State of RI Slams Unemployed with High Fees Tied to JPMorgan Chase
A New York-based bank with no branch locations in Rhode Island has saddled recipients of unemployment benefits with hidden credit card-style fees as much as five times what state officials say they should be, a GoLocalProv investigation has found.
About a fifth of all Rhode Islanders on unemployment receive their benefits through an electronic payment card (EPC) similar to a debit or credit card that is issued by JPMorgan Chase Bank. The cards are meant to provide easy access to benefits for thousands of recipients, in most cases with no fees and, in the few instances where a fee is charged, the maximum would be $5 for teller withdrawals at a bank, state and JPMorgan Chase officials said in interviews.
Benefits recipient faced fees five times the official rates
But one recipient of unemployment benefits tells GoLocalProv that when he tried to withdraw cash from his card he faced fees that he described as five times that.
James Safford, of North Scituate, was periodically on unemployment benefits in 2012 and 2013 until the federal extension on the benefits was cut by Congress. Safford, who had worked as an archeologist for a cultural resources management firm, opted for the EPC card last December after a state employee at the unemployment benefits calls center told him he would receive his benefits faster that way. (The alternative is direct deposit through Citizens Bank.)
The card can be used to make unlimited debit card-style purchases at retail stores and online for bills, but Safford found there was a catch when it came to making cash withdrawals. When he tried to withdraw more than $100, the ATM he was using would not let him. The only way he could obtain more cash, Safford said, was by making a withdrawal from a bank teller.
But Safford soon discovered that there are no Chase branch locations in Rhode Island. In fact, the closest branch location—at least in terms of mileage—is on Montauk on the eastern point of Long Island. The closest in terms of driving distance is in New Haven, about an hour and a half away.
“You can’t go to a Chase Bank. The only place you can go is another bank and deal with their fees,” Safford told GoLocalProv.