A movement in Oregon to restrict debt collection activity as a result of the coronavirus pandemic has been put in the spotlight after a local television station aired a report about a collection agency, on behalf of its ambulance company client, that has filed lawsuits during the pandemic against individuals who have not paid their bills.
The agency has filed more than 200 lawsuits against individuals with unpaid bills since a state of emergency was declared in Oregon by Gov. Kate Brown in early March. The lawsuits are seeking to collect on debts that were incurred before the pandemic hit the United States.
To highlight what it labeled as the ambulance company’s attempts to “aggressively” collect, the news report featured a 69-year-woman who was sued for $775 in unpaid bills. The woman, who lives of Social Security benefits, has been forced to declare bankruptcy because of the suit and other mounting bills.
The news report featured comments from a consumer advocacy group in Oregon that is part of an alliance calling themselves Stop the Debt Trap. In June, the alliance, which is made up of seven different organizations, sent a letter to Gov. Brown, urging her to take steps to “protect Oregon’s most financially vulnerable” people. Among the recommendations they made in the letter are:
- Cease the collection of debts owed or assigned to the state, including student loan debt, medical debt, and criminal legal system fines and fees. Interest accrual, late fees, and collection fees should also be halted and non-payments should not be reported to credit bureaus
- With respect to privately-held debt, suspend:
- all referrals to debt collectors or sales to debt buyers;
- all new and existing court filings, garnishments, offsets, repossessions, and court clerk-entered default judgments;
- and any other activity that will seize people’s income and/or deprive consumers of the use or benefit of wages, income, government payments or benefits, bank accounts, and other household assets