GOP Senator Blocks Bill to Protect Stimulus Checks From Debt Collectors

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) blocked an attempt to protect stimulus payments from being seized by predatory debt collection agencies, after several Senate Democrats requested a vote of unanimous consent on the issue Thursday.

As part of the latest coronavirus economic relief package, every American under a certain income threshold is set to receive (or has already received) a $1,400 stimulus payment for themselves and for each dependent listed on their tax forms. But protections against collections agencies were not included in the final bill that reached President Joe Biden’s desk earlier this month, due to Senate rules regarding the reconciliation process.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and other Democrats had proposed a standalone bill on Thursday that sought to provide protections against debt collectors taking stimulus funds from Americans.

“The Senate will either stand today for the working families who desperately need this help … or the Senate is with private debt collectors, reaching their hands into those families’ pockets,” Wyden said in remarks on the Senate floor.

“We passed these checks to help families, to support families, to support local economies, not to line the pockets of predatory debt collectors,” Brown added.

Democrats had requested a vote of unanimous consent, a parliamentary procedure that allows quick passage of the bill without delay. However, Senator Toomey objected to the request, delaying the bill and making it likely that many Americans will see their stimulus checks garnished.

In voicing his objection, Toomey tried to place the blame on Democrats, arguing it was their fault that the bill didn’t include protections. Toomey also defended debt collectors, stating they had “valid legal claims” to take away people’s stimulus funds.

By refusing to pass the original stimulus bill with bipartisan support, Democrats were at fault for the present situation, according to the Republican senator. “That is the only reason that this provision couldn’t be addressed because it can’t be dealt with under the reconciliation rules,” Toomey said.

It’s possible that Republicans may end up using a filibuster to ultimately block the bill, once it comes up for debate later.

This is not the first time that a coronavirus stimulus package has failed to prevent debt collectors from seizing aid to Americans. After the CARES Act was passed last spring, debt collectors began removing funds from bank accounts. The Senate attempted to shield the checks from seizure — passing a unanimous consent bill like the kind Toomey now objects to, HuffPost reported. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives did not take up the bill, and debt collectors continued to collect funds from individuals’ bank accounts.

The December stimulus bill did include protections against debt collections, as it passed without the need for reconciliation.