According to a new report from the National Consumer Law Center, jobless Americans are being forced to pay millions of dollars in unnecessary fees to big banks in order to access their unemployment insurance benefits. Several states do not give beneficiaries the option of having their benefits deposited directly into their bank accounts, forcing them to instead use prepaid debt cards, which come along with a host of fees and surcharges.
As the Associated press noted, the nation’s biggest banks make a killing under this system:
Banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co., U.S. Bancorp and Bank of America Corp. seized on government payments as a business opportunity. They pitched card programs to states as a win-win: States would save millions in overhead costs because the cards would be issued for free. And people without bank accounts would avoid the big fees charged by storefront check cashers.
However, most of the people being hit with fees already have bank accounts. The bank-state partnerships effectively shifted the cost of distributing payments from governments to individuals. The money needed to cover those costs is deducted from people’s unemployment benefits in the form of fees.
Big banks have also racked up huge profits administering food stamp programs. As the NCLC noted, “Even well-designed prepaid cards impose costs on workers, though the price is likely lower than the cost of cashing paper checks. In California, which continues to have the best card in our survey, workers paid nearly $1.8 million in fees in the past year, not including ATM surcharges. Thus, offering workers the choice of direct deposit remains important even for prepaid cards with the fewest fees.”