Commonwealth of Virginia
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ATTORNEY GENERAL HERRING URGES TRUMP ADMINISTRATION TO ENSURE EMERGENCY STIMULUS PAYMENTS ARE PROTECTED FROM CREDITORS
~ Herring joins 25 attorneys general in sending letter to Treasury Department asking agency to protect funds from garnishment from creditors ~
RICHMOND (April 13, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today joined a bipartisan coalition of 25 attorneys general in calling on the U.S. Department of the Treasury and Secretary Steven Mnuchin to take immediate action to ensure billions of dollars in emergency stimulus payments authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) go to American families and not debt collectors. Congress passed the CARES Act three weeks ago to provide direct and immediate economic relief to all individuals and businesses affected by COVID19, but, unlike other government relief programs, the CARES Act does not explicitly designate these emergency stimulus payments as exempt from garnishment from creditors. In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Attorney General Herring&nbps;and his colleagues ask the agency to protect CARES Act funds and ensure funds go where they were originally intended.
"The COVID19 health crisis has also created an economic crisis in Virginia and around the country,” said Attorney General Herring. "The federal stimulus package is meant to help families make ends meet during this hard financial time and no one should have to worry that this money could be taken by debt collectors. Secretary Mnuchin and the Treasury Department should immediately exempt this stimulus money so that families can use it for things they really need during this time.”
The CARES Act authorizes the Treasury Department to issue emergency stimulus payments of up to $1,200 for eligible adults and up to $500 for eligible children. Similar government relief programs, like Social Security, disability, and veterans' payments, all are statutorily exempt from garnishment, a legal mechanism that typically involves the "freezing” of funds in a bank account by creditors or debt collectors. The CARES Act does not explicitly designate these emergency stimulus payments as exempt from garnishment, allowing debt collectors to potentially benefit before consumers.
In their letter to Secretary Mnuchin today, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues urge him to use his authority under the CARES Act to stave off economic uncertainty for millions by immediately issuing a regulation or guidance explicitly designating CARES Act "benefit payments” as funds that are exempt from garnishment.
The coalition writes in the letter that "During this public health and economic crisis, the States do not believe that the billions of dollars appropriated by Congress to help keep hard-working Americans afloat should be subject to garnishment. Treasury has stated that ‘[i]n the weeks immediately after the passage of the CARES Act, Americans will see fast and direct relief in the form of Economic Impact Payments,' and we request Treasury's assistance in ensuring Americans are able to retain that monetary relief.”
Earlier today, Attorney General Herring urged the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to enforce the CARES Act and require credit reporting agencies to follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) during the COVID19 crisis. The letter came after the CFPB announced that they would not enforce the law which would leave consumers at the mercy of unresponsive credit agencies at a critical time.
Following Governor Northam's state of emergency declaration, Attorney General Herring has taken many actions to help Virginians navigate the uncertainty surrounding the COVID19 pandemic. Attorney General Herring successfully petitioned the SCC to put a hold on all utility disconnections and just yesterday the SCC extended that freeze and suspended all late fees for the duration of the state of emergency in response to a second request from Attorney General Herring. He and his Consumer Protection Section have been reviewing price gouging complaints from around the Commonwealth and investigating any potential violations and pursuing violators, including sending warning letters to dozens of businesses about which Virginians have complained. Attorney General Herring has also issued numerous warnings urging Virginians to be wary of COVID19 related scams as well as scams related to the federal stimulus package. At the end of March, Attorney General Herring also issued an advisory opinion outlining the authority of public bodies, including local governments, to conduct meetings and critical public business while meeting social distancing needs and important transparency and accountability obligations.
Additionally, Attorney General Herring sent letters to Amazon, Facebook, Craigslist, Ebay, and Walmart urging them to more rigorously monitor price gouging practices by online sellers who are using their services. Attorney General Herring has also urged the Trump Administration to take many different actions to protect Virginians during this time including utilize the Defense Production Act to immediately prioritize the production of personal protective equipment and ventilators, provide federal student loan borrowers with crucial emergency protections, suspend Department of Veterans Affairs deadlines and debt collection activities, instate special enrollment periods on HealthCare.gov, and others.
Joining Attorney General Herring in sending the letter today are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, as well as the Hawaii Office of Consumer Protection.
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