To the Members of the Financial Reform Conference Committee:
I have worked all of my adult life as an advocate for the poor, the voiceless and the under-served. Two weeks ago, I came to Washington to meet with members of Congress about my deep concern of the unintended consequences that the Durbin Amendment would have on the poor in America. Since then I've heard a lot of talk but I'm increasingly concerned that the central issue, the affect on the the most vulnerable in our country is not fully appreciated by those making the decision. I want to point out what's at stake:
Debit cards are the entry point for millions of Americans into the American financial system. Debit cards are what keep the under-served -- including minorities, immigrants, the poor, soldiers, veterans and students -- from the claws of payday lenders and check cashers, from humiliating lines waiting to cash their paychecks and then more lines to pay their bills. Debit cards are giving the 80 million Americans, who would otherwise go to check cashing and payday stores, the convenience and respect that those with credit cards and bank accounts take for granted. This very system is being singled out for attack just when it should be favored over credit cards. Credit cards are out of reach for the under-served and they encourage you to borrow when you shouldn't be. Yet the alternative is being targeted.
As the owner of a debit card company, I know first hand how being part of the American economy can change someone's future. However, let me be clear, this is not about my company or me: in fact this amendment will have comparatively little and possibly a positive effect on my particular business. This is about ensuring that within our desire to create financial reforms, we do not do so at the expense of the poor.
I have studied the Durbin Amendment. I have spoken to Congressman, Congresswomen, Senators and their staffs. I have spoken to groups that have no hidden agenda: the Community Banks and Credit Unions -- the good guys in the financial system. I don't work for Visa or Mastercard and I don't give a damn about the profits of the big banks. Regulation is long overdue, and I support the "Move Your Money" campaign to support community banks, credit unions and specialist providers of debit card services. No one has yet been able to tell me how Senator Durbin's amendment will keep the under-served from being hurt by higher fees for the very basic service that debit cards provide or how the amendment will ensure lower prices for consumers instead of bigger profits for merchants. I can't believe financial reform has come down to this: big retailers in a money grab on the backs of the poor and under-served.
Is this the Democratic Party I know and support? Is this the Congressional Black Caucus? The Hispanic Caucus? The Progressive Caucus? The Obama Administration? Where is the fairness in this amendment? The rich keep their "interchange" subsidy from their credit cards, but the working people, the debit card customer -- sorry, you're on your own.
I have advocated on behalf of the poor for new language in this amendment that will protect them, and I have received assurances that it will come. However, until I see action behind the words, I will continue to fight for the needs of poor people. I will not let this issue go unaddressed. I will keep it alive in every election until you right the wrongs in this amendment and protect the poor.
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