KENMORE, Wash. -- For people struggling to survive in this economy, sometimes welfare is the only help they can get. One woman says Chase Bank is profiting off those people and it's not right.
Cat Sullivan, an activist with P.O.W.E.R. (Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights) is taking on a big bank for people like Mary Williams. Williams is on welfare, she receives $385 a month. Rent is $300, which leaves $85 to live on for an entire month. Mary says she never imagined being in this spot. "Not really, no! I had a good career for ten years, was laid off a couple of years ago."
Mary's welfare money is put on an electronic benefits transfer card. The state has a contract with Chase Bank to handle those cards. Every time a welfare recipient uses an EBT card, Chase charges 85 cents. It might not sound like a lot but Sulliavna syas it is a lot for people who have to count every penny. "That's half of a transit fare." The withdrawal fees net Chase $100,000 a month. That's on top of the $800,000 the state pays them. "It's wrong!" says Sullivan. She wants to make sure everyone in Washington knows about the fee. Mary says, "I didn't realize there was a fee. My checkbook wasn't balancing, now they put up an error message, you'll be charged 85 cents." Governor Chris Gregoire's office says, "It is unacceptable for a big bank to profit off the most vulnerable." However, the Department of Social and Health Services argues, the contract "is just the cost of doing business."
Chase refused to comment because the state is a client. We do know the bank is in negotiations with the state over this contract but the details aren't being released.