Whither the Postal Regulatory Commission?

In September 2021, we announced that the Postal Service and the APWU had partnered on a limited proof-of-concept test of expanded financial services in a few post offices. The early stage of the test would allow consumers to convert payroll or other business checks, up to $500 in value, onto a prepaid debit card.

While the initial announcement fell short of the Campaign’s demand for a more robust array of postal financial services, it marked an important milestone in our campaign to leverage the postal network and the public’s trust in postal workers to address the needs of the unbanked and underbanked in this country.

It was, as President Dimondstein wrote, “a small step in a positive direction.”

The initial months of the test program showed small progress. Because of the limited number of sites and the Postal Service’s delay in marketing the product, only a few checks were cashed at the four participating post offices. But those transactions showed that the technology at the register and the training provided to clerks worked; there were no other problems identified in the test program.

To their credit, and at the urging of the APWU representatives on the joint task force, the Postal Service continued to develop marketing materials for the paycheck cashing test, continued working on additional financial services, study additional areas to assess demand for such products, and invest in additional back-end security for the program, all with an eye to expand the test program.

And when Congressional opponents of postal banking tried to slow them down, postal management responded confidently that the program was within their authority and they intended to move forward.

By the Spring of 2022, the joint union-management task force had agreed on a plan to expand to at least 50 post office locations, increase the dollar amount transferable to the prepaid cards, and to continue working on the early-stage development of additional services.

While the tangible progress of the program was limited at the time, there was real hope that a broader program, better suited to meet the needs of the underbanked, was taking form. But that progress was halted suddenly when the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) stepped into the fray.

In June 2022, the PRC opened a docket to study the program. Its review process questioned how the check-cashing program differs from the longstanding gift card product on offer at post offices around the country, and how the Postal Service envisions the program evolving.

While it may seem the PRC is “just asking questions,” it has the ability to kill the financial services program in its infancy. This is a serious threat to the future of our campaign and the ability to expand the Postal Service’s role to continue meeting the needs of the people of the country.

Postal management has continued to maintain that the check-cashing program lies squarely within its authority under the law and the regulations governing the USPS. But the PRC’s saber-rattling through the docket has proven already to be a setback: postal management has refused to advance with the additional sites until the PRC provides clarity on their position.

While this may seem reasonable, the PRC still hasn’t acted despite opening the docket last June. And so, supporters of expanding postal financial services find ourselves waiting for the impasse to break.

But let’s not just wait. Our movement can continue to make a difference. Ensuring the PRC has a majority of members who view postal financial services favorably and continuing to pressure postal management to do the right thing, must be priorities for the year ahead.

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