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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

CFPB issues guidance allowing pandemic relief payment distribution with prepaid cards

Federal Issues Agency Rule-Making & Guidance EFTA CFPB CARES Act Regulation E Covid-19 Regulation

Federal Issues

On April 13, the CFPB issued an Interpretive Rule (IR) addressing the “Treatment of Pandemic Relief Payments Under Regulation E and Application of the Compulsory Use Prohibition.” Pursuant to the CARES Act, many consumers are entitled to pandemic relief payments, generally provided through direct deposit to the consumer’s bank account. When that information is unavailable, or when the consumer does not have a bank account, the IR allows government agencies to provide the economic impact payments via alternative means, including by issuing prepaid account cards. However, the Electronic Fund Transfer Act and implementing Regulation E prohibit government agencies from requiring consumers to “establish accounts for receipt of electronic fund transfers with a particular financial institution as a condition of receipt of a government benefit. ” According to the IR, the “compulsory use prohibition” will not apply to prepaid cards and the Covid-19 relief payments will not be classified as government benefits, provided the cards fulfill certain requirements. In order to not be considered “government benefits” the payments must: (i) be to aid consumers impacted by Covid-19; (ii) not be “part of an already-established government benefit program”; (iii) be distributed “on a one-time or otherwise limited basis”; and (iv) not require consumers to apply for the funds.

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