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Rep. Meeks Announces the Passage of the Debt Collection Harmonization Act

May 13, 2021

Washington, D.C. - Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 2547, the Comprehensive Debt Collection Improvement Act, which includes Rep. Gregory W. Meeks' bill entitled the "Debt Collection Practices Harmonization Act." H.R. 2547 provides much needed protections for small businesses and consumers against predatory debt collection practices, and Rep. Meeks' portion of the bill, included as Title VII of the package, amends and modernizes the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

Rep. Meeks' Debt Collection Practices Harmonization Act, first introduced in 2016, ensures that civil damages awarded for abusive practices are adjusted for inflation. These are currently capped at $1,000, an amount that was maybe material at the time of passage, but it is no longer the case that a $1,000 penalty is a credible deterrent to debt collectors who may violate the FDCPA. Additionally, it will allow courts to provide injunctive relief in a civil action where there is an alleged violation. Notably, the penalties for FDCPA have not been adjusted since 1978.

Title VII of the legislation also bars private debt collectors from going after debts related to natural disasters by prohibiting the Treasury Department from contracting with any debt collector to recoup any FEMA assistance awarded to victims of devastating natural disasters. When Superstorm Sandy devastated parts of Queens, FEMA made overpayments to consumers and consumers used that funding to improve their homes. However, years later, FEMA contracted with debt collectors and approached those same consumers demanding money back from the overpayment. This bill rectifies this issue by preventing FEMA from contracting with any debt collectors to collect these amounts and similar overpayments.

After passage, Rep. Meeks stated:

"Nearly four decades ago, Congress passed the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to protect consumers from unfair and abusive conduct by debt collectors. However, unlike collectors of consumer debts, those hired by government agencies are not covered by this act and often disregard basic consumer protection standards that were mandated under this law.

"Today, the House passed long overdue debt collection regulations and I look forward to passage of this important legislation in the Senate," said Rep. Meeks.