Like most industries today, Consumer Finance Services businesses are being significantly impacted by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Troutman Pepper has developed a dedicated COVID-19 Resource Center to guide clients through this unprecedented global health challenge. We regularly update this site with COVID-19 news and developments, recommendations from leading health organizations, and tools that businesses can use free of charge.
Our bank and loan servicing clients also face novel challenges affecting their industry due to COVID-19, particularly the ever-changing rules and regulations concerning evictions and foreclosures. We are closely tracking these updates and have assembled an interactive tracker containing state orders and guidance documents regarding residential foreclosure and eviction moratoriums. You may access this interactive tool at https://covid19.troutman.com/.
To help you keep abreast of relevant activities, below find a breakdown of some of the biggest COVID-19 driven events at the federal and state levels to impact the Consumer Finance Services industry this past week:
- On January 5, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Taskforce on Federal Consumer Financial Law (Taskforce) released a report with recommendations on how to improve consumer protection in the financial marketplace. In its report, the Taskforce makes approximately 100 recommendations to the CFPB, Congress, and state and federal regulators to strengthen consumer protection. Some of the Taskforce recommendations include the following:
- Clarify obligations of consumer reporting agencies and furnishers with respect to consumer credit disputes;
- Authorize the Bureau to issue licenses to non-depository institutions that provide lending, money transmission, and payments services;
- Expand access to the payment system by unbanked and underbanked consumers and ensure consistent treatment by applying the same rules to similar financial products;
- Identify competitive barriers and make appropriate recommendations to policymakers and regulators for expanding access to the payments systems by nonbank providers; and
- Research and develop policies tailored to the unique challenges of formerly incarcerated people, and work with state and federal authorities to improve the protection of this population.
For more information, click here.
- On January 8, the Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department announced that the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) will re-open the week of January 11 for new borrowers and certain existing PPP borrowers. To promote access to capital, initially, only community financial institutions can make First Draw PPP Loans on Monday, January 11, and Second Draw PPP Loans on Wednesday, January 13. The PPP will open to all participating lenders shortly thereafter. Updated PPP guidance outlining program changes to enhance its effectiveness and accessibility was released on January 6, according to the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Non-Profits, and Venues Act. For more information, click here.
- On January 7, the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service started distributing approximately 8 million Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) by prepaid debit card. Distribution of EIP cards follows the millions of payments already made by direct deposit, and the ongoing mailing of paper checks are part of the Treasury’s and IRS’s plan to deliver EIPs as rapidly as possible. For more information, click here.
- On January 7, the Treasury Department launched the $25 billion Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) established by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021. The ERAP assists households unable to pay rent and utilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with funds provided directly to states and other eligible grantees. Eligible grantees must use the funds to help eligible households through existing or newly created rental assistance programs. For more information, click here.
- On January 8, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong and Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Michelle H. Seagull issued a joint press release to warn residents of potential scams as the IRS begins sending many consumers a second round of pandemic relief funds, which follows the federal government’s $900 billion economic stimulus package, and represents the second in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. For more information, click here.
- On January 7, New York Attorney General Letitia James issued guidance to the New York State Sheriff’ Association about evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the December 28, 2020 COVID-19 Emergency Evictions and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020, tenants are entitled to an automatic stay of eviction in all cases through May 1, 2021 by completing and sending a hardship declaration to their landlord, the court, a sheriff, marshal, or city constable. “As the financial instability spurred by the coronavirus continues, it is imperative for the state to enforce laws that protect New Yorkers from unlawfully losing their homes,” said Attorney General James. For more information, click here.
- On January 7, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey issued an advisory to ensure tenants facing financial hardship and at risk of eviction know how to access state assistance programs. “Families across the state are continuing to suffer financial hardship from this pandemic and we want to ensure those who may be at risk of losing their homes know their rights,” AG Healey said. “If you’ve received an eviction notice, you do not have to move out immediately and you are entitled to a court hearing. This advisory helps tenants and landlords understand the resources available to them, including financial and legal assistance.” For more information, click here.
- On January 7, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy issued a press release reminding Garden State residents that the COVID-19 vaccine will be made available without cost-sharing barriers. All group and individual comprehensive health insurance plans whether obtained directly through an open market or an employer must cover the vaccine. Health care providers participating in the Center for Disease Control (CDC) COVID-19 Vaccination Program must agree to administer a COVID-19 immunization regardless of an individual’s ability to pay or health insurance coverage status, and they may not seek reimbursement from the immunization recipient. For more information, click here.
- On January 7, Ohio officials updated the state’s COVID-19 Travel Advisory List, and for the sixth straight week, Ohio remained on its own travel advisory. The list includes states reporting positive testing rates of 15% or higher for COVID-19 and is intended for both leisure and business travel, according to the Department of Health, which recommends individuals entering Ohio self-quarantine for at least 14 days following travel to the 18 states on the advisory list other than Ohio. As of January 6, 2021, the advisory list includes Idaho, Alabama, Iowa, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Kansas, Tennessee, Arkansas, Utah, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Georgia, Texas, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Arizona, and Nevada. For more information, click here.
- On January 5, the Washington State Collection Agency Board (CAB) held a public hearing to hear comment on the proposed permanent rule allowing employees of licensed collection agencies to work remotely with proper procedures in place and accepted written comments until that date. The CAB received numerous written comments but there were no verbal comments during the hearing. A temporary rule, created in response to COVID-19, has been in place since June 2020 and is set to expire on February 17, 2021. The permanent rule could be released as early as the week of January 11 and is expected to take effect prior to the temporary rule expiring. The CAB is meeting on January 12 to further consider the rule, according to a meeting notice.
- On January 4, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring warned consumers against government imposter scams. Scammers take advantage of the coming federal pandemic relief payments to get personal or bank information to steal money. “Just remember that no action should be required on your part in order to receive the assistance. It should either be directly deposited into your bank account, or mailed directly to your house. If you get a call, email, text, or other communication asking for personal or bank account information, hang up, delete the message, and don’t provide any information because it’s probably a scam,” said Attorney General Herring. For more information, click here.
- On January 8, the National Security Agency’s Central Security Service released its 2020 NSA Cybersecurity Year in Review. While recognizing there is still work to be done, the review details essential steps the agency took to protect the nation’s sensitive systems and critical infrastructure. Several of the agency’s highlights include its support of Operation Warp Speed to facilitate and accelerate the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and its support in transitioning the Department of Defense into working remotely. To read the full announcement, click here.
- On January 5, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the release of a new digital tool to help Tennesseans determine when they will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The state’s eligibility tool requires users to opt in to receive updates and notifications about their vaccine phase and provides risk-based and age-based phase information at the county level. For more information, click here.
- On January 5, the Brookings Institution highlighted the increased use of employee surveillance, especially as 2020 required much of the world to go digital due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The article introduces readers to several methods that employers may use to track their workforce, such as via keylogger software (a computer program that records every keystroke made by a user), video surveillance, attention tracking, geolocation tracking, web browsing, email and social media monitoring, and through the use of productivity metrics. The article also shares tips with employers to better protect worker privacy, such as by providing them with more accurate notifications and clarification of data collection rules. To read the full story, click here.
- On January 5, the Associated Press reported that the Kansas legislature is looking to “rewrite a law that allows people exposed to COVID-19 to refuse to disclose their close contacts to health officials.” Governor Laura Kelly argued that the law (as currently written) has “served no purpose.” Some health officials say the law hinders efforts to investigate COVID-19 cases because residents who tested positive may refuse to cooperate in the investigation. However, other public health officials say, “the law hasn’t hurt contact tracing efforts[,]” because few people decline to cooperate. With the current law set to expire May 1, Kansas’ legislature expects to review any updates in the coming weeks. To read the full report, click here.
- On January 5, the Federal News Network reported that the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) plans to update its guidance on facial recognition algorithms due to new challenges raised by the COVID-19 pandemic. One of NIST’s questions covers whether facial recognition can work when somebody wears a protective face mask, citing that error rates tend to increase with partial facial visibility. To read the full report, click here.
- The County of Santa Clara’s Privacy Office began accepting registrations for its upcoming County of Santa Clara Privacy Office Data Privacy Day 2021, scheduled for January 28, 9:30 a.m. – 12:00 noon PST. The event will focus on “Modern Contact Tracing for Future Pandemics: Balancing Utility & Privacy.” Experts from government, industry, and academia will come together to discuss modern contact-tracing techniques and the potential privacy concerns involved moving forward. The event consists of two separate panels. The first panel will provide participants with a “contact tracing technology primer [benefiting] beginners and experts[,]” while the second panel “will take on a forward-looking perspective that aims to improve outcomes through leveraging the utility contract tracing apps may provide[.]” To register for this free virtual event, click here.