Credit: Photo by Yender Gonzalez on Unsplash

In New York and across the country, the coronavirus pandemic wreaked havoc on the Black community. Job losses for Black Americans reached nearly 18% last summer, and our rates of severe cases of COVID-19 and hospitalization were two to three times higher than white Americans. After this devastating year, I’m glad to see that leaders in Washington are passing legislation to aid our recovery like the American Rescue Plan, which extended unemployment benefits and funded vaccine distribution. Now we should focus on expanding access to affordable health care, helping our small businesses, and fighting for equal pay.

But just when our communities are finally starting to heal, I am appalled to see that greedy corporations such as Walmart and Amazon are lobbying to revamp old legislative proposals that could threaten our economic recovery. More than 10 years ago, Congress passed a law to regulate debit card fees and impose new burdens on community banks and credit unions, saying it would lower costs. The result? Huge retailers pocketed an extra $90 billion and never lowered prices for consumers. In 2014, the Richmond Federal Reserve found that 98% of retailers either raised prices or kept them the same.

Now, the same big box stores that are crowding out New York small businesses are coming back

for an even bigger payout. This time, they’re demanding that Congress give them another payday

by letting them take your purchases and route them to the least expensive and least secure

payment network—even Chinese companies like China UnionPay.

Today, economists say this change could result in up to 8 million Black Americans losing access to credit. But our community has already seen the harmful impact of these types of policies. Big retail’s successful lobbying effort 10 years ago limited access to banking for millions of Black Americans. When banks lost billions after debit card regulation, they passed those losses onto us by taking away free checking, raising account minimums, and adding even more fees. The National Black Chamber of Commerce points out that many low-income and minority consumers rely on services such as free checking accounts and low fees to keep their bank accounts open. According to a study from George Mason University in 2014, this misguided law led to an additional 1 million unbanked Americans. With Black-owned businesses increasing exponentially in the District 12 community, we must rally together to ensure that we are taking a stand for what legislations are in our best interests, and undo the effects of laws such as the Durbin Amendment, which does not serve us.

If we let greedy corporations such as Amazon and Walmart secure another massive payout by allowing them to route consumer transactions through the cheapest option, including Chinese options, access to banking will become even more limited and Black-owned businesses will suffer. Banks would make up for lost revenue by slashing credit card rewards programs and restricting access to credit, severely limiting banking access for marginalized communities. This would create an estimated wealth transfer of $40 to $50 billion per year from consumers to big box stores, while millions of Black Americans would be at risk of losing access to credit.

New Yorkers need to safeguard the economic future of Black families by ensuring that banking services continue to remain accessible. We should stand up to the corporations seeking to crowd out Black-owned businesses and reject their shameless attempts to harm consumers. I advocate for the importance of financial literacy and expanding the knowledge of my community. We have already begun to do the work by becoming business owners, supporting our local Black-owned businesses, buying stocks, and practicing proper credit card utilization. Now is the time to remain vigilant and keep the momentum.