New York's junior member of the U.S. Senate would like to see a bank in every one of the more than 30,000 U.S. Post Office branches across the country.
Kirsten Gillibrand, the Democratic senator, Friday announced she has introduced legislation to that effect during a stop at PUSH Buffalo headquarters on Grant Street.
Gillibrand's bill is a long-shot – she is still working on getting bipartisan support in the Republican-controlled Senate.
But, she is adamant that such legislation is necessary to relieve residents in communities such as those PUSH serves from being captives of predatory lenders.
"Right now, all across the country – including right here in Western New York – there are millions of families that are deprived of their hard-earned money, basically, because they don't have access to banking," Gillibrand said.
Since the 2008 recession, she said, most of the banks that have closed have left low-income neighborhoods, particularly communities of color, like the West Side community served by PUSH Buffalo.
There are two commercial banks in the area, including a Key Bank branch at Grant and West Ferry.
"They're stuck when they need to be able take out a small loan, to pay a heating bill. They can't direct deposit their paycheck, and they can't even cash a check without paying an enormous fee," Gillibrand said.
The proposed community banks that would be located in Post Office branches would, by contrast, have fees at an extremely low rates and allow people to earn interest on their savings, Gillibrand said.
A U.S. Post Office is located about four blocks north of PUSH at Grant Street and Bird Avenue.
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz joined Gillibrand for the announcement of her bill and signed off on it.
"This is the type of legislation in Washington that should be passing. It's a no-brainer. This is not a partisan issue. This is the type of thing that makes differences in urban communities, which are often considered Democratic, and rural communities, which are often considered Republican. It just makes sense for everybody," Poloncarz said.
John Washington II, a West Side resident and community organizer with PUSH, said Gillibrand's bill, if passed, would help address some of the banking issues in the community.
"Buffalo is the third poorest and sixth most segregated city in this country, and the majority of the reason for that is the banking system that has been established and how different government entities have facilitated segregation in the City of Buffalo," Washington said.