A bipartisan bill designed to help consumers contend with financial insecurities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic passed the state Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
Sponsored by Sens. Nellie Pou (D-35), Steve Oroho (R-24), Joe Cryan (D-20) and Joseph Vitale (D-19), the bill would prohibit debt collectors from seizing government financial assistance provided in response to the coronavirus.
Sen. Pou noted the country as a whole was facing deep financial instability due to the crisis, including record unemployment.
Government Help Needed
“When crisis strikes, it is the obligation of the government to ensure our residents are able to weather the storm in the safest possible way,” said Pou.
“That means keeping debt collectors from seizing their government assistance, giving them time to breathe while they pay their medical bills and making sure their financial future isn’t negatively impacted by circumstances that were out of their control.”
Additionally, the bill would prevent rating agencies from adversely affecting credit scores by those impacted by the disease and ensure Medicaid covers the costs of COVID-19 treatment. More practitioners would be eligible to perform testing and it would permanently extend the length of time before legal action could be taken to collect any medical debt.
Sen. Cryan said the financial consequences of the coronavirus were making life difficult for hundreds of thousands in the U.S., and that people throughout New Jersey were at no fault. He argued many needed time and support to pay their bills.
Sen. Oroho echoed the statement, arguing over one million had lost their jobs during the economic crisis.
“These victims have been blind-sided, and with this bill, we can provide them with a measure of compassion and financial relief. This will help buy them some valuable time to get back to work and catch up on their bills once the economy gets back on its feet,” Oroho said.
Medical Debt Protection
The bill has one provision which extends beyond the state of emergency, preventing a medical creditor or debt collector from taking legal action for 180 days after the first bill is sent. Meanwhile, the bill would prevent the enforcement of judgments against consumers in collections lawsuits during the coronavirus state of emergency and 90 days thereafter.
“Medical debt is one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in the nation,” said Sen. Vitale. “The measures in this bill will give our residents both the time and the transparency needed to help them avoid that kind of financial catastrophe and it is needed now more than ever.”
The bill heads to the full Senate next for consideration.