With people around the world trying to send money to those caught in the financial crisis in Greece, many here in New York City are calling for solutions to remittances stalled by controls on Greek banks.
Remittances, or money sent as gifts overseas — often by immigrant families — have been stalled by restrictions enacted because of the crisis.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens) said at a press conference last Thursday that she has asked international leaders to consider new ways to stimulate the Greek economy, in one letter asking for new ways to invite investments into Greece.
In another letter, addressed to U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and other federal financial regulation leaders, Maloney asked for new reforms allowing U.S. citizens, such as the Greek-American families in New York City, to send remittances.
Maloney noted there was around $800 million in remittances from the United States to Greece last year.
In the past two months, however, limits on Greek banks have strapped ATM withdrawal limits on citizens there, barring many from accessing funds sent by loved ones from abroad.
Maloney, co-chairwoman of the Hellenic Caucus, noted that the “normal flow” of remittances is thrown off and the money people have sent to help in light of the crisis is “sitting on the sidelines,” inaccessible.
“We need to find a way to get the money into the Greek economy right away, so people can start paying bills, buying groceries and creating jobs,” Maloney said in a release.
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), who is of Greek descent and was also at the conference, said Friday that Maloney “hit the nail on the head” on how to help.
“I can tell you as an immigrant myself, my family worked very hard to establish a small business and a source of their pride, that they made it in America, was their ability to send back to my maternal grandmother,” Simotas said. “People like my grandmother, God rest her soul, can’t access that money.”
Simotas said she does get some calls from constituents concerned with ensuring their money reaches those in Greece, but there’s an understanding that her hands are tied. She has been putting them in touch with Maloney’s office.
“You do hear stories about people who have relatives who need to have medical procedures and they can’t because they can’t access the funds to pay for it, even though their family members are sending the funds from abroad,” Simotas said. “Those are sad stories.”
In June, right after Greece had missed a payment to the International Monetary Fund, several Astorians told the Queens Chronicle that there is a frustrating effort to send funds back home.
One resident who immigrated from Athens said that her 75-year-old father stood in line for hours in the heat to withdraw from several accounts.
“It is important for all our sakes to do what we can to help Greece recover from its current crisis as soon as possible,” said state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) in a press release.
Gianaris, the first Greek-American to be elected to the state Senate from New York City, has also spoken about economic solutions throughout the crisis.