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Philly First Town Hall on Public Banking

The Philadelphia Public Bank Coalition held its first Town Hall on September 1, 2020, to explore the ways a municipally owned bank could address the critical needs of our city in these times, and to support Councilmember Derek Green’s legislative initiative this Fall. The event highlighted the relationship between the private finance industry and institutional racism, lifting up a publicly owned, democratically accountable bank as a way to break the stranglehold that Wall Street banks have on struggling Black and Brown communities.

Speakers also described potential benefits of a policy-driven finance system in areas of environmental protection, public education, green job growth, and small and cooperatively owned business development. The Town Hall was co-sponsored by Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks and the Economic Dignity team of POWER Interfaith, and supported by Americans for Democratic Action, Southeast PA Chapter, Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance, RECLAIM Philadelphia, A SMART Collaboration and the Our City Our Schools Coalition.

“As we begin to reinvigorate and restart our economy in what has become our ‘new normal’, now is an ideal time to closely examine and consider creative, more pragmatic methods of reducing municipal debt while simultaneously reinvesting funds within our communities – particularly Black and Brown neighborhoods – who have felt the brunt of the impact of COVID-19,” said City Councilmember Derek Green who introduced legislation to fund an ongoing feasibility study for a public bank in Philadelphia. “Establishing a public bank in the City of Philadelphia would foster both public and private partnerships with community banks and stakeholders in an effort to provide substantial opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs who have struggled for too long to obtain credit from big banks.”

In addition to Councilmember Green, speakers included Walt McRee, Co-founder, Public Banking Institute; Britt Alston, Senior Research Analyst with the Action Center on Race and the Economy; Dr. Deborah Figart, author and Distinguished Professor of Economics at Stockton University; Maurice Sampson, Eastern PA Director, Clean Water Action; Pep Marie Felton, Coordinator, Our City Our Schools Coalition, and Jamila Medley, Executive Director, Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance.

Britt Alston, research analyst with Action Center on Race and the Economy delivered a presentation entitled “Simply Put – Wall Street is Racist.” Explaining the need for a new model of banking, she said: “The people and communities that are portrayed as drains on our public budgets and government systems are precisely the groups targeted for wealth extraction by Wall Street and the electeds they lobby in government – low income folks and people of color.”

Dr. Deb Figart, distinguished professor of Economics at Stockton University who is conducting a separate study of the feasibility of a public bank in Philadelphia, described the potential short term economic development impact. In her soon-to-be published study, she found that in the short term earnings would rise by $161 million to $482 million, roughly 3,600 to 10,800 new jobs would be created across the city, and that the Philadelphia metro area value-added or gross regional product would increase by $1 billion to $3 billion. “There are more economic benefits for the city in the long run. This is just a start.” she said.

Walt McRee of the Public Banking Institute gave an overview of the growing movement in states and municipalities throughout the nation.

“Public banking has become a full-fledged national movement focused on freeing cities and states from their costly dependence on private market capital,” McRee said.“Local public banks can provide a dramatic new ability to expand and target investment into community needs in a way that builds economic stability and prosperity.”

“In Philadelphia, the majority of people turning to the cooperative economy are folks who have been systematically marginalized and therefore do not hold the generational wealth or credit scores typical banks require,” said Jamila Medley Executive Director of the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance. “We need better, fairer, more equitable solutions to capitalizing small businesses, including cooperatives. PACA believes that a Philadelphia Public Bank can be a solution to these ongoing problems.”

Philadelphia Public Banking Coalition member Peter Winslow summarized the road ahead for public banking in Philadelphia and called for activists and advocates to be prepared to swing into action this Fall.

“There’s a national movement afoot.” Winslow said, “and Philadelphia should lead that movement.”

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