By Senator Lena C. Taylor
It usually takes a crisis for you to realize what you don’t have…batteries, a fire extinguisher, money. After all, in 2005, it was the lack of money or the access to money that may have attributed to so many African Americans not surviving Hurricane Katrina. When the deadly weather forecasts were encouraging people to leave New Orleans, many African Americans lacked the money to get to safety. As others fled what would become one of the deadliest hurricanes ever to hit American soil, many people had neither the resources nor the income to travel immediately to safety. In all, an estimated 1,833 people died during Hurricane Katrina.
It’s not the literal breaking of levees that is impacting the African American community right now, but the breakdown of figurative systems and structures intended to hold life together. We are flooded with a number of disasters and at times it feels like we are going under. COVID-19, economic distress, and a breaking of the social contract on policing. Civil unrest and protests are saturating every corner of our nation. As people and business work to stay afloat, they are making difficult choices to navigate turbulent times. Of those choices emerged a clear need for plans and legislation.
An example would be the recent decision of area banks to close their locations to any in-person transactions, other than ATMs. Early on Tuesday morning, I started receiving calls that Milwaukee area TCF Bank drive-through windows were closed. The lights were off and there was not a bank employee in sight. People had no way to access their money to handle transactions higher than $500 or without a debit card in Milwaukee. We were told that if people needed to see a teller, then they needed to drive to a TCF location in Racine, WI. We were told that this decision was made due to the protests connected to George Floyd’s murder and the riots that had ensued.
As my office and State Rep. Lakeshia Myers’ office began to get to the bottom of what was going on, we learned a few interesting things. We learned that there are state-chartered banks and federally chartered banks. TCF Bank is a federally chartered bank and can make the decision to close their doors, without formally notifying the State of Wisconsin. We learned that there were several other banks that had completely closed their doors and drive-throughs, as well. As legislators, we were caught off guard and our communities stood to be severely impacted.
It is because of this lesson that Myers and I are drafting legislation that says at the very least our State Department of Financial Institutions must be notified when a federally-charted bank is going to temporarily close their physical doors and drive-throughs to customers. We need a plan to keep these banks safe. Yet, we cannot impede members of the community from fully accessing their bank accounts, particularly in an emergency.