By Christy Rae Ammons
Several proposals are under way to provide banking services, such as ATMs, paycheck cashing, bill payment, electronic money transfers and small-dollar loans, at Bronx post offices in hopes of making residents less reliant on alternative financial services.
While the proposals are being championed by the postal union and federal legislators representing the Bronx, Community Board 7’s district manager, Ischia Bravo, worries about the Postal Service biting off more responsibility than it can chew. “Overall, and my board agrees, we think it’s a good idea for a pilot program to begin; however, you know, given the underlying issues that the post office already has, like the long lines for the services they currently provide, I don’t think it would be conducive to now add these [banking] services without more personnel,” she said.
Nora Taggart, a postal union worker and advocate for Campaign for Postal Banking (a petition), spoke to Community Board 7 in early June. She explained that the Postal Service already does money orders and cashes checks for the Treasury, and the Campaign for Postal Banking wants to improve and expand those services. Taggart agreed that the Postal Service would have to hire more staff in order to put this proposal into action, but that the Postmaster needs to sign off on it first.
Taggart said the short term plan is to start a pilot program for postal banking in the Bronx by getting the Postmaster to agree to have paycheck cashing, bill payment, and ATM services at post offices which would only expand on the existing services. The long term plan would be nationwide and would require congressional action so that the Postal Service could provide lending services as well.
According to statistics from New Economy Project, a citywide nonprofit organization, the Bronx has more check cashers and pawn shops than traditional bank branches, unlike New York City as a whole. These alternative financial services often have high fees and interest rates, causing further expense to low-income families who do not have access to traditional banking— the underbanked.
Government officials Congressman José E. Serrano and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand are supporting the proposal. In a letter to the U.S. Postmaster General, Serrano pointed out that 52.3 percent of Bronx households are underbanked, double the national average of 27.7 percent.
Deyanira Del Rio, co-director of New Economy Project, is less concerned about congestion at the post office, and more concerned about the future of loans provided by the Postal Service, and the unknown interest rates. “I think for one there’s a lot of talk about postal banks and how it can make loans that could kind of help shore up the financials of the postal banking system. We think that that’s kind of a dangerous path to go down,” said Del Rio.
Bravo, aside from a lack of employees, thinks postal banking is a good proposal. “We want more personnel. We want to make sure that our community is getting the right services at a speedy time,” she said. “The goal [of the postal banking initiative] is to offer cheaper rates than other banks [or services] and also to relieve some of the pressure that the Bronx already has.”