Facts are stubborn things, once quipped the bard Shakespeare. And so they are. There are two important, stubborn facts facing Marylanders today. First is that a global pandemic has reached our shores, and we are now in a state of emergency, both in Maryland and nationwide. The second is that, whether we like it or not, our citizen-legislature has less than a month to pass law before their work comes to an end for a year.
The first fact is avoidable, but with our federal government response in disarray, likely all the same. The second one is inevitable; we do not as a state have a full-time legislature, and so must reconcile to the fact that our laws are passed and reviewed for only a short window every winter by part-time elected officials with skeletal staffs. But a third fact has yet to indeed become one: an impending economic crisis unlike anything we have seen in recent times.
Another fact: Maryland’s economy is about see a period of slow or reversed growth in the near-term, as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Large retailers have already begun curtailing hours of service, and some have announced eventual plans to shut down operations completely. Small restaurants, cafes, and other service-oriented businesses will soon need to suspend operations, or involuntarily weigh lay staff to deal with decreased revenue. In turn, local business owners and their employees will have significantly less cash in their pocket, if any at all.
What this means in a society governed by debt and where debt collection is a multi-billion dollar industry, is that everyday Marylanders will face eviction, the cutoff of utilities, foreclosure, car repossession, and derogatory credit reports very, very soon for no fault of their own. The only thing standing in the way of such economic ruin is the General Assembly doing its actual job (less selfies and self-promotional social media posts, please), and passing emergency legislation to enact an automatic stay against debt collection into law. Such a stay has historic precedent in American legal tradition: it is standard with every bankruptcy petition filed with a court. But bankruptcy isn’t really an effective way to deal with the current crisis (and it ruins a person’s financial life for at least seven years). The only real solution available is for the state legislature to admit facts are indeed stubborn things, and get to work right now on emergency legislation to protect Marylanders from predatory collection schemes by creditors whose bottom line is not safeguarding our economy, but maximizing returns for their unscrupulous investors (who else buys the stock of a debt collector?). This isn’t rocket science: the Maryland General Assembly needs to protect our citizens from an economic nightmare.
Hamza Khan is a local activist based in Potomac, Maryland.
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