The state of Oregon changed the way it issued unemployment benefits a few years back. While some of the changes make sense, the way they’ve played out has in some cases hurt the very people the program is designed to help.
State Treasurer Ted Wheeler will have the opportunity to improve things in the next few months, and he should take it.
Oregon no longer mails unemployment checks to those out of work. Rather, benefits can be deposited directly into one’s bank account, or U.S. Bank will issue a ReliaCard debit card loaded with the benefits. The shift has helped reduce check fraud and prevented the unemployed without bank accounts from having to pay fees to check-cashing institutions. It’s the fees U.S. Bank charges that Wheeler must address when the contract with the bank expires at the end of the year.
In fact, Oregon’s ReliaCard fees are among the highest in the nation, according to the National Consumer Law Center.
U.S. Bank charges $17 for each overdraft, for example, the second highest charge in the nation. Banks in all but five states using unemployment debit cards, meanwhile, charge no overdraft fees at all. The treasurer’s office says that when negotiations on a new contract begin at the end of the month, the overdraft fees will go away. Other, less serious, problems remain, however. Among them, U.S. Bank gives Oregon ReliaCard custormers four free opportunities to get cash rather than goods from the cards, but it charges fees after that.
At least two Oregon groups, the local Partnership to End Poverty and Economic Fairness Oregon, based in Portland, are working to ensure that Wheeler is aware of the problems with the U.S. Bank ReliaCard fees. The partnership, for example, has written Wheeler and is encouraging visitors to its website to contact their state legislators about the problem.
We hope Wheeler gets the message.
– Wescom News Service (The Bulletin)
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