Of the many issues swirling around Albany as the legislative session draws to a close, few should be less controversial than ensuring New Yorkers are paid the wages they earn, without getting cheated or charged when they try to spend their money.
In New York State, we can do that by passing legislation to protect workers who use payroll cards, prepaid debit cards that are being used in lieu of paychecks and direct deposits. Should the State Legislature fail to act, the state Department of Labor should issue regulations that would protect workers.
Imagine you are 17 and on your first job, or that you don't speak English, or don't know how to use a computer. On payday, your employer hands you something that looks like a credit card and tells you it's your pay. When you use it, you're surprised by fees for withdrawals, purchases and even checking your balance, as my office reported last year. In some programs, the average per-employee fees ran as high as $20 per month.
In some cases, payroll cards offer important benefits over paper checks, including greater efficiency and reduced environmental impact. They can be more reliable during natural disasters, and provide a useful alternative for workers without bank accounts, who may otherwise have to pay check-cashing companies.
My Payroll Card Act, which has bipartisan support and is sponsored by Republican Sen. Patrick Gallivan and Democratic Assemb. Joe Morelle, would ensure workers are clearly informed about card fees, require informed consent to use the cards, prevent excessive fees and allow workers to withdraw wages free of charge.
While some companies have improved the way they use payroll cards, the legislature should protect workers by passing the bill before this session ends next month. If it fails to act, the Department of Labor can require full disclosure of payroll card terms, informed consent on the part of workers before payroll cards are used, limitations on fees for common transactions, and cost-free access to wages via a network of ATMs.
New Yorkers deserve legal protection to make sure payroll cards do not chip away at their wages. One way or another, New York State must deliver for workers this year.
Eric T. Schneiderman is New York's attorney general.