Amid all of the Chris Christie stories and SOTU writeups, the Postal Service Inspector General released a report that has the potential to spark a needed and timely debate about banking, the US Postal Service, and people who need access to banking services.
Elizabeth Warren jumped right onto it, pointing out that it solves two problems.
The first problem is access to banking services by those who have no checking or savings account.
According to a report put out this week by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Postal Service, about 68 million Americans -- more than a quarter of all households -- have no checking or savings account and are underserved by the banking system. Collectively, these households spent about $89 billion in 2012 on interest and fees for non-bank financial services like payday loans and check cashing, which works out to an average of $2,412 per household. That means the average underserved household spends roughly 10 percent of its annual income on interest and fees -- about the same amount they spend on food.
Think about that: about 10 percent of a family's income just to manage getting checks cashed, bills paid, and, sometimes, a short-term loan to tide them over. That's more than a full month's income just to try to navigate the basics.
The second problem is the chronic budget shortfalls the USPS is bending under because of the unreasonable requirement that they fully fund all pension liabilities for the next 75 years -- a requirement no private business has to meet. Dave Dayen:
Stabilizing the post office’s finances would prevent more of the hundreds of thousands of layoffs we’ve already seen, and give new life to one of the largest job creators in America. Moreover, this is a classic inequality reducer. Simply getting access to financial services is a key step for social and economic mobility, and would allow for better quality of life and, perhaps, increased opportunities for advancement.
All that remains, then, to make postal banking a reality is for the USPS to accept the Inspector General’s recommendation. Unfortunately, Postmaster General Thomas Donohoe has largely looked to closing facilities, streamlining personnel, and raising rates to salvage the Postal Service. Innovative proposals have not topped his list. Agency officials have declined to endorse the IG report thus far.
I agree with Dave on this. This is one of those situations where President Obama should weigh in with whatever he can do as President to allow this idea to go forward.
Here’s a perfect opening on an issue of equal access, of affordability, of saving an American institution. Sure, the banks will squawk: the chief counsel of the American Bankers Association has already pronounced himself “deeply concerned”—but as the IG report shows, they have no interest in serving this community. So surely that won’t stop the President from urging the USPS to take advantage of this lucrative and worthwhile option. Unless he values payday lenders and greedy middlemen more than the financial security of the Postal Service and millions of poor Americans.
This is a slam-dunk for the president, the USPS and the country. I'm only amazed it hasn't been done already.