Postal Banking Catches Fire

January 1, 2016

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(This article first appeared in the January-February 2016 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Postal banking has been in the news quite a bit in recent months: Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders discussed it on Jimmy Kimmel Live; a new book about the topic has garnered extensive media coverage, and a fiasco involving hip-hop mogul Russell Simpson’s RushCard vividly demonstrated the pitfalls of America’s current banking alternatives. 

During an Oct. 21 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Sanders said, “We have millions and millions of people who have to go to these ‘payday lenders’ and pay outrageous interest rates. They’re getting ripped off right and left.

“We can have our Postal Service provide modest banking to low-income people where they can cash their checks and they can do banking,” Sanders said. “I think it will help the post office and I think it will help millions of low-income people,” he said to enthusiastic applause. Check out the clip at

How the Other Half Banks

How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy, by Professor Mehrsa Baradaran examines “how a significant portion of the population, deserted by banks, is forced to wander through a Wild West of payday lenders and check-cashing services to cover emergency expenses and pay for necessities.”

At an event hosted by the APWU and the National Association of Letter Carriers, Baradaran gave a lively overview of her premise: The United States has two separate banking systems, she said. One system serves the rich, while the other has left millions without access to banks, forcing them to turn to predatory lenders and check cashers.

Baradaran called on the Postal Service to help level the playing field of financial opportunity by providing affordable financial services, from paycheck cashing to small loans.  

Mehrsa Baradaran discussed her book, How the Other Half Banks, at a reception hosted by 
the APWU and NALC.

Baradaran “speaks truth to power and the APWU, NALC, and our allies in the Campaign for Postal Banking are enthusiastic about working with Mehrsa to make this idea a reality,” APWU President Mark Dimondstein said. USPS Inspector General David Williams and NALC Chief of Staff Jim Sauber also addressed the gathering.

The following month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined Baradaran at a forum on Capitol Hill sponsored by Americans for Financial Reform and the Campaign for Postal Banking. The author has also appeared on Democracy Now! and has published numerous articles about postal banking.

RushCard Fiasco

Hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons also made the news this fall, when the prepaid debit card company he co-founded locked out thousands of customers,leaving them unable to access their money, pay the rent, or fill prescriptions. The company, RushCard, markets to the millions of people who are unbanked or underbanked.

Newsweek magazine, reporting on the RushCard debacle, called attention to how the issue had started a “larger discourse on whether postal banking, where postal offices run individual checking and saving accounts – can be a feasible alternative to prepaid debit cards in the near future.”

Tell the Postmaster General to Make Postal Banking a Reality Now

As this issue of The American Postal Worker went to press, the APWU had joined with the Campaign for Postal Banking to launch a nationwide petition to demand that the USPS take the necessary steps to provide expanded financial services.

The petition calls on Postmaster General Megan Brennan to implement postal banking. In addition to providing individuals with a non-profit banking option, postal banking will help strengthen our national treasure, the United States Postal Service. Below is the text:

To: Postmaster General Brennan
As Postmaster General, you can take concrete steps to make postal banking a reality. We, the undersigned call on the Postal Service to provide

  • Paycheck Cashing,
  • Surcharge free ATMs,
  • Bill Paying Services, and
  • Electronic Money Transfers at the more than 30,000 community-based post office branches. Postal banking is a win-win. The time to act is now.

Copies of the petitions were delivered to Brennan in December.

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