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M&T joins most banks in waiving ATM fees on public benefits

M&T Bank Corp. has joined a list of more than 80 banks in the state -- including all of the largest -- that have agreed to voluntarily waive surcharge fees on government-issued benefits obtained electronically through any of their ATMs.

The state now issues cash assistance benefits electronically, using special debit cards to allow recipients to access the funds. Banks normally waive fees for their own customers, but electronic benefit transfer cardholders don't automatically avoid the charges if they're not customers of the institutions.

Most of the state's and region's biggest banks -- including HSBC Bank USA, Citibank, Bank of America, Citizens Bank, and KeyBank -- have been waiving the fees on recipients of benefits for some time. Also on the list are Alden State Bank, Bank of Castile, Community Bank, Evans Bank, First Niagara Bank, Northwest Savings Bank and Tompkins Trust Co.

But M&T didn't join until after discussions between the State Banking Department and M&T CEO Robert G. Wilmers. The new announcement means recipients of government benefits who access their cash assistance through automated teller machines owned by M&T will no longer pay the extra fees, regardless of whether they are M&T customers.

M&T, which currently charges a $3 surcharge when non-customers use one of its ATMs, in September collected $20,700 across its 12 New York City locations and 402 upstate locations in electronic benefit surcharges.

"Low-income families simply cannot afford paying fees to receive their benefits, and with transportation access difficult for many of our clients, finding a surcharge-free ATM is not always realistic," said David A. Hansell, commissioner of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. "Saving even a few dollars a transaction will add up for these families."

M&T spokeswoman M. Jean Hill said the state banking department asked the bank last month if it would waive the fee and the bank readily agreed, with the change going into effect in November. But she couldn't explain why M&T was just now joining the list when the other banks were already on it. "We did it when we were asked," she said.

Still not on the list locally are Lake Shore Savings Bank, Five Star Bank, Bank of Holland, Bank of Akron, and Cattaraugus County Bank.

e-mail: jepstein@buffnews.com

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