The coronavirus outbreak poses a major challenge to public health and to the economy. An unprecedented 22 million Americans filed for unemployment in the last four weeks, yet bills keep coming and debts keep piling up. A part of our policy response to the crisis must include solutions that help those teetering on the edge of financial ruin.
For millions of Americans, a $1,200 stimulus check will not even cover one month of basic expenses, including rent and mortgage payments, food and clothing, car loans, medical costs, credit cards, and utility costs.
Consumer spending drives our nation’s economy, and we will emerge from the current crisis. But if Americans are left drowning in debt at the end of it, our recovery will be hampered as people will spend less on goods and services.
Indeed, consumer debt has kept American families and consumers underwater for a long time. In fact, in 2019, total household debt passed $14 trillion. The average household with a credit card has over $8,000 in credit card debt alone. Americans are getting crushed, and high credit card interest rates and fees have long made it impossible for the average consumer to get out from under this burden.
Congress included some protections in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, but much more must be done to ensure that everyone has access to relief. Homeowners with federally-backed mortgages who are experiencing hardship due to COVID-19 qualify to delay mortgage payments through forbearance. Renters are protected from eviction for 120 days, but only if they live in a property with a federally-backed loan or participate in certain federal programs. These were important steps. But CARES mortgage relief leaves out an estimated 30 percent of single-family homeowners, not all renters are protected, and all homeowners and renters will need to get back on track when the protections expire. For homeowners, that will likely mean a loan modification to keep payments affordable, and for renters, it will mean making up missed payments or facing eviction.
Congress also automatically suspended most federal student loan payments and set federal…