OPINION by Dory Rand in Crain’s Chicago

Angelica Rosales, a hardworking Latina parent of three children, is living paycheck to paycheck.

To cash those paychecks, Rosales often goes to a currency exchange. Her reason for not having a bank account? She doesn’t have enough money. The bank’s terms made a bank account unaffordable. Banks can charge fees based on your minimum balance, frequency of deposits and whether you have direct deposit. An unstable employment situation does not match up well with traditional banking services.

When the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation, a state agency that is part of the Rauner administration, proposed a double-digit check-cashing hike that mirrored exactly what the industry asked for in June, mothers like Rosales knew feeding her family was about to get more difficult.

Rosales got a chance to make her case at a recent public hearing on the proposed rate hike. IDFPR was required by law to hold the hearing because it received so many requests from consumers.

Unfortunately, the hearing was a somewhat stilted affair. Notice of the event was buried in an obscure regulatory publication known as the Illinois Register. Despite this, concerned consumers and their advocates joined together under the rallying cry of Illinois Sen. Jacqueline Collins. At the hearing, these cries were met with cold stares and harsh demands from the industry and its lobbyists. Consumers attending the hearing were told they could not testify unless they first presented their testimony in writing. Opponents of the rate increase were required to testify first; the industry testified last. When Woodstock Institute, a research and policy nonprofit, requested the opportunity to respond to the industry arguments, we were denied. So I will do so here.

The industry, represented by the head of the Community Currency Exchange Association of Illinois, points to decreasing profits as the need for a rate increase. CCEAI’s principal officer, John Iberl, gave testimony intended to respond to a proposal Woodstock Institute tendered to the Rauner administration in July. The gist of our proposal is that certain checks, like public assistance checks, should be exempt from the rate increase.

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