Oregon lawmakers on Friday approved $30 million to turn hotels into shelter space in wildfire-affected areas — less than half of the money initially sought in a strikingly contentious and emotional committee hearing.With many Democrats urging swift action as wildfires and a pandemic have exacerbated an existing shortage of shelter beds, two prominent Democratic Senators wound up siding with Republicans to block another $35 million that could have been used to site shelters more broadly.

The pandemic has laid bare the failure of the federal government to justly deal with the economic fallout wrought by a disaster. Public banks at the state and local level could have helped our country get through the pandemic, and they could be vital in our recovery.
Public banks can provide a financial bulwark in our federal system by supporting local banking systems. They achieve this both by providing banking services to state and local governments and by financing credit programs to assist those most harmed by disasters, who are inevitably part of our most disadvantaged communities.

Cities and states are in a fiscal crisis. Municipal bond defaults are now at their highest in a decade. Despite a $500 billion Federal Reserve intervention, with more potentially on the way, regulators have yet to address a longstanding structural problem—a group of the nation’s biggest banks that has cornered the market for municipal bond underwriting. This concentration of power has the potential to raise the interest rates on the bonds local governments urgently need to salvage their finances and the costs could be in the billions. While some municipalities will default on their debt, others will need to increase borrowing to continue providing public services. But the structural issues in the municipal-bond market could make borrowing costlier and alternatives are needed.

Could or should Rochester have a publicly-owned bank? As reported by Gino Fanelli for CITY Newspaper, “the idea would have the city take the millions of dollars in tax revenue it currently deposits in big commercial banks and park the money in a city-owned and -operated financial institution that would invest in the local economy by providing inexpensive and accessible financing to city businesses, developers, and would-be homeowners.”

As Connecticut reckons with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, lawmakers and community organizers have returned to the idea of public banking as a possible saving grace. Public banks — described as “operated in the public interest” and “owned by the people through their representative governments” by the Public Banking Institute, or PBI — are not an unfamiliar concept to the Connecticut legislature. Multiple bills to establish such banks, or to study the feasibility of doing so, have been introduced without success in the past five years.

Under the terms of new state legislation announced Thursday, a California public bank would be established to help with a more equitable economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis. Assembly Bill 310, authored by Assembly Members Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, and David Chiu, D-San Francisco, would relocate “idle” funds from the state’s “checking account” into the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank, or IBank, by moving 10% of the state’s Pooled Money Investment Account (PMIA) into the IBank’s loan fund.

The PMIA is essentially an investment vehicle for taxpayer money used by the state treasurer to manage the state’s cash flow.

Using these funds and expanded authority under the legislation, the IBank would be able to directly lend funds and offer credit to community banks, credit unions, municipalities and small businesses struggling because of the economic downturn…

News reports detail how the Main Street Lending Program and the Paycheck Protection Program, the Fed’s programs to assist small- and medium-sized business, have failed in their missions. This is partly because the private banks’ participation in the programs was optional, creating confusion for those applying. Loan-seekers had to search for a participating bank, then try to figure out how to apply for the programs. Many banks did not even know the programs existed.