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Finally, some regulations for prepaid cards

Nov 17, 2016

Des Moines Register, Nov. 10

Finally, some regulations for prepaid cards


An Iowan arrives for his first day at a new job and is faced with a stack of paperwork. It includes an agreement to be paid on a debit card given to him by the boss. The worker may wrongly believe the card is the only option for collecting wages and sign the form. A few weeks later he discovers fees for withdrawing money, transferring it to his personal bank account, talking to a “live agent” about his so-called payroll card or replacing a lost card.

This was a common scenario encountered by Iowa workers, a 2014 Des Moines Register editorial investigation into debit cards found. Those workers will finally see some protections related to the cards.

Millions of Americans, frequently low-wage workers in retail stores and restaurants, are paid on debit cards provided by an employer and administered by third-party financial institutions. About $30.6 billion in wages was paid on these cards in 2013 and the amount is expected to reach $44.6 billion in 2019. Employers view cards as a uniform, effective way to distribute wages. Workers without traditional bank accounts — perhaps due to a troubled financial history and poor credit — may find them convenient.

But numerous concerns about the cards have surfaced in recent years. These include excessive fees, selling or sharing of personal employee information, transparency and the extent to which banks and employers may share revenue generated by the cards.

And they certainly generate revenue.

The cost to quickly replace a lost payroll card can be as high as $19, according to documents shared with this newspaper by Iowa workers. The mother of one teen contacted us because her daughter’s card was stolen and the wages deposited on it could not be collected. Another Iowan provided paperwork revealing charges to transfer money and check balances. Workers may only be able to withdraw cash from a few banks or ATMs.

State law is silent on payroll cards. Iowa lawmakers have failed to pass legislation imposing the most basic worker protections on this method of payment. Fortunately, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is doing what it can to look out for average people.

In early October the agency issued a final rule to provide protections to users of a variety of prepaid cards, including those sold at retail stores and those used to distribute government benefits and wages. Typically loaded with funds by a consumer or third party, the cards leave users vulnerable in the event of fraud, theft or loss. The rule limits a consumer’s responsibility for fraudulent withdrawals and purchases to $50. It requires banks to make account information easily accessible and free. Consumers will be able to see a history of transactions and fees.

Existing federal rules prohibit employers from requiring workers to be paid on these cards. Yet the Americans who do rely on them to collect wages should have some basic protections.


Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, Nov. 11

Doing our part for Vietnam Veterans


Journalists are not supposed to blow their own horn. That’s because we are not the story. The people and events we write about are the story.

That’s definitely the case with what we are about to tell you.

We’re pleased at a small bit of state recognition the Grout Museum District and The Courier received recently — not for ourselves but for the people we wrote about — and the ordeal they endured.

They are people for whom recognition was once short in supply, and it’s long overdue. And it’s appropriate to highlight them today, Veterans Day.

Those people, heroes in our midst, served our nation during the Vietnam War.

The Grout Museum, home to the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum, collaborated with The Courier last fall on a series, “They Served with Honor.” We featured 50 Vietnam veterans in 50 days based on videotaped oral histories previously provided to the Grout Museum District by the veterans themselves and further researched by our news staff.

The series received a state award at the Iowa Tourism Conference in Davenport for outstanding marketing collaboration between the Grout and The Courier. The series ran concurrent with the Grout District’s exhibit “365 Days and Counting: Iowans in the Vietnam War,” displayed July 2015 to July 2016.

The exhibit was set up by an advisory committee of local Vietnam veterans and was kicked off with a homecoming parade in downtown Waterloo for those veterans.

The Grout has hundreds of oral histories from veterans of all eras. With the museum district staff’s help, we selected primarily Northeast Iowa Vietnam veterans. A few of the veterans had died since providing their oral histories. We featured one veteran a day for 50 days.

The features “helped shine a light on the stories of the men and women who proudly served our county during one of the most controversial wars in history and also helped spread awareness about a powerful exhibit that educated the public and helped heal those who lived through it 50 years ago,” state tourism officials said in a release announcing the award.

Their stories are an important part of our history. These veterans speak for comrades who have passed on and those who didn’t come back. They are our parents and grandparents, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, sons, daughters and friends.

These veterans were received with indifference, even hostility, when they returned home. Their service needs to be acknowledged and never forgotten. We tried to do our part to accomplish that with this project. If it gave our readers new or renewed appreciation for those who served and what they endured, we did our job.

The stories may still be viewed online on The Courier’s website at the link: www.wcfcourier.com/special-section/vietnam-veterans/

As Army veteran Charles M. Province’s poem “It Is The Soldier” says, in part: “It is the soldier, not the reporter who has given us freedom of the press.”

We’re keenly aware of that. That’s why we were humbled and honored to do this series along with our ongoing coverage of veterans of all ages, eras, branches of service and conflicts.

We appreciate you. We honor you. And it is with the deepest gratitude we say to you all, Happy Veterans Day.

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