In the news

CBS4 Denver
Rick Sallinger

Thousands of unemployed Coloradans probably don't even know their benefits are whittled away every time they buy something with their state-issued debit cards.

The state switched from checks to debit cards to save money. This is how a quarter million Coloradans now receive their unemployment compensation.

Chase was one of those troubled banks that received billions of taxpayer funds at the government's request. The bank provides the debit cards. But a bank spokesperson told us its 'definitely fair' for Chase to charge nickels and dimes to the unemployed to use their cards.

Mark Follette found it out about the fee when he examined the charges to his state issued chase debit card. He received it after being laid off from his job as an electrical engineer.

"They are charging this," said Follette. "And as an unemployed person I am the least likely to pay for this."

The unemployed are charged 10 cents. Anytime their card is used at a non-Chase ATM, it's $1.50.
A teller withdrawal fee is also $1.50. And every time their pin number is used, another ten cents.
If the card is lost, it'll cost $7.50 to replace. And if the card isn't used for a year, another $1.50 is charged.

The co-director of Unemployment Insurance says people shouldn't be surprised by the fees.

"I don't think they should," said Stephen Fowler. "Not if they have spent a modest about of time reading what's sent to them or the information we provide on websites as well."

The information he's talking about is found in fine print on the department's website.

"I didn't read the material," said Ernest Quintana, who received a card. "If it's in real small print, I can't see it."

The fine print also comes with the debit card sent by Chase to the person who will be using it? But is that clear enough and fair? The Colorado Public Interest Research Group doesn't think so.

"I don't think anyone is adequately notified if they can't tell you what the fees are going to be. what they are getting into," said the group's director Danny Katz-Copirg.

The state says it saved $5 million last year by using the debit cards. The contract is now up for renewal. Fowler says he'll talk to Chase about the fees.

"We certainly will," said Fowler. "We'll talk about it. We'll see what other states are doing. We'll see how it balances with what we are trying to accomplish here."

You can now have unemployment compensation directly deposited into a checking account. Still 70 percent of users have chosen the card aware of the fees or not.

"I'm going to o in and complain my heart out," said Clyde Herndon, who's unemployed.

We asked the state how much Chase is making off the fees to the unemployed. It didn't know, and a Chase spokesperson told us that's something it doesn't disclose.

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