Attorney General Josh Stein
As we continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, our priority should be focusing on keeping ourselves and our loved ones healthy. At the same time, this pandemic has also left more than 1 million North Carolinians unemployed and many more experiencing economic difficulties in other ways. At the Department of Justice, we’re doing everything we can to help lessen the financial hardships you are facing.
My office worked with Gov. Cooper on an executive order to help people in need. It declared that no one can have their water, power, or gas cut off by their utility for nonpayment right now. To wash your hands and stop the spread of COVID-19, you need running water. I also stopped collecting money owed to the state during the state of emergency because people need money to put food on their tables. We still expect people to pay their debts, but with people struggling to keep their heads above water, now is not the time.
Many people don’t have enough money to pay their rent or their mortgage. I’ve urged landlords and mortgage servicers around the state to act responsibly and work with their tenants and customers during this crisis. Many are already doing so, and I’m grateful to them. If you’re a tenant or a homeowner in a difficult financial situation, please reach out to your landlord or mortgage servicer and ask for help. If you can pay your rent or mortgage, please continue to do so – your timeliness will help give landlords and banks more flexibility to work with others who can’t meet their housing obligations at this time. And note that Chief Justice Cheri Beasley recently extended her court order to push all court proceedings back to June 1. You can’t be evicted or foreclosed upon without a court process, and that process is currently on hold, so you cannot be removed from your housing.
Even as many are struggling to pay bills, it’s more critical than ever that we have uninterrupted access to the internet. We are all working and learning remotely as we shelter in place – internet, cable, and phone access is necessary for every facet of our lives. I, along with Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, led a bipartisan group of 27 attorneys general calling on telecom companies and the FCC to do more to protect consumers, including extending a pledge to maintain service, offer fair and reasonable payment plans, and waive late fees.
Students are also facing major uncertainties about their futures, especially if they’ve borrowed loans to help finance their education. I wrote to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urging her to implement emergency measures to protect students with loans. Many of these measures were incorporated into the federal CARES Act, including a six-month pause on payments and interest for most federal student loan borrowers and a halt on all involuntary collections activities for federally-owned student debt. If you have student loans, you can learn more about your options for student loan financial relief and assistance at http://ncdoj.gov/covid19/studentborrowers.
I have also called on the federal government several times in the past few weeks to strengthen their response to better protect consumers during this pandemic. That includes making sure consumer reporting agencies safeguard consumers’ credit, taking additional steps to help homeowners who cannot pay their federally-backed loan payments, preventing seniors from losing their homes to foreclosure, pausing an action that would leave people with limited incomes without necessary food assistance, and helping small business owners get the financial relief they need to stay in business.
I also filed the state’s first price gouging lawsuit in this pandemic against a towing company in Charlotte that I allege improperly booted and towed trucks that were delivering food, water, and critical medical supplies. My office will not hesitate to hold price gougers accountable for exploiting people’s desperation and trying to take their hard-earned money in this time of crisis.
We are in a turbulent period. People are struggling financially through no fault of their own. We must make sure that relief and assistance is available for the many who need it. I will continue doing everything I can to mitigate the effects of these financial hardships. If you have questions about where to turn, please visit our resource page: www.ncdoj.gov/COVID19/economic-relief. And my office is here to help – if you or a loved one has questions about a possible scam or consumer issue, please contact our Consumer Protection Division at ncdoj.gov/complaint or 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.