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Amendment to state COVID-19 relief bill ensures entirety of relief payments protected from debt collectors

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A new state law ensures that Virginians are able to keep the entirety of their federal stimulus payments, protecting that money from debt collectors and creditors.

During the 2020 COVID and Criminal Justice Reform Special Session, the General Assembly passed HB 5068 from Attorney General Mark Herring and Del. Hala Ayala, which exempted up to $1,200 in state and federal emergency relief payments from garnishment, attachment and other legal creditor process seizures, with bipartisan support.

HB 5068 included an emergency clause ensuring it went into effect immediately upon Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature. An amendment to HB 5068 approved this week ensures that Virginians are able to keep their full federal stimulus payments.

The bill was part of Herring’s 2020 COVID legislative package that included garnishment/seizure protection for relief payments, new laws to protect Virginians and Virginia hospitals and businesses from price gouging on PPE and other necessities, measures to help Virginians stay in their homes and keep utilities connected, and measures to ensure safe voting.

“These federal stimulus payments are meant to go towards helping Virginia families put food on the table, keep the lights on, purchase medical supplies, and other necessities,” Herring said. “Virginians have dealt with so much over the past year and they should not have to add worrying about debt collectors or creditors coming after their much-needed stimulus money to that list. As we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, putting Virginians first must always be our top priority and I want to thank Delegate Ayala for her partnership on this important legislation.”

“Families across the Commonwealth are still struggling to make ends meet during this uncertain economic time and it’s so important that any federal stimulus payments go towards food, utilities, rent, and other necessities,” Ayala said. “Attorney General Herring and I recognized early on that garnishment of these payments could be a serious problem and I’m so glad we were able to come up with this solution. These unprecedented times have forced us to come up with new and innovative ways to help and protect Virginians and I want to thank Attorney General Herring for his help on getting this legislation passed.”

If any Virginian believes that their economic relief payment has been unlawfully garnished or seized, they should assert their rights under § 34-28.3. Emergency relief payments exempt directly with the relevant collections agency or financial institution.


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