FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 23, 2023
NEW REPORT: USPS Must Roll Out Basic Financial Services at Post Offices to Reach 10 Million Unbanked Households
Washington, D.C. – A new report released today, “Banking Fair: The Promise and Urgency of Doing Postal Banking Right,” calls for a public banking option to be restored within the U.S. Postal Service. USPS has a long history as a public service institution, despite the seeds of privatization sown by Republican presidents and Congress since 1970.
The Save the Post Office Coalition released the report, which documents how USPS leadership is thwarting efforts to revive a postal banking option by halting a new check-cashing program won by advocates in 2021, and refusing to roll out the additional financial services—bill payment, wire transfers, and low-fee ATMS—that the USPS Inspector General has already deemed legal and feasible, and advised the agency to provide.
The paper outlines the weaknesses with the current program, which has stalled at four post offices that serve wealthier zip codes, had little marketing to let people know the product exists, and only covers checks below $500 for a hefty $5.95 fee.
The need is urgent. Nearly 10 million households, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color, are unbanked. Unbanked or underbanked households must pay expensive fees for non-bank financial services to access their own money for paying bills, cashing checks, sending remittances, paying rent, and withdrawing cash from ATMs.
Wall Street banks’ standard practice is to lure people in with false promises of free checking accounts, only then to tack on a fee just for having an account, requiring minimum balances, and charging predatory overdraft fees. Even the industry’s efforts to increase access to traditional bank accounts through BankOn, a voluntary, bank-led partnership has made little scalable impact, with only 400 of the U.S.’ 10,000 banks participating. Furthermore, the BankOn initiative has no requirement that the accounts be free, and banks are free to close these accessible accounts at any time if they are not profitable.
“The private banking industry either can’t or won’t do what needs to be done to stop preying on people–the junk fees bring in too much money for them. We need a public option for banking that is focused on providing a basic service to people who need it as opposed to satisfying wealthy shareholders, and USPS is perfectly positioned to provide that public option” says Annie Norman, Save the Post Office Coalition Campaigner at Take On Wall Street.
“The U.S. banking system was designed to serve a largely white and financially secure group of people,” said Porter McConnell, director of the Take On Wall Street campaign at Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund. “People like me who belong to this more privileged class don’t worry about minimum account balances or overdraft fees. I can generally access my own money easily and with minimal cost, whenever I need to. This is a crucial economic need that is largely invisible for people like me.”
“But for low-income people, the banking system plays a very different role. Racist and classist bank policies designed to exclude, like minimum balance requirements, make traditional banks expensive, inaccessible, and often predatory towards those who don’t have much money,” McConnell added. “Capricious overdraft fees are a source of constant stress and can send many households into a spiral of owing money they just don’t have.”
Unbanked and underbanked communities need a public banking option. Up until the 1960s, many relied on the trusted postal savings system over private banks after banking scares in the early 1900s. The post office, as one of the most trusted public agencies, already located in every community, is the sensible option to provide this solution, but it requires a good faith effort. Instead, Louis DeJoy’s USPS is moving in the opposite direction by trying to make existing financial services obsolete: at present, an immigrant wanting to send home $200 a month to their family in remittances would end up spending an additional $830 in fees per year if they tried to do so through the Post Office’s Dinero Seguro program, after DeJoy imposed a 300 percent price hike on an essential service. Money orders, long a lifeline for low-income people looking to pay rent, now cost double at the Post Office what they do at Walmart.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Getting postal banking right is just the beginning of what’s possible for the Postal Service. DeJoy isn’t going to be able to price hike his way out of a deficit, and he should instead be considering the USPS OIG’s report, which estimated that postal banking could generate as much as $8.9 Billion in annual revenue.
DeJoy and the USPS Board of Governors must ensure the Postal Service is ready to meet the challenges of the future by exploring new and creative ways to generate revenue and provide community services: from WiFi in the parking lot to checking on seniors. The People’s Postal Agenda provides a roadmap for the future of a Postal Service that “focuses on innovations to address unmet needs and ensure this treasured public agency can continue to serve all Americans for generations to come.”
The Save the Post Office Coalition of over 300 organizations came together in 2020 when Louis DeJoy started slowing down the mail. The postal coalition is hosted by Take on Wall Street, a project of Americans for Financial Reform.