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Law to ensure stimulus payments don’t benefit debt collectors

As $600 economic support – stimulus – payments begin hitting Virginians’ bank accounts and mailboxes, a new law from Attorney General Mark R. Herring and Del.  Hala Ayala will ensure that the payments help Virginians support themselves and their families during the COVID crisis rather than getting swept up by debt collectors and creditors. 
The bill was passed in this year’s special legislative session after it was discovered that the initial round of $1,200 support payments issued by Congress as part of the CARES Act was left vulnerable to seizure or garnishment. 
“After nine months of economic fallout from the COVID crisis, these payments are even more important than ever for thousands of Virginia families who are counting on this money to help them make ends meet for another few weeks,” said Herring. “Though the payments would have been much larger if not for Republican obstruction, they nevertheless offer some much needed support. I’m glad we were able to identify this problem and enact a solution that will keep this badly needed assistance, and other assistance that may come in the future, from getting scooped up by debt collectors and creditors. People should come first in this crisis, not debt collectors.”
“Attorney General Herring and I put forward this important protection for Virginians because we knew that thousands of Virginia families would struggle to support themselves during this economic crisis, and that every dollar of federal support would need to go directly to food, rent, medicine, and other necessities, not just to the bottom lines of debt collectors and creditors,” said Del. Ayala. “Working together, we were able to identify and solve a problem to support Virginia families and to give them a little more security and support during these incredibly difficult economic times.” 
When it was discovered that CARES Act relief payments were not explicitly protected from garnishment, Herring urged U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to take steps to ensure the payments would benefit struggling Americans rather than creditors and debt collectors. When the Trump Administration failed to act, he pursued a state-level solution to ensure these payments benefit Virginians who need help. 
In the 2020 COVID and Criminal Justice Reform Special Session, the General Assembly passed HB5068 from Herring and Del. Ayala with bipartisan support. The bill exempts state and federal emergency relief payments from garnishment, attachment, and other legal creditor process seizures. It included an emergency clause ensuring it went into effect immediately upon Gov. Northam’s signature.
If anyone believes their economic relief payment has been unlawfully garnished or seized, they should assert their rights under “§ 34-28.3. Emergency relief payments exempt.” directly with the relevant collections agency or financial institution. Virginians can also reach out to Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Section for additional information and assistance if they believe their payment has been illegally garnished.
The bill was part of  Herring’s 2020 COVID legislative package that included garnishment/seizure protection for relief payments, new laws to protect Virginians and Virginia hospital and businesses from price gouging on PPE and other necessities, measures to help Virginians stay in their homes and keep utilities connected, and measures to ensure safe voting.

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