Debt Collection Industry Deems Itself Essential to “Financial Health” of Consumers, Fights COVID-19 Shutdown
Lee Fang, The Intercept, March 27, 2020
Debt collectors, facing growing demands to freeze the collection of debt across the country amid the economic hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic, are mobilizing their lobbyists to push back.
In New York, residents are receiving a 30-day reprieve from the collection of state-owned medical and student debt. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot this week similarly announced an end to the collection of city debt, including late parking fines, through at least April 30.
The momentum has reached the federal government. The Education Department is suspending collections on federal student loans and urging private collection agencies to stop pursuing borrowers. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has sponsored legislation that prevents debt collectors from engaging in a variety of practices, such as disconnecting utility services or garnishing wages, until 120 days after a major disaster or emergency such as the current coronavirus crisis.
All of this has the industry deeply concerned. The Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, also known as ACA International, a lobby group for debt collectors, has fired off letters to Brown and federal officials, sharply criticizing the push to suspend debt collection.
The lobbying group is not only arguing that debt collection is more important than ever for servicing medical providers and other issuers of debt, but also appealing to concerns around identity. The suspension of debt collection, they argue, would cause undue burden on the debt collection industry’s “diverse workforce.”
Mark Neeb, the chief executive of ACA International, wrote that he is concerned that “certain lawmakers have suggested that eliminating the work of the ARM Industry is a prudent action that should be taken in response to the coronavirus,” a reference to the accounts receivable management industry, a term of art for debt collectors.
Women, Neeb wrote, “make up 70 percent of the total debt collection workforce and 40 percent is ethnically diverse.” Shutting down debt collection during the crisis, Neeb argued, would negatively “impact the diverse workforce that makes up the collection industry” and “many of these employees and businesses would face extreme hardship.”
ACA International declined to comment for this story.
The group, which spent $780,000 lobbying federal officials last year, has worked to expand the industry’s ability to inundate debtors with robocalls and legal threats. Unending debt collection calls amid shelter-in-place orders only add to the level of tension in homes across the country.