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Gillibrand renews push for postal banking

A U.S. Postal Service sign
Lucas Willard
A U.S. Postal Service sign

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is renewing efforts to bring banking services to U.S. Post Office branches.

For years, New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand has been pushing for legislation to bring basic banking services to your local post office.

In a virtual press conference Wednesday, Gillibrand said her bill would benefit Americans in lower-income rural and urban areas. And she says it’s not even a new idea.

“The U.S. Postal Services offered postal banking from 1911 to 1967 and it helped millions of families through the Great Depression and two world wars. It was America’s most successful experiment in financial inclusion,” said Gillibrand. “Now, as our country and the postal service are recovering from the immense financial burden of an unprecedented pandemic, this legislation will help us build the foundation for a better, brighter future.”

Gillibrand’s latest version of the bill, announced Wednesday with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, would allow people to set up basic checking and savings accounts, and receive small loans up to $1,000 at the post office.

Gillibrand says the program would pay for itself.

“So, I think to the extent you need more personnel, it can be funded through the $19 billion in revenue that you would create by establishing this program. So you could build up and right-size your personnel based on how many people decided to use it,” said Gillibrand.

Last year, the USPS began a pilot program at four locations – including one in the Bronx.

But there has been limited data on the program. Reached by WAMC, a USPS spokesperson did not offer specifics about how many people have utilized the program – saying the data is proprietary – or if it considers the pilot viable.

A statement reads in part:

Customers at these locations can purchase a single-use gift card of up to $500, using their business or payroll check as payment. Checks larger than $500 will not be accepted and no cash will be disbursed.

This pilot, which is in collaboration with the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), is an example of how the Postal Service is leveraging its vast retail footprint and resources to innovate.

But Gillibrand has been skeptical, and says a 5 dollar fee for utilizing the program is unfair to those who need it most. The USPS considers the fee “industry standard.”

“It was very disappointing how he put that into place. But, I think that could be improved upon. I don’t think you should have to pay any money to access your money.”

The Democrat has been open about her disapproval of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, an appointee of former President Trump.

“He’s terrible. I don’t support him. I hope we can get a new Postmaster General sooner than later,” said Gillibrand.

In the City of Albany, neighborhood groups have been advocating for the establishment of a permanent post office branch in the Pine Hills neighborhood since the closure of a location on New Scotland Avenue.

Zach Simpson, Chair of the Council of Albany Neighborhood Associations, says a temporary post office location on Ontario Street has seen less traffic than the previous location.

Simpson says adding banking could help retain and bring in new postal customers.

“Give it a try, assess it, see if it’s helping increase business, increase options, and really, the United States Post Office, if this does happen, should make sure they engage with the community, make sure they are doing everything they can to get the services we want at the Post Office,” said Simpson.

So far, Gillibrand’s bill is not bipartisan.

“I am going to find the Republicans in the next couple weeks,” said Gillibrand. “And when I do, that increases our chances, obviously, of getting a vote in this Congress and getting it by the end of the year.”

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.