To provide future security for many families and residents in New Jersey experiencing financial hardship brought on as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Assembly Democrats Mila Jasey, Verlina Reynolds-Jackson and John McKeon sponsor legislation that would institute protections. The Assembly Commerce Committee advanced the bill on Thursday.
“The virus is wreaking havoc on our economy and leaving countless families terrified about their financial futures,” said Jasey (D-Essex, Morris). “The virus itself, and the threat it poses to our health is frightening enough, no one should have to worry about their credit profile for reasons beyond their control.”
Among the protections in the bill (A-3908) are provisions that would allow a New Jersey resident who has suffered loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic to contact any consumer reporting agency and alert them of their situation. As a result, no user of a consumer report or credit scoring model could consider this adverse financial information, specific to Covid-19 during the covered period, as a negative factor.
Defined by the bill, the ‘covered coronavirus period’ means from the time the Governor’s declared public health and state of emergency began to 90 days following its end or to December 1, 2020, whichever comes sooner.
“With the most recent labor report revealing that about one in 10 New Jerseyans is filing for unemployment, it is abundantly clear residents are struggling,” said Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer, Hunterdon). “Making ends meet right now is a daily fight and often a decision between putting food on the table and paying bills. Ensuring there are no long-term consequences for an inability to meet certain financial obligations, so people can focus on providing for themselves and their families first, is what we must do.”
Under the measure, there would be certain limitations on the ability of medical creditors and debt collectors to take legal action against an individual until 180 days after the first medical bill has been sent. Prohibited legal action includes: placing a lien on an individual’s property, attaching or seizing an individual’s bank account or other personal property, commencing a civil action against an individual, or garnishing an individual’s wages.
“Access to affordable and quality care for everyone in New Jersey has always been and continues to be a top priority,” said McKeon (D-Essex, Morris). “Today it is even more critical. We don’t want anyone to be discouraged to seek out care for COVID-19 because they fear inability to pay. People also need time, not just to recover physically, but emotionally and socially as well, and that’s what this legislation would do: give them time.”
The bill would further clarify that State Medicaid and NJ FamilyCare health plans are required to provide coverage for COVID-19 testing and treatment expenses as ordered by a licensed healthcare professional with no cost-sharing obligation.
This legislation also provides that the Governor, by executive order during this emergency, may halt the issuance of new executions and other post-judgement processes. However, family court judgements are still permitted, so individuals remain obligated to pay child support and alimony.
The bill now goes to the Speaker for further consideration.