The U.S. Treasury Department's decision to stop mailing checks to pay for federal benefits on March 1, means that those who now receive a paper check to cover Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Disability, Veterans Affairs and government pension plan payments must make alternative arrangements to continue receiving those funds.

Those who make use of check-cashing establishments and do not have a relationship with a financial institution will be required to open a bank account.

Three Berkshire County banks -- Pittsfield Cooperative, Hoosac Bank and Lee Bank -- have joined a statewide Basic Banking coalition effort led by the Massachusetts Community and Banking Council to aid those now needing a bank account to receive funds from government programs.

The MCBC has created a website can be accessed at www.BasicBanking.org.

It introduces visitors to a network of financial institutions across the state that have banded together to provide simple, low-cost options. The site also features a bank locator, and contains answers to several questions regarding fees and rates.

"The reality is that having a bank account as opposed to paying for check-cashing services is not only more convenient, it will also save money over time, Pittsfield Cooperative President Jay Anderson said.

The Treasury, which spends $4.6 million a month to mail about 5 million checks, calculates that electronic transfers can save taxpapers $1 billion over the next 10 years.


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"The government's move to paperless checking is clearly a good thing," Anderson said. "But it means that there are local folks in need of an advocate or perhaps a helping hand. This is our time to shine."