People across the country are in pain right now. Parents are trying to figure out how to put food on the table after losing their jobs. People who lost their health care after being laid off are worrying about how to pay medical bills. Families are forced to make impossible decisions in order to keep a roof over their heads. And small businesses are struggling to make payroll.
Bills don’t stop coming during a pandemic — people need help right now.
No one should be profiting off of this mass pain and hardship. While the CARES Act was a step, much more needs to be done to support people who are struggling. I’ve already called for consumer protections like a stop on negative credit reporting, foreclosures, evictions, seized wages, and car repossession, and we also need an emergency rent relief program for people who have lost their jobs or can’t make rent on the 1st of the month. But we need to do more.
Today, I’m calling for the suspension of credit card interest, fees, and penalties until at least four months after this crisis is over. In the midst of this crisis, no one should be profiting from these hardships. There must be moral and corporate responsibility to support consumers and prevent an economic catastrophe in the lives of American families.
In the wake of the 2008 financial crash, corporations that made bad financial decisions were kept alive with virtually interest free loans paid for by U.S. taxpayers, because a total collapse of the financial sector would prolong the pain felt by working people. Today, it’s American families who are bearing the brunt of an historic economic collapse fueled by a pandemic, and it’s working people that need help. Suspending interest, fees, and penalties for cardholders isn’t just the right thing to do, it will limit the economic pain of the next few months and help families recover faster on the other side of this crisis. That is good for working people and good for the economy as a whole.
The status quo is not an option. The world is experiencing a public health crisis that is causing an historic economic crisis. Nearly 10 million people in the U.S. have filed for unemployment in the last two weeks, with many more expected over the coming months. That’s already more than the 8.7 million people who lost their jobs over the entirety of the 2008 financial crisis. When paychecks stop coming, people still need to feed their families, clothe their children, and keep a roof over their heads. Families are still waiting on their relief checks from the federal government, which in some cases might take months. All of this requires so many to rely on credit cards as the only option to meet their essential needs. For the people already using credit cards to pay the bills, this crisis could make things even worse.
I’ve fought for consumers all my life. As District Attorney of San Francisco, I created an Environmental Justice Unit to hold companies accountable for air pollution and chemical dumping, started an Elder Abuse Unit that helped victims of fraud, joined other district attorneys to secure $50 million for victims of a mortgage company that used high-pressure tactics, and prosecuted a case against a doctor who was administering fake medical exams to immigrants without a medical license. During my time as Attorney General of California, I took on the big banks that were committing credit-debt collection abuses resulting in $50 million in restitutions nationwide, investigated scammers who led Ponzi schemes, took on the foreclosure crisis by securing $20 billion for California homeowners, and won a $1.1 billion judgement against Corinthian Colleges, Inc., a fraudulent, for-profit college. And I’ve continued that fight during this crisis. I started oversight two months ago in February when I called the HHS Deputy Secretary to demand information on the Department’s coronavirus preparations. And I demanded that administration officials come testify at Congressional hearings about the coronavirus to provide better and accurate information to the public.
Since then, I wrote a letter to Vice President, FEMA, and HHS demanding transparency on medical supplies disbursement, wrote a letter to the Department of Treasury demanding that it expedite direct payments to people, wrote President Trump over the lack of permanent inspector generals in the federal government, wrote the Bureau of Prisons about releasing low-risk prisoners following reports of a positive coronavirus case inside a California prison, and pressed DHS officials to prioritize public health in DHS detention and enforcement policies. I’ve also continued to speak with constituents, experts, and officials to understand what’s happening on the front lines and how I can help. Those conversations helped inform the legislation I’ve introduced and supported that would expand disaster assistance to individuals during pandemics and increase funding for the CDC to reach out to immigrant and other vulnerable communities. Those conversations have also led to the introduction of a resolution to condemn anti-Asian racism that the AAPI community is feeling every day.
Beating this virus requires that all of us work together. Congress must do oversight, the administration must focus on helping people — not playing games, and the American people must remember that we are resilient. Together, we will get through this. And that starts with practical solutions like suspending credit card fees, penalties, and interest.
For more on Senator Kamala Harris, visit her at: www.harris.senate.gov.
Opinion was originally published on medium.