March 03, 2020

Senator Warren Questions Nation's Largest Retail Banks on Plans for Assisting Americans Affected by Coronavirus-related Disruptions

Warren calls on big banks to take "meaningful steps to provide relief" to customers; Banks have provided similar relief during natural disasters and the 2019 government shutdown; Warren has called for emergency paid sick leave to all individuals exposed to coronavirus that would fully replace wages lost while in quarantine or acting as a family caregiver

Washington, DC -- United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ranking Member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions, and Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Labor, Education, and Pensions (HELP), sent letters to the CEOs at five large U.S. retail banks -- JP Morgan, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank, and U.S. Bancorp -- to ask how they plan to provide financial assistance to customers who may face economic difficulties related to the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). In the past, these five banks have extended flexibilities to their customers to ensure that temporary conditions, including natural disasters and the 2019 government shutdown, did not create long-term financial difficulties.

In countries where COVID-19 cases have proliferated, the spread of the illness has shaken local economies, shuttered businesses, stopped travel and trade, closed schools, and quarantined workers. If the outbreak grows in the United States, the economic costs could be severe: many of the banks' customers may have temporary or permanent losses of income that would make it hard for them to pay their mortgages, credit card bills, auto loans and other consumer debts. If businesses' bottom lines take substantial hits, workers could have their hours cut or even be laid off. And if there are shortages due to supply chain disruptions from the outbreak or due to individuals purchasing items in bulk, prices could climb dramatically.

Senator Warren's letter noted that she has also called for providing emergency paid sick leave to all individuals exposed to coronavirus that would fully replace wages lost while in quarantine or acting as a family caregiver.

"Because of the severe economic threat from a coronavirus pandemic, the financial stability of millions of American families may be at risk," Senator Warren wrote. "As one of the largest retail banks in the country, your institution can take certain steps to limit this risk, as you have done in prior times of economic distress for individuals."

In 2019, when President Trump's government shutdown affected over 800,000 federal workers, Senator Warren wrote to the same five banks to ask about the actions each bank was taking to assist those affected. In response, banks reported that they were offering zero-interest credit card accounts, waiving overdraft and late fees and offering forbearance for mortgages -- providing important relief to workers and families.  

"It is my hope that, should they be necessary, that you will again be willing and able to provide a similar set of solutions to those affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Given the uncertain trajectory of the disease and the number of individuals who could be affected, I hope that you will be able to provide additional assistance to the extent it does not impact the safety and soundness of your bank," wrote Senator Warren.

Senator Warren has requested responses to her questions by March 17, 2020.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, Senator Warren has worked to ensure that the Trump Administration is effectively responding to the outbreak and that the U.S. has the resources needed to address this threat. Her ongoing efforts include the following:
  • Yesterday, Senators Warren and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) sent letters to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requesting information on their efforts to protect the American public from coronavirus scams.
  • Last week, she sent letters to the CEOs of Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley -- the U.S.-based "Too Big to Fail" banks with the largest foreign exposures -- asking about how they are monitoring and preparing to mitigate the economic risks of the outbreak of the coronavirus. 
  • She also introduced legislation on February 27, 2020 requiring all funds that have been appropriated to build a border wall--including funds directly appropriated by Congress and funds diverted by the executive branch from other accounts--to be immediately transferred to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for the purpose of combatting the novel coronavirus.
  • Senator Warren wrote to federal agencies raising concerns over reports that appeared to show confusion and disagreement between federal officials earlier this month when State Department and HHS officials overruled Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations during the evacuation of American citizens with coronavirus from Japan.
  • Senator Warren joined Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and 24 of their Senate colleagues pressing the Trump Administration to request emergency funding for the coronavirus response. Their letter to HHS and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) also expressed their concerns over the Trump Administration's failure to outline what additional resources it needs to respond to the rapidly developing coronavirus outbreak.
  • Senator Warren and Senator Murray led 25 of their Senate colleagues urging the head of the National Security Council (NSC) to appoint a senior global health security expert to manage the response to the threat. Senators Warren and Murray first raised concerns about this lack of public health leadership at the NSC in May 2018.
  • Senator Warren also joined Senator Murray and sent a letter to OMB and HHS opposing their decision to pull funding from existing public health programs to combat coronavirus rather than requesting supplemental funds from Congress.
  • On February 13, 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on a bipartisan letter calling on HHS to establish clear guidelines for how state and local governments will be reimbursed for costs incurred while assisting the federal response to the coronavirus outbreak.
  • On February 3, 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Murray and Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) and 47 of their bipartisan colleagues calling on CDC to distribute rapid diagnostic tests for the novel coronavirus as quickly as possible and to prioritize states with confirmed cases of the virus to receive the first available test kits.
  • On January 31, 2020, after the first coronavirus case was confirmed in the United States, Senators Warren and Angus King (I-Maine) questioned USAID on the agency's 2019 decision to shutter PREDICT, a global infectious disease prevention program, which from 2009 to 2019, identified nearly 1,000 new viruses, including a new strand of Ebola; trained roughly 5,000 people; and improved or developed 60 research laboratories.
  • Also in January 2020, Senator Warren joined Senator Murray and 29 of their Democratic Senate colleagues sending a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar requesting updates on the Administration's response to the novel coronavirus outbreak and information on the steps being taken to keep families safe.
  • Further, following the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission's 2019 Annual Report that showed U.S. "growing reliance" on products critical to the manufacturing of drugs, which are primarily made in China, Senator Warren and a group of bipartisan senators wrote to the Department of Defense (DoD) seeking answers on how DoD is working to address the risk of reliance on foreign drug makers.