Some Black People Are ‘Underbanked’ But Postal Banking Could Change Things

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A new pilot program at several U.S. Postal Service locations tests the potential for a new future of financial services. The program is limited to postal customers in select areas in Falls Church, Virginia; Baltimore, Maryland; Bronx, New York; and Washington, D.C. 

NBC News reported that customers could cash payroll or government checks of $500 or less. Customers will also have ATM access, bill payment, and expanded money orders and wire transfers. (Read more from NBC News here). 

Citing a May 2021 study from the University of Michigan, NBC News reported approximately 60 million people live in a census tract with a retail post office but not a community bank. Researchers pointed to the need to expand access to financial services to build back from the pandemic.  

“Every person and community needs access to basic financial services to receive money, deposit earnings, save, and pay bills,” read the report. “Many underbanked and unbanked households spend up to 10% of their incomes to cash checks and pay bills, more than their annual spending on food.72 As a result, the alternative financial services industry generates almost $100 billion annually,73 money that could have been saved, invested, or spent locally within a community.” 

An August analysis from Morning Consult found that 10 percent of Americans did not have a checking or savings account. Another 24 percent of Americans are considered underbanked, that is they have a checking or savings account but have needed to use an alternative financial method in the prior year.  

The Morning Consult poll found that Black Americans make up 15 percent of both underbanked and unbanked individuals.  

The American Postal Workers Union has been campaigning for the expansion of services to include postal banking.  An overview of postal banking on the union’s website estimates that 100 million people do not have access to affordable financial services. 

The campaign is a cross-sector effort bringing together faith-based organizations, consumer and worker rights organizations and economic justice groups. According to the site, the country had a postal banking system from 1911 to 1967.,

“We view expanded services as a win for the people of the country, a win for the Postal Service itself, because it will bring in new revenue, and, of course, a win for the postal workers who are extremely dedicated to the mission,” APWU President Mark Dimondstein said in a phone interview with NBC News.  

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