Banks’ refusal to accept IDNYC is hurting New Yorkers

It’s not a pretty picture.

The NYPD, along with schools, city buildings and museums, accept it. Federal banking regulators gave it a thumbs up. And yet, somehow, banks across the five boroughs are rejecting the city’s municipal identification card known as IDNYC.

For all the talk of reaching low-income, minority and immigrant neighborhoods, for all the promises of community reinvestment, bank officials have shown their true colors with their response to IDNYC, which more than 700,000 people have obtained so far.

And it’s not a pretty picture. Greater access to banks was to be a key benefit of the card, introduced one year ago. But if city residents can’t open a bank account, establish credit or create a financial footprint using IDNYC as primary identification, it’s virtually useless to those who need it most, including immigrants here illegally. Applicants who seek the municipal identification card must provide documents that prove identity and residence. At least one document must have a photo and one must have a date of birth, and the applicant must apply in person.

Federal banking regulators, including the Federal Reserve and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., wrote the city last spring in support of the program and the ID card, but stopped short of mandating acceptance by banks. The state banking association chief, meanwhile, says the organization is “looking into it.” A few banks, including Amalgamated, Carver and several credit unions, will accept the card as primary identification. Some accept it only as secondary identification. Many won’t take it at all. Some cite the program’s infancy or concerns over fraud, but no one has shown evidence of problems or fraud, or made specific suggestions to overcome roadblocks.

It’s troubling that NYC pushed the program to the starting line without knowing what regulators would say, and without banks’ support. City officials should first have had an agreement from financial institutions before introducing the card. Now, the city should sit down with the banking industry and figure out what is needed to get them on board. Bank executives claim they’re committed to serving everyone. Now, it’s time to show that’s true.

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