On April 16, 2013, a Minneapolis-based bank announced that it would open an account to facilitate money transfers to Somalia. The banks had gradually curtailed money transfers to the region after al-Shabaab was put on the terrorist list, fearing they could be subject to sanctions. A starting date has not been set, but U.S. Bank said it will open an account with Dahab-shil, a local money service business, “soon.” Minnesota-area lawmakers including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) welcomed the move and also reintroduced a bill (H.R. 1694)  that streamlines regulations governing money services businesses (MSBs).  The bank’s announcement comes more than a year after the last bank stopped conducting the transactions, leaving the large Somali diaspora in Minnesota with few alternatives for sending money to family living in the war-torn East African country.

“For years, families in Minnesota have had trouble sending much-needed assistance to their relatives outside the country. After suffering from drought and famine, these remittances were often the difference between life and death for Somalis,” Ellison said a statement released April 18.

On April 25, Ellison joined with Reps. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) and Sean Duffy (R-WI) to introduce a bill designed to address the difficulties Somali-Americans and others have had sending money to family in their countries of origin. The Money Remittances Improvement Act of 2013 (H.R. 1694) simplifies the federal and state level regulations governing these types of transactions. “This common-sense legislation,” Ellison said in a press release about the bill, “will result in better coordination between Treasury and the states and a more robust examination process.”

Fear of sanctions caused services to dwindle and disappear, even though there are no instances of government enforcement against any financial institutions for carrying out these money transfers. A small number of Minneapolis-area Somali money transfer shops were later reopened, but limited the transferable amount to $500, after groups like Minnesotans for a Fair Economy and the Somali-American Humanitarian Relief Association organized protests and advocacy campaigns to find a way for banks to reopen the accounts.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) and other Minnesota legislators also voiced their concerns.  In a December 2011 letter to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Secretary of Treasury Timothy Geithner, Franken wrote that rather than helping stop terror finance, the curtailing of these services could have the opposite effect.  “[T]he lack of legitimate means for the transmission of funds to Somalia may end up driving people into more difficult-to-track channels for sending money, which heightens the risk of funds ending up in the hands of bad actors,” the letter said.

In an email to the Washington Post, a U.S. bank spokeswoman said they had “worked closely with money transfer businesses” over the past year to find a workable solution. “We recognize the need and want to be able to help families send money to their relatives outside of the United States,” Teri Charest said.

“This is a very exciting day, not only for my business and me, but also for our entire community,” Mohamed Nor of Dahab-shil, said. “I would like to thank U.S. Bank for continuing this conversation over the last year and for taking this important step today. Somali Minnesotans and our families look forward to beginning to restore our lifeline.”