Senators urge Treasury to protect coronavirus checks from private debt collectors

Senators urge Treasury to protect coronavirus checks from private debt collectors
© Bonnie Cash

Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines GOP sees debt ceiling as its leverage against Biden Sunday shows preview: Bipartisan infrastructure talks drag on; Democrats plow ahead with Jan. 6 probe MORE (D-Ohio) and Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyTrio of Senate Republicans urges Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade Atlanta-area spa shootings suspect set to be arraigned Noem to travel to South Carolina for early voting event MORE (R-Mo.) are asking the Treasury Department to ensure that the coronavirus recovery checks are protected from private debt collectors.

"To carry out Congress’s intent and ensure that American families receive the help they need, we ask that you immediately exercise your authority to protect these payments from private debt collectors," the senators wrote in a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Biden rallies Senate Dems behind mammoth spending plan Mnuchin dodges CNBC questions on whether Trump lying over election Democrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer MORE on Thursday.

President TrumpDonald TrumpCuban embassy in Paris attacked by gasoline bombs Trump Jr. inches past DeSantis as most popular GOP figure in new poll: Axios Trump endorses Ken Paxton over George P. Bush in Texas attorney general race MORE late last month signed a $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, known as the CARES Act, under which most Americans will receive one-time direct payments of up to $1,200 per adult and $500 per child. People who have already provided the IRS with their direct-deposit information could start to receive their payments as soon as next week.

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The payments cannot be reduced if people owe back taxes or are behind on making other payments to federal or state agencies. They can only be reduced in cases where people are behind on child-support payments, according to a frequently asked questions document from the office of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Jan. 6 probe, infrastructure to dominate week Grassley pressured to run as Democrats set sights on Iowa The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi considers adding GOP voices to Jan. 6 panel MORE (R-Iowa).

Brown and Hawley urged the Treasury Department to use its authority to also prevent the direct payments from being seized for private debts, outside of child support payments.

The senators said that existing Treasury rules already prevent two months of Social Security and other federal payments from being garnished by private-debt collectors, and that Treasury could apply those rules or issue new guidance to protect the coronavirus payments from being seized as well.

"If Treasury fails to take action, the CARES Act direct payments are at risk of being seized by debt collectors," the senators wrote. "That is not what Congress intended. We came together to pass the CARES Act to help American families pay for food, medicine, and other basic necessities during this crisis."

Brown, the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, also sent a similar letter to Mnuchin earlier this month with Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenSenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Jan. 6 probe, infrastructure to dominate week Democrats brace for slog on Biden's spending plan MORE (D-Ore.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSenate confirms Biden's Air Force secretary Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Will Pence primary Trump — and win? MORE (D-Mass.).