and @RepMarcyKaptur to call for a postal banking pilot program. We can save the Post Office — and ensure unbanked families get access to the essential financial services they need. https://t.co/TBUpxVMUJG
— Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (@gillibrandny) April 15, 2021
The pilot programs would not be the first time the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) offered check cashing, wiring, and other essential banking services to Americans, the senator noted, pointing to the postal banking program which served households from 1911 to 1966.
"It helped millions of low income families survive and make it through the Great Depression and two world wars," she said. "It was America's most successful experiment in financial inclusion ever."
The lawmakers' call came days after Reps. Marie Newman (D-Ill.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) published an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune demanding help for millions of families victimized by the "systemic predation and economic exclusion embedded within our nation's banking and financial system":
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Look no further than the past few weeks, when Americans with bank accounts started receiving their latest round of economic impact payments via direct deposit. However, just as they had to with the CARES Act, millions of unbanked and underbanked Americans will wait longer—for many, months longer—to receive a paper check in the mail because they simply do not have access to a bank account. Even once their money arrives, many may have had to pay up to 5% to a currency exchange to cash their checks.
It doesn't have to be this way. Public and postal banking can fill the gaps of our flawed financial system. Congress should pass the U.S. Postal Banking Act so the post office can provide basic checking, savings, bill payment, free tax filing assistance and short-term credit solutions to working people and small businesses.
At Thursday's press conference, Ocasio-Cortez described the families she sees in her own urban community, relying on check cashing companies which charge exorbitant interest rates in the absence of mainstream banks.
"They'll show up to a check cashing place and imagine cashing your stimulus check...and having 10 to 20% of that check taken away from you," the New York Democrat said. "Those are diapers, that's baby formula, and that's food that is taken out of the hands of families just to cash a check. And by the way, it's not because families don't want to be banked but it's because banks won't bank them because it's not profitable enough to bank certain communities."
BANKING: Rep. @AOC pushes for pilot program for post offices to provide financial services in under-banked communities: "The Postal Service is awesome. Americans love the Postal Service." pic.twitter.com/3ikmDy0X72
— Forbes (@Forbes) April 15, 2021
At the press conference, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) noted that after former President Donald Trump's and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's efforts to gut the U.S. Postal Service last year, postal banking "will help this beloved institution flourish into the next century."
With DeJoy at the service's helm, House Democrats including Pascrell wrote in a letter this month to President Joe Biden, the USPS has failed "to meet its own service standards with historically low rates of on-time delivery" and left families waiting for crucial medications, relief checks, and other necessities. DeJoy, a top donor to Trump last year, has been accused of unsuccessfully trying to help the former president to sabotage the service ahead of the 2020 election.
"The current post office leadership has failed miserably and must be replaced to begin the work of rebuilding our beloved Post Office. But postal banking is essential to that rebuilding," said Pascrell. "Postal banking must be part of American's future."