Pressley keeping a close eye on banks amid branch pullbacks

Since the start of the pandemic, banks have closed more than three dozen branches in Boston and two hundred more across Massachusetts.

WBUR reported last year that in Dorchester, closures included the Bank of America branch at 740 Gallivan Boulevard, the Rockland Trust site at 960 Morrissey Boulevard, and Santander at 2 Morrissey. According to WBUR’s analysis, Mattapan didn’t see any closures.

The closings, some of them in low to moderate-income areas, have caught the eye of US Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a Hyde Park Democrat who represents parts of Dorchester and Mattapan. She is a member of the House Financial Services Committee, which handles oversight of the banking system.

In Boston, 10 percent of households are “unbanked,” meaning people who don’t use or have access to financial services, and 20 percent are “underbanked,” meaning people who may have a bank account but also draw on payday loans, according to Pressley.

“If you’re shutting down branches, it just limits how they use those services,” she told the Reporter in a recent interview. “When you find people in a period of financial strain, like student loan payments resuming, they resort to predatory lenders who offer payday loans.”

Pressley spoke to the Reporter after sending letters to the CEOs of the five largest banks in America, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo, and Citi, that were keyed to the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which occurred on Aug. 28. It was at the Lincoln Memorial that day 60 years ago that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Pressley’s letters asked for updates on “racial equity commitments” that the banks made after the 2020 murder of George Floyd, whose death by police sparked protests across the country. The initial pledge that many of the institutions made was an “encouraging first step,” she said, when the historical role they played in creating racial injustice is considered, including the denial of credit for Black homebuyers and entrepreneurs.

The banking system has “historically entrenched disparities in our country, denying Black people opportunities to grow our wealth and achieve financial prosperity,” Pressley wrote in the letters. “As one of the five largest banks in the United States, it is critical your financial power is used to rectify the wrongdoing and heal the very communities harmed by the historical and contemporary role that institutions such as yours have played and continue to play in perpetuating racial inequities.”

Pressley is seeking financial reports from the banks by Oct. 23 on demographic and geographic details, policy matters and future plans. “I believe these banks will respond to our inquiries and make good on their pledges and promises if they want to be on the right side of history,” she said.

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