Democratic senators unveil bill to ban discrimination in financial services industry

Six Democratic senators introduced a bill Wednesday meant to prevent financial services companies from discriminating against customers.

The Fair Access to Financial Services Act would make it illegal for any U.S. bank, credit union, investment firm, broker or dealer, insurance company, or lender to reject a customer or limit their access to services based on their race, religion, country of origin, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The measure is spearheaded by Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), Cory Booker (N.J), Tina Smith (Minn.) and Chris Van Hollen (Md.). All but Booker are members of the Banking panel.

The bill’s sponsors say it is intended to bolster the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That landmark law banned discrimination from public accommodations and businesses engaged in interstate commerce but did not specifically mention the financial services industry. 

“Too many Black and brown Americans experience racial profiling and unequal treatment when trying to access services at banks and other financial institutions. Victims of discrimination are not even able to hold financial institutions accountable—it is shameful,” Brown said in a statement.

“It is past time we pass legislation that explicitly outlaws discrimination in our nation’s financial system so that Black and brown people can have complete access to financial services free from harassment.”

The senators leading the bill highlighted several articles from The New York Times, CNN, and The Detroit News that documented alleged cases of racial discrimination by and within banks.

“For far too long, big banks and financial institutions have discriminated against Black and Brown families — denying communities of color the chance to build real economic security. Everyone deserves equal access to our banking system and this bill is a step in the right direction to help root out the systemic racism that has pervaded our financial institutions for decades,” Warren said.

The House version of the bill will be introduced by Democratic Reps. Hank Johnson (Ga.) and Joyce Beatty (Ohio), who chairs the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Diversity and Inclusion. 

The measure faces uncertain prospects in the GOP-controlled Senate with less than two weeks until Election Day, but it could become an early priority for Democrats in 2021 if they take control of the White House and flip the Senate.

House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the first Black lawmaker and woman to hold that position, has focused much of the committee’s work around improving diversity within the financial services industry and bolstering protections against redlining and other forms of discrimination. Waters is closely aligned ideologically with Brown, who would lead the Senate Banking Committee in 2021 if Democrats capture a majority of seats in the upper chamber in November.

Tags Bob Menendez Chris Van Hollen Cory Booker Cory Booker Elizabeth Warren Elizabeth Warren Hank Johnson Joyce Beatty Maxine Waters Maxine Waters Racial discrimination Sherrod Brown Sherrod Brown Tina Smith

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