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COVID-19 WATCH LIST – Senators Warren and Brown Propose Pausing All Debt Payments
May 03, 2020
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) have released a proposal calling on Congress to provide additional protections for consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their proposal notes that an unprecedented 22,000,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the past four weeks. Millions of them received or will receive a $1,200 stimulus check the senators argue will not cover one month of basic expenses. 
Their proposal acknowledges the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security ("CARES") Act provides needed consumer protections, but they argue more must be done to protect consumers. They point out that homeowners with federally backed mortgages who are experiencing a COVID-19 hardship qualify to delay mortgage payments through forbearance. Also, renters are protected from eviction for 120 days, but this protection only applies if they live in a property with a federally backed loan or participate in federal programs. Most federal student loan payments are suspended, and federal student loan interest rates have been reduced to 0 percent until October. They argue, however, that as much as 30 percent of people are being left behind by these measures since they do not apply to private loans or leases.
They propose six steps that must be taken to provide protections for the people they argue are being left behind.
  1. First, they argue that Congress needs to stop “predatory debt collectors and banks from ripping [the stimulus payments] out of the hands of consumers.”
  2. Second, they argue that Congress “must provide immediate relief for all consumers.” They propose to do this by “allowing consumers to put a pause on all payments.” They propose consumers not be required to pay any debts during the COVID-19 pandemic and no interest, late fees or other penalties accrue for nonpayment. Further, they argue, after the pandemic is over, consumers should be given additional time to catch up on their payments. There also should be a “pause” on garnishments, evictions, repossessions, and utility disconnections, all of which they characterize as “predatory and intrusive measures to collect a debt.”
  3. Third, they propose that, in the future, lenders should be prohibited from denying credit to anyone for the purchase of a new home or car, prevent them from renting an apartment, or failing them in a security clearance because they “ran into trouble making payments during the coronavirus pandemic.”
  4. Fourth, they propose Congress should “broadly cancel student loan debt.”
  5. Fifth, they argue the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) recently has been watered down, thereby enabling companies to take advantage of consumers. They propose the CFPB use its supervisory authority and enforcement powers to the greatest extent possible to protect consumers during the crisis.
  6. Sixth, they propose reforms to bankruptcy laws, including “transitioning away from all in-person bankruptcy requirements,” making bankruptcy more affordable for consumers, exempting more assets from seizure by creditors, making student loans dischargeable, and reducing the amount of paperwork required in bankruptcy proceedings.
At bottom, some of the proposals are not surprising as they have at least been Senator Warren’s popular refrain for some time now. The question is whether any or all of them will make it in some form into future legislation as Congress continues to address the problems created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you have any questions, please contact our COVID-19 Task Force.

Consumer Finance Nicholas P. Mooney II