RICHMOND, Va (WRIC) — A new state law bars debt collectors and creditors from getting their hands on Virginian’s emergency payments; a protection Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring told 8News is aimed to alleviate strains of those facing financial hardship during the pandemic.
As many Americans awaiting the second round of pandemic relief payments, Virginians are deciding how to spend them. Amid the rollout of $600 checks, Herring assured every qualifying Virginians will receive a check.
“Back when Congress made the first round of $1,200 payments under the CARES Act, we found out that nothing explicitly protected those payments from being seized by debt collectors. And, in a crisis like this, people should come first,” Herring told 8News reporter Ben Dennis.
At no fault of their own, many Virginians are currently behind on rent and utility payments.
Talking to 8News in Carytown Wednesday, Sarah Canady and Doug Granger said they are expecting stimulus checks—slated for any unexpected expenses. However, they recognize dire straits others face.
“We’re some of the lucky ones, we’ve had stable income. So, for us it’s going to be a cushion,” Canady said.
On the negotiated $600 figure, Canady said “I think for a lot of other families, it’s not even going to even be a drop in the bucket. They’ve had ongoing struggles…” “…I guess it may be aggressive to say it but it’s sort of a slap in the face.”
College student Sanjana Singh said her check will help cover student loans.
“$60,000-plus loans at the moment, plus I have another semester left at JMU,” she said.
Though Herring says there’s no legal consequence for debt collectors who don’t follow the law, he says his office will help fight if someone refuses to return stimulus money.
“That money should be returned. And if that doesn’t happen, and if money is wrongfully seized, folks can always call my consumer protection section and we can assist them in helping to get the money back,” Herring said.
Herring also cautioned stimulus recipients of scams as they wait for direct payment, noting that they will only be sent via direct deposit or in the mail.
“These phone calls, these text messages, they could be coming from anywhere in the world,” Herring said. “And once that money is gone or bank account information has been handed over you can’t undo that–it’s really hard.”
With many people looking for more than $600 in relief to cover rent and utility payments, there are state and local programs to help.