Methods: We conducted a policy mapping content analysis of all bank-account-related bills (N = 32) proposed in Congress between Jan, 1999–May, 2020 (106th - 116th Congresses). Policy mapping is a systematic content analysis technique wherein researchers identify and analyze policy content in a topical area. Two researchers independently coded basic characteristics (e.g. type, status, sponsorship), focal populations, and illustrative mechanisms for policy goals using a taxonomy developed by the researchers. Researchers compared codes and addressed discrepancies through consensus. New codes were created as needed.
Results: The dataset consisted of 32 bills. The bills were fairly evenly distributed among the various Congresses, with the largest number in the 116th Congress (2019-2021). The vast majority were House bills (90.6%), and introduced by Democrats (78.1%). A minority of bills had companion legislation (34%) or similar bills introduced over more than one Congressional session (“matched”) (38%). A very small minority had both companion legislation and matched legislation (15.6%). Most items (75%) did not progress beyond introduction and assignment to committee.
Goals appearing most often were expanding access to bank accounts (81.2%), increasing consumer protection (81.2%), and reducing costs of basic accounts (78.2%). Increasing consumer disclosure (37.5%) and expanding the type of institutions that offer basic accounts (9.4%) were addressed infrequently in the legislation. No legislation addressed the policy goal of expanding account access in minority populations and communities. Explicit attention toward unbanked and underbanked households, racial/ethnic minorities, and other vulnerable populations, was rare.
Implications: The most commonly occurring policy goals of expanding access, reducing costs, and increasing consumer protection are primarily focused on proximal factors for lack of access, rather than the root causes of access barriers. Congressional attention to this topic is noticeably lax in comparison to the attention paid by federal regulatory agencies and related academic literature. Expanded legislative attention to the policy goals of expanding access and types of institutions that offer accounts is needed.