Jan 28, 2021 - Axios Events

Sen. Tina Smith: Access to banking is a civil rights issue

Screenshot of Axios virtual event, with Dan Primack on the left and Sen. Tina Smith on the right

Photo: Axios screenshot

Equal access to banking and financial services should be protected under the Civil Rights Act, Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) said on Thursday in an Axios virtual event.

Why it matters: People of color, particularly Black people, risk being racially profiled in visits to banks, yet the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not identify financial institutions as businesses that must not treat black customers differently. "That loophole makes it hard for victims of racial profiling to win in court," a New York Times investigation found.

The big picture: Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), along with Smith and other Democratic senators, in October introduced a bill that looks to outlaw discrimination by banks and other financial institutions, ensuring that this type of discrimination is covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

  • The bill needs to be reintroduced to the new Congress in order to be considered.

What she's saying: Smith addressed a case in which a black woman tried to cash a check from her bank, but was denied from doing so, saying, "it's hard not to see that as anything but racial profiling — I'm holding her back, keeping her from exercising the same kind of banking that we white people honestly take for granted."

  • "What the bill that Sherrod Brown has that I'm co-leading with him would do is it would bring under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banking and financial services, prohibiting discrimination in banking and financial services."

Worth noting: Smith also addressed wealth inequality and Senate Democrats' effort to raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2025.

  • "[R]aising the minimum wage to $15 an hour —raises over time so it gets to $15 an hour by 2025 — is one of the biggest things that we can do to address the wage inequality and savings potential for people of color in this country," Smith said.

Go deeper: Watch the full Axios event.

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