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Bank Beat

Freedom of Information

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On Branch Closures Federal Reserve Withholds Info and Tells Inner City Press No Closure List

By Matthew Russell Lee, Patreon Maxwell Book
BBC-Guardian UK - Honduras - ESPN NY Mag

South Bronx / SDNY, April 11 –  Amid a wave of bank branch closings in the US, particularly in lower income areas, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Inner City Press in October 2020 filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the main US regulator, the Federal Reserve, for information about branch closing.  

Tellingly, despite talk about improved community and consumer protection regimes among the bank regulators, the Federal Reserve after 17 months on this FOIA request has told Inner City Press it has only five pages that it will release, about a single Wisconsin branch closure (even then, redacted).

Worse, the Federal Reserve, charged with reigning in swaps and even crypto-currency fraud, says it does not maintain a list of branch closings, as even the OCC does. This is shameful, and must be addressed by the two incoming Governors, and who ever will replace Sarah Bloom Raskin as a Fed nominee.

From the Fed's April 2022 FOIA request to Inner City Press / Fair Finance Watch: 

"This is in response to your electronic message dated and received by the Board’s  Information Disclosure Section on October 20, 2020. Pursuant to the Freedom of  Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552, you seek: electronic records concerning requests to the Federal Reserve  System about branch closings or consolidations in low or moderate  income census tracts including request for public meetings, from  July 4, 2018 to the date of your response.  Your request included an example of a notice by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago  (“Reserve Bank”) for a public meeting concerning the notice by Johnson Bank, Racine,  Wisconsin to close its branch located at 2729 18th Street, Kenosha, Wisconsin.

You  further noted that your request also includes: all such meetings held, as well as requests for meetings, direct or  indirect, which were denied, as well as all non-exempt portion of  FRS records reflecting considering and decision making on such  requests.1

1  In an email correspondence with Ms. Katrina Allen Austin of the Board’s Legal Division on  March 23, 2021, seeking clarification about the nature of your request, you noted that “[t]he  OCC, for example, publishes each branch closing in its Weekly Bulletins” and you subsequently  sought FRS “records [of] when public meetings have been requested on branch closings, and  when they have been granted …[separate] out those in LMI communities and where public  meetings were requested and / or granted.” 2

In light of your March 23, 2021, email, staff interpreted your request as seeking  records concerning “branch closings by FRS-supervised institutions (state member  banks) … where public meetings were requested and / or granted” from 2020.2 You may wish to know that the Board does not publish a “list of branch closings”  as the OCC does. Staff searched Board records and located information responsive to  your modified request.  This information is subject to  withholding and will be withheld from you pursuant to exemptions 5 and 6 of the FOIA,  5 U.S.C. §§ 552(b)(5) and (b)(6), respectively. I have also determined that the  information should be withheld because it is reasonably foreseeable that disclosure would  harm an interest protected by an exemption described in subsection (b) of the FOIA, 5  U.S.C. § 552(b). The responsive documents have been reviewed under the requirements  of subsection (b), and all reasonably segregable nonexempt information will be provided  to you. Additionally, approximately 5 pages are being withheld in full. 

  Inner City Press will have more on this.


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