Charging the poor

I love how Tennessee thinks: Hey, we’re not ripping them off as much as the check-cashing places were, so that makes us the good guys!

WASHINGTON — Many states shortchange the jobless by distributing unemployment benefits on debit cards loaded with obnoxious fees, according to a new study by the National Consumer Law Center.

Of the 40 states that have switched from paper checks to prepaid debit cards, 22 states’ cards charge ATM fees, 24 charge balance inquiry fees, and 28 charge inactivity fees. The cards in Arkansas, Idaho, Nebraska, Ohio, and Oregon come with overdraft fees ranging from $10 to $20.

And in Connecticut, Iowa, Rhode Island, and Tennessee, cardholders “must pay for every ATM inquiry or pay a denied transaction fee if they request cash when their balance is insufficient,” the study says.

Tennessee stands out for having the card with the most “junk fees,” the study says. Tennessee’s card, provided by JPMorgan Chase, charges $1 for initial ATM withdrawals, 40 cents for balance inquiries, and 25 cents whenever someone swipes the card at checkout. It’s one of just four states that doesn’t provide even one free ATM withdrawal per deposit.

Tennessee doesn’t think its card’s fees are junk.

“I’m not sure calling them ‘junk fees’ is a fair statement,” said Jeff Hentschell, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Workforce Development, which distributes Tennessee Automated Payment cards for jobless benefits. “When you look at the context of where we were and where we are today, the fees are actually minimal compared to where people were going to cash paper checks before.”

I wonder which politicians are paying off which banker friends with these contracts?

2 thoughts on “Charging the poor

  1. Plus they tax it. Wish somebody would work that one up into a political ad. Show somebody getting taxed on their $250/wk paycheck and then show what Exxon or Goldman Sachs pay.

  2. I wrote a column about this type of thing back in the 90s when Veep Al Gore got behind welfare $$$ and food stamps going on ATM-type cards. I too spoke of bank fees, withdrawal fees, etc. Of course, I was treated like someone who wanted to take food out of babies’ mouths, but I saw it as the excessive fees as literally taking $$$ from their mouths, $1-2 at a time. This is no different.

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