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Black Business Review

by Marilyn Kai Jewett

A few years ago, I got an email about public banking from good friend and former client Stan Pokras, founder of Nonprofit Technology Resources, which brought computer technology to the grassroots community. Although NTR no longer exists, Stan is still in the forefront of initiatives to make things better for the people. He’s been in the forefront of the movement to bring public banking to Philadelphia and has been talking it up to me for years. Now, I’m starting to hear what Stan’s been saying and I think it’s a good idea.

In 2011 the Public Banking Institute (PBI) was organized as an educational non-profit to explore the possibilities and facilitate implementation of public banking at the local, regional, state and national levels. The organization is working to establish a network of publicly-owned banks that will create affordable credit and allow communities to declare independence from Wall Street’s high-risk, expensive, unaccountable private banking system. Modeled after the successful Bank of North Dakota, these banks would be mandated to act in the best interests of its residents and use their credit-generating ability for community needs like infrastructure, clean energy, affordable housing and other programs important to the residents. Twenty states, including New Jersey, are considering legislation to create public banks and more municipalities are joining the movement.

The Pennsylvania Public Bank Project was formed to further the movement for public banks in the Commonwealth. Its mission is “the creation of a network of public/partnership banks in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to provide affordable credit for locally directed economic development and jobs creation, sound municipal finances, the reduction of public debt, affordable education, home ownership and a strong local banking industry.”

In October of 2012, PBI held their first national conference here and another in 2014 that attracted 200 people to Philly from throughout the nation. The conference was promoted and supported by the Pennsylvania Project. At that time, about 20 people from Philly decided to create the Philadelphia Caucus. Pokras built the email list to inform people of the progress of the movement here in Pennsylvania. Since then, Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks has been leading the Philly movement for a public bank.

The cities of Pittsburgh, Reading and Luzerne and Washington counties have also joined the state movement for a public bank. Several people from Philly are members of the Pennsylvania Project’s Advisory Board including Emma Chappell, founder and former CEO of United Bank; Stan Shapiro, longtime housing attorney and founder of Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks; Richardson Dilworth, director of the Center for Public Policy at Drexel University; and Anne Gemmell, field director for the Pre-K for PA Campaign of Public Citizens for Children and Youth.

City Councilperson at-large Derek Green has been working with the Philly caucus to move the initiative forward on City Council. The city set-aside funds to conduct a feasibility study on the City of Philadelphia's ability to establish and operate a municipally owned bank. That RFP closed in March. No word on who got the contract. The Pennsylvania Project has been lobbying state legislators since 2014 and recently have focused their attention on Republicans who sit on and control the Senate Banking and House Finance Committees. It’s imperative to have bi-partisan support on this issue in order for it to be approved.

“Fraud became a business model and the ‘too-big-to-fail’ banks failed,” wrote Mike Krauss, chair of the Pennsylvania Project in a letter. “The American people lost many trillions of dollars of their wealth. The middle class was devastated, while the gamblers made off with their fortunes. Nothing has changed, and the American people are awakening to the reality that the federal government has been “compromised” – as one reporter writing for the Wall Street Journal so carefully put it. Tens of millions of dollars of annual lobbying by the banks, and now who knows how many millions of campaign contributions guarantee federal inaction. And the sources of these “legalized bribes” can now be hidden in the so-called “Super PACS.” But America needs a sound, effective and responsible banking industry. And it is within reach.”

If you agree with Krauss that the time is now for public banking, join the movement!

For more information on PBI go to http://www.publicbankinginstitute.org/. To join the Pennsylvania Project go to http://www.publicbankingpa.org/index.php.

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