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Wednesday, April 15, 2020          Alyssa Clark, (212) 349 6460

GROUPS CALL FOR IMMEDIATE HALT TO DEBT COLLECTION DURING COVID-19, DELIVER PETITION TO GOVERNOR CUOMO

New Online Story-bank Shows Predatory Debt Collection’s Painful Toll On New Yorkers

(New York) Today, a coalition of nine groups delivered a petition , signed by more than 2,700 New Yorkers, to Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, calling for an immediate moratorium on debt collection during the Covid-19 crisis, as a matter of public health and safety.

The petition follows up on two strongly-worded letters from 17 New York State Senators and 63 civil rights, racial and economic justice, labor and community groups, respectively, urging a stop to ongoing enforcement of debt collection judgments, which are leaving New Yorkers in especially dire circumstances, without money to buy food or medicine, or keep safe at home.

“Whether paying a tuition bill, purchasing textbooks, or buying a MetroCard, students are bearing ever-increasing costs of attending college,” said Megan Ahearn, Program Director of NYPIRG. “Without an immediate moratorium on debt collection, students and other New Yorkers will face unacceptable health risks and may be deprived of funds they desperately need during this crisis.”

“Predatory debt collection is a perfect example of the profound racial and economic inequities that underlie the urgent public health and safety concerns we’re now dealing with,” said Sarah Ludwig, Founder and Co-Director of New Economy Project. “As debt collectors continue callously to garnish people’s wages and freeze their bank accounts, they are putting people in unspeakable financial and emotional distress.”

“Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted working class communities of color. The neighborhoods we organize in have the highest number of cases of COVID-19. The economic impacts of the crisis have also hit our communities hardest,” said Jonathan Westin, Executive Director of New York Communities for Change. “We need a statewide moratorium on debt collection, as part of a broad set of emergency measures to ensure New Yorkers’ public health and safety.”

Coinciding with the petition delivery, New Economy Project launched a new online story-bank , featuring powerful stories of New Yorkers whose health, safety, and financial security are being put at risk by predatory debt collection. For example:

“I used to be homeless. Now I work as a home health aide and live in affordable housing I got through a lottery. A marshal started garnishing my paycheck in January. I found out it’s for a really old judgment, but I never got court papers. I’m also a victim of identity theft, so I don’t think this is even my debt. I went to court to try to stop the wage garnishment, but the court postponed my court date to March, and then again to June, because of coronavirus. The whole time the marshal kept garnishing my wages. I’m worried I’ll have to go back to a shelter because of all this.” Migdalia, Brooklyn, NY

In the petition, the groups outlined eight key actions they say the Governor must immediately take:

●  Stay all enforcement of money judgments, whether through bank account restraints, wage garnishments, tax refund offsets, liens, or other means.

●  Instruct judgment creditor attorneys not to serve any new restraining orders, levy demands, income executions, or other orders to enforce money judgments.

●  Direct sheriffs and marshals to stop existing garnishments and levies and not to initiate any new wage garnishments or levies.

●  Suspend the entry of any new default judgments.

●  Suspend payments on current settlements with payment plans.

●  Suspend the accumulation of any and all interest on judgments.

●  Exempt from collection for money judgments all government subsidies – including federal stimulus checks – paid to NYS residents.

●  Communicate this moratorium to the public through social media, the media, and 311, and place notifications prominently on New York State courts’ websites, in courthouses, and on the websites of government agencies engaged in collection.

New York State needs to take these actions, the groups say, to ensure economic and racial justice, and community equity.

“The South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities of Queens have long been preyed upon by lenders and paid large percentages of their income towards interest and fees. Queens is the epicenter of this crisis and low-income, immigrant communities are on the front lines providing essential services or forced out of work with no source of income” said Annetta Seecharran, Executive Director of Chhaya CDC. “Many of our community members are struggling to afford essentials like groceries and rent. Collecting on debts at a time like this is immoral.”

“In New York State, we need the well being and survival of everyday New Yorkers to come before the profit of debt collectors. There needs to be a moratorium on debt collection to make sure we are all able to do what’s best for ourselves and our loved ones in this time of crisis,” said Rosemary Rivera, Co-Executive Director, Citizen Action of New York.

“Even before this crisis the creation of a debt economy was deeply undermining the basic rights, well-being and stability of families,” said Cathy Albisa, Executive Director of Partners for Dignity & Rights. “In this moment of crisis debt collection has moved from the damaging to the intolerable and unconscionable. We need a moratorium now.”

“No New Yorker should face the unacceptable health risk of going to the courthouse to defend against a debt collection lawsuit, or find herself without access to her funds, unable to buy food, medicine or other necessities, because of a debt collection judgment,” said Claudia Wilner, Director of Litigation and Advocacy of the National Center for Law and Economic Justice. “Without an immediate moratorium, New Yorkers will be deprived of funds they desperately need to endure this public health emergency.”