As a formerly undocumented person, I know firsthand the hardships faced by immigrants and communities of color. These communities, while vibrant, face systemic underinvestment in schools, infrastructure, and other services. Growing up, my mother, a single mother who worked multiple jobs to make ends meet, faced these obstacles with a determination that still inspires me today.
I proudly remember that no matter how difficult it was for us here in New York, she still managed to send money home to relatives in Colombia – a practice very familiar to immigrant families. . But this and other seemingly simple tasks come with obstacles if you live in one of the city’s unbanked or underbanked communities. These communities, long abandoned by traditional banking institutions, have come to rely on non-bank financial service centers, also known as check cashers, to access basic but lifesaving financial services such as such as cashing checks, buying money orders or sending money home. to relatives. Financial service centers, which have existed since World War II, have served these communities well, evolving to meet the financial service needs of their customers.
Despite the essential role financial services centers play in the lives of unbanked communities, the state laws governing them have not been updated for many years and now serve to restrict the services that can be provided to our communities. When the laws were first passed around the time of World War II, the average New Yorker earned $2,600 a year, and people of color made up just under 8% of the city’s population. Today, people of color make up nearly 66% of New York City. Our failure for too long to make key adjustments to the laws governing financial services centers has caused many to close or drastically reduce their hours of operation, and has placed an additional burden on communities that have not access to affordable and convenient financial services.
I recently introduced a bill that would modestly update state laws governing check cashers while keeping all existing consumer protections in place. The bill would improve access to financial services centers by allowing them to open more quickly to meet local demand, improve service by allowing centers to communicate digitally and on social media if customers choose this option ( reminder: there were no social media platforms when these laws dating back to WWII were created!), allow customers to cash a wider variety of checks, and increase the dollar amount of checks that can be processed on behalf of the client.
Financial Services Centers not only provide invaluable services to more than one million customers a year, they also employ more than 4,000 hard-working New Yorkers, 80% of whom are people of color. For the many employees who have moved from entry-level positions to management careers in the industry, this has meant financial stability and access to the middle class. The changes I have proposed will allow these businesses to keep their doors open, create jobs, and continue to provide financial services to hard-working New Yorkers.
There must always be a place for progressive and effective regulations to protect New Yorkers. In fact, defending ordinary New Yorkers against the powerful is why I became a public servant. At the same time, regulations, such as those currently governing financial services centers, should not be unnecessarily excessive and burdensome in a way that harms the very people they seek to protect.
No one would expect the World War II regulations, enacted to govern a world without computers and cellphones, to be sufficient in today’s digital and internet world. Likewise, as financial services centers have evolved to meet the needs of the communities they serve, we must ensure that the regulations under which they operate allow them to continue to serve our communities.
Cruz represents Corona, Jackson Heights and other neighborhoods in the State Assembly.