Lawmakers ask U.S. Treasury to waive fees for coronavirus relief debit cards

    Some taxpayers are getting their coronavirus stimulus in a pre-paid debit card that carries fees and limitations. (Photo via MetaBank)

    U.S. Reps. Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne are asking the U.S. Treasury to waive replacement fees for Americans who lost or accidentally discarded pre-paid debit cards containing federal coronavirus relief payments.

    Congress allocated up to $1,200 per taxpayer in coronavirus relief funds. The cards are being used to deliver those payments to some taxpayers who did not have direct deposit information on file with the Internal Revenue Services.

    Many Iowans have now received Economic Impact Payment debit cards in the mail from Metabank, a private vendor working with the Treasury. But some did not expect to receive a card and threw it away, believing it was junk mail or a scam.

    The Iowa Attorney General’s Office has heard from 150-200 people who have had questions or concerns about the cards, spokesman Lynn Hicks said. “Our Consumer Protection Division receptionists/intake staff have been averaging more than 60 calls or emails a day since May 20,” he said in an email.

    Finkenauer, D-1st District, noted that people who want to replace the cards have to pay a replacement fee of $7.50, or $17 for expedited shipping.

    U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer is a Democrat who represents Iowa’s 1st District. (Photo courtesy of Rep. Abby Finkenauer’s office)

    “I’m frustrated by the lack of information provided by the Treasury Department when they sent these debit cards to millions of Americans, and potentially thousands of Iowans in my district,” she said in a news release. My office is working to provide Iowans with as much information as possible and am following up with Treasury for more information on how to access payments. Given the confusion surrounding this issue, it is only right that Treasury waive fees associated with replacing lost cards.”

    Finkenauer’s office has received about 20 calls about the cards, a spokesman said, including one from a person who threw the card away but was able to retrieve it after receiving an alert from Finkenauer’s office.

    There are other fees associated with the card, as the Iowa Capital Dispatch first reported in a column last week. They include fees for accessing cash through ATMs that are not part of a preferred network. There are fees for having a bank teller transfer money after the first transaction. There’s also a limit on the balance that can be transferred from the card to a bank account in any calendar month.

    Finkenauer’s letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also asked for information about how many Iowans received the debit cards, how many of those cards have been activated and how card recipients can get more information.

    Axne’s office also received more than a dozen calls about the cards last week, spokesman Ian Mariani said. Callers expressed concern about the authenticity and fees associated with the card, especially those in rural areas of southwest Iowa that are a long distance from in-network ATMs, he said.

    Head shot of Cindy Axne
    U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne is a Democrat who represents Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District.

    Axne, D-3rd District, is drafting a letter to the Treasury secretary with colleagues from the Financial Services Committee to seek improvements to the communication, fee structure, and cardholder agreements for these economic impact payment debit cards, Mariani said.  He said the letter will “seek better and more proactive communication for current and future recipients of the card, including clear instructions on how to transfer the funds to a bank account or receive a check.”

    In addition to asking for an elimination of card replacement fees, the letter will also request a waiver for fees that penalize out-of-network ATM withdrawals and transfers of funds, Mariani said. The letter will also seek “a simplified card agreement, including a removal of the mandatory arbitration clause that would prevent the formation of class action suits if cardholders who encountered identical issues wished to collectively settle a dispute,” Mariani said.

    U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee that oversees the Treasury, sent out answers to frequently asked questions about the cards this week.

    One of those questions was how to replace a lost or stolen card. Grassley’s office recommended calling the card’s customer service line at 1-800-240-8100 (TTY: 1-800-241-9100). The senator’s office also directed taxpayers to the EIP card website.

    Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the name of the spokesman for Rep. Cindy Axne. His name is Ian Mariani.