Thanks to a recently implemented law from the Virginia General Assembly, emergency relief payments from the federal government to Virginians will be protected from being seized or garnished by debt collectors and creditors.
The new law, stemming from House Bill 5068, comes as Virginians and Americans from across the country are starting to receive a second round of relief payments relating to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Attorney General [Mark] 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,” Del. Hala Ayala, the bill’s chief patron, said in a press release.
Specifically, HB 5068 stipulates that all emergency relief payments made to individuals from the state and federal government shall be automatically exempt from garnishments and other legal creditor processes.
The bill also contained an emergency clause ensuring that the protections went into effect as soon as Governor Ralph Northam signed it into law, which happened on October 28th.
According to the release, the legislation came about after it was discovered that pandemic relief payments from earlier in the year were not explicitly protected from garnishment and there was a desire to have a state-level protection for Virginians.
“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,” Herring, who is seeking reelection for a third term as attorney general, said in the release.
“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,” Herring continued.
The release directs individuals who believe their payments may have been unlawfully seized or garnished to assert their rights under Virginia code section § 34-28.3. Emergency relief payments exempt with the relevant agency or institution.
When the bill was going through the General Assembly, it passed the House of Delegates and Senate with broad bipartisan support. Only three Senators and 14 Delegates voted against the final compromised version of the measure.
One of those legislators was Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper), who told The Virginia Star that while sympathetic to the overall objective of struggling Virginians not losing emergency relief payments due to a credit obligation, he was worried the exemption could lead to a situation where creditors have no incentive to lend money in the first place if they will not be paid back.
In the second round of payments, eligible people are slated to receive $600 for individuals or $1200 for married couples and up to $600 for each qualifying child. The payments should be distributed automatically and start arriving this week for some or next week for others, according to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
– – –