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  • Supreme Court blocks OSHA mandate

    Courts

    On January 13, a divided U.S. Supreme Court issued an order blocking a Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule mandating that employers with 100 or more employees require employees to be fully vaccinated or be subject to a weekly Covid-19 test at their own expense. However, in a separate order the Court allowed a separate rule issued by the Department of Health and Human Services requiring Covid-19 vaccinations for health care workers (unless exempt for medical or religious reasons) at Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers to take effect.

    In November, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a nationwide stay on the emergency temporary standard (ETS) that included the mandate to employers, describing enforcement of the ETS illegitimate and calling the OSHA rule “unlawful” and “likely unconstitutional.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) However, last month, the 6th Circuit lifted the stay in a 2-1 ruling, stating that “[b]ased on [OSHA’s] language, structure and Congressional approval, OSHA has long asserted its authority to protect workers against infectious diseases.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The applicants, seeking emergency relief from the Court to reinstate the stay, argued that the rule exceeded OSHA’s statutory authority and is otherwise unlawful.

    In agreeing that the applicants are likely to prevail, the Court majority granted the application for relief and stayed the OSHA rule pending disposition of the applicants’ petitions for review in the 6th Circuit, as well as disposition of any timely petitions for writs of certiorari. “Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly,” the majority wrote. Adding that the ETS is a “blunt instrument” that “draws no distinctions based on industry or risk of exposure to COVID-19,” the majority stated that the Occupational Safety and Health Act does not plainly authorize the rule.

    The dissenting judges argued that the majority’s decision “stymies the Federal Government’s ability to counter the unparalleled threat that COVID–19 poses to our Nation’s workers. Acting outside of its competence and without legal basis, the Court displaces the judgments of the Government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies.”

    With respect to the Department of Health and Human Services rule, the Government applied to stay injunctions issued by two district courts preventing the rule from taking effect. In granting the application and staying the injunctions, the majority of the Court found that one of the Department’s basic functions authorized by Congress “is to ensure that the healthcare providers who care for Medicare and Medicaid patients protect their patients’ health and safety,” concluding that “[h]ealthcare workers around the country are ordinarily required to be vaccinated for diseases” and that “addressing infection problems in Medicare and Medicaid facilities is what [the Secretary] does.” 

    In dissent, four justices argued that the efficacy or importance of Covid-19 vaccines was not at issue in assessing the injunctions, stating that the district court cases were about “whether [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] has the statutory authority to force healthcare workers, by coercing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure they do not want and cannot undo,” and arguing that “the Government has not made a strong showing that Congress gave CMS that broad authority.”

    Courts U.S. Supreme Court Appellate Sixth Circuit OSHA Covid-19 Department of Labor Department of Health and Human Services Fifth Circuit

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  • FTC says robocall violations top consumers’ do-not-call complaints

    Federal Issues

    On January 5, the FTC issued its National Do Not Call (DNC) Registry biennial report to Congress. According to the report, more than 244 million consumers have now placed their telephone numbers on the DNC Registry over the past two years. The report also highlighted that in FY 2021, the Commission received more than five million DNC complaints, the majority of which reported robocalls violations as opposed to live telemarketing. The FTC reported that the increased number of illegal telemarketing calls correlates with advancements in technology that make it easier for telemarketers to “spoof” the caller ID information accompanying a call. “[M]any telemarketers use automated dialing technology to make calls that deliver prerecorded messages (commonly referred to as ‘robocalls’), which allow violators to make very high volumes of illegal calls without significant expense,” the FTC said. Imposters posing as government representatives or legitimate business entities topped the complaint list, followed by calls related to warranties and protection plans, debt-reduction offers, and medical and prescription issues. Last month, in response to the consistently high level of impersonator scam complaints, the FTC issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking seeking comments on a wide-range of questions related to government and business impersonation fraud (covered by InfoBytes here). The FTC noted that these scammers are looking for information that can be used to commit identity theft or seek monetary payment and often request that funds be paid through wire transfer, gift cards, or cryptocurrency. Additionally, the FTC stated that since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, it has received more than 18,000 Covid-related DNC complaints.

    Federal Issues FTC Robocalls Spoofing Covid-19 Consumer Protection Do Not Call Registry

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  • Treasury issues final rule supporting the Covid-19 response

    Federal Issues

    On January 6, the U.S. Treasury Department issued the final rule for the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) program, which was established under the American Rescue Plan Act, and has delivered approximately $350 billion to state, local, and Tribal governments for Covid-19 pandemic relief. According to Treasury, the “SLFRF program ensures governments have the resources needed to respond to the pandemic, including providing health and vaccine services, supporting families and businesses struggling with the pandemic’s economic impacts, maintaining vital public services, and building a strong and equitable recovery.” Highlights of the final rule include providing additional clarity and flexibility for recipient governments by, among other things: (i) expanding the list of eligible uses for funds; (ii) increasing support for public sector hiring and capacity; (iii) streamlining options to provide premium pay for essential workers; and (iv) broadening eligible water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure projects. The rule is effective April 1, 2022.

    The same day, the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) announced that its efforts to spur mortgage servicers’ participation in the California Mortgage Relief Program, which is funded by Treasury under the American Rescue Plan Act, has “helped forge a national model to protect homeowners impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.” According to the announcement, among other things, DFPI “issued a historic reporting requirement for residential mortgage servicing licensees to report how they would be protecting homeowners through increased mortgage relief staffing, mitigation efforts such as repayment plans, and state and federal mortgage relief funding,” and “encouraged mortgage lenders and servicers to work with affected customers and communities to avoid foreclosures.”

    Federal Issues Department of Treasury DFPI Covid-19 California State Issues

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  • VA extends suspension of certain property inspection requirements for Covid-19 forbearance cases

    Federal Issues

    On December 21, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued Circular 26-21-27 to extend the suspension of certain inspection requirements for properties purchased with loans guaranteed by the VA where the borrower has been negatively impacted by Covid-19. In 2020, the VA temporarily suspended its requirement to conduct a property inspection before the 60th day of delinquency for borrowers whose loans are currently in forbearance and were current or had not reached the 60th day of delinquency when the borrower requested CARES Act forbearance. Circular 26-21-27 sunsets on October 1, 2022.

    Federal Issues Department of Veterans Affairs Covid-19 Consumer Finance CARES Act Mortgages Servicing Forbearance

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  • CFPB examines pandemic’s effects on consumer finances

    Federal Issues

    On December 21, the CFPB released a data point report discussing the results of a Making Ends Meet survey, which examined consumers’ financial health during the Covid-19 pandemic. Using the results from the survey as well associated credit bureau data, the Bureau found that while consumers “were much more likely to face income drops during the pandemic,” their “financial well-being scores improved on average through the end of the survey period (February 2021).” The Bureau reported that this may be attributed to pandemic-assistance policies, including unemployment insurance and pandemic-specific loan and rent flexibilities, many of which have ended or will end soon. Among the report’s observations, the Bureau noted a pattern between credit card debt and credit card utilization rates, where “credit card debt increased and decreased as cash assistance policies started and stopped.” Additionally, with the exception of federal student loan borrowers who received an automatic zero-payment-due plan, the Bureau found that roughly “80 percent of consumers who received rent, mortgage, credit card, or other forbearance suffered a significant income drop.” Recognizing that these policies helped protect consumers impacted by pandemic, the Bureau cautioned that “their expiration may lead to increased consumer distress unless the economic recovery is strong and equitable enough to make up for the loss of protections.”

    Federal Issues CFPB Consumer Finance Covid-19

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  • Education Dept. extends student loan moratorium

    Federal Issues

    On December 22, the Department of Education announced a 90-day extended pause on student loan repayment, interest, and collections through May 1, 2022, which will allow the Biden Administration “to assess the impacts of the Omicron variant on student borrowers and provide additional time for borrowers to plan for the resumption of payments and reduce the risk of delinquency and defaults after restart.” As previously covered by InfoBytes, in August 2021, President Biden announced the extension of the moratorium on collecting student loans until January 31, 2022. According to the Department, the extended pause will assist 41 million borrowers in saving $5 billion per month and “[b]orrowers are encouraged to use the additional time to ensure their contact information is up to date and to consider enrolling in electronic debit and income-driven repayment plans to support a smooth transition to repayment.”

    Federal Issues Student Lending Covid-19 Agency Rule-Making & Guidance Department of Education

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  • States say FHA must require servicers to comply with Covid-19 loss mitigation options

    State Issues

    On December 21, a coalition of attorneys general from 20 states and the District of Columbia sent a letter to the FHA urging the agency to address mortgage servicers’ alleged failure to adequately implement Covid-19 recovery loss mitigation options for eligible borrowers. As previously covered by InfoBytes, FHA issued Mortgagee Letter 2021-18 in July, which required mortgage servicers to offer a zero-interest subordinate lien option to eligible homeowners who can resume their existing mortgage payments under the “COVID-19 Recovery Standalone Partial Claim” option. For borrowers that are unable to resume their monthly mortgage payments, FHA established the “COVID-19 Recovery Modification” option, which extended the term of a mortgage to 360 months at market rate and targeted a 25 percent principal and interest reduction for all eligible borrowers. At the time, FHA informed servicers that they could start offering the options as soon as operationally feasible but were required to use the new options within 90 days.

    The AGs alleged in their letter that several servicers of FHA-insured loans are reportedly failing to adequately implement these Covid-19 relief programs, and are instead “routinely sending borrowers letters that fail to include the Covid-19 Recovery Modification as an available option, are requiring paperwork and imposing qualifications that are not necessary under the FHA’s guidelines, and are instructing borrowers during customer-service phone calls that this option does not exist.” The AGs expressed deep concerns over these reports and requested that FHA take immediate action to ensure that FHA’s loss mitigation options, including the Covid-19 Recovery Modification, are fully implemented, and that borrowers receive accurate, up-to-date information. The AGs asked that FHA-approved lenders and servicers be required to demonstrate that they are taking affirmative actions to implement these Covid-19 relief options and requested training for all customer service staff to ensure borrowers receive the necessary information.

    State Issues State Attorney General FHA HUD Mortgages Mortgage Servicing Covid-19 Federal Issues Consumer Finance Loss Mitigation

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  • NCUA extends Covid-19 regulatory relief

    Federal Issues

    On December 21, the NCUA unanimously approved an extension to the effective date of a temporary final rule, which granted regulatory relief to federally insured credit unions during the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, the NCUA issued the final rule to temporarily raise “the maximum aggregate amount of loan participations that a [federally insured credit union (FICU)] may purchase from a single originating lender to the greater of $5,000,000 or 200 percent of the FICU’s net worth.” The final rule also temporarily suspended certain “limitations on the eligible obligations that a federal credit union [] may purchase and hold.” Required timeframes related to the occupancy or disposition of certain properties not in use for federal credit union business or that were abandoned were also suspended. The temporary final rule’s modifications will remain in effect through December 31, 2022.

    Federal Issues NCUA Credit Union Covid-19 Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

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  • 6th Circuit: OSHA required testing is allowed

    Courts

    On December 17, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit lifted the stay on the federal government’s rule requiring employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their employees are vaccinated against Covid-19 or be subjected to weekly Covid-19 testing. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) published a rule in the Federal Register requiring employers to develop, implement, and enforce a mandatory Covid-19 vaccination policy, unless they adopt a policy requiring employees to choose between vaccination or regular testing for Covid-19 and wearing a face covering at work. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued a nationwide stay on the emergency temporary standard (ETS), which mandates that all employers with 100 or more employees require employees to be fully vaccinated or be subject to a weekly Covid-19 test (covered by InfoBytes here). The 5th Circuit stay, which was in response to a legal challenge filed by several states along with private entities and individuals, affirmed the court’s initial stay. The 5th Circuit said OSHA’s enforcement of the ETS is illegitimate and called it “unlawful” and “likely unconstitutional.” Furthermore, the 5th Circuit ordered OSHA to “take no steps to implement or enforce the Mandate until further court order.”

    On the appeal, the 6th Circuit lifted the stay in a 2-1 ruling, stating that “[b]ased on [OSHA’s] language, structure and Congressional approval, OSHA has long asserted its authority to protect workers against infectious diseases." The appellate court also noted that “OSHA relied on public health data to support its observations that workplaces have a heightened risk of exposure to the dangers of COVID-19 transmission.” However, one judge dissented, writing that “[v]accines are freely available, and unvaccinated people may choose to protect themselves at anytime. And because the [Secretary of Labor] likely lacks congressional authority to force them to protect themselves, the remaining stay factors cannot tip the balance.”

    Courts Appellate Sixth Circuit OSHA Covid-19

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  • FTC proposes rule to combat impersonation fraud

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance

    On December 16, the FTC issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) seeking comments on a wide-range of questions related to government and business impersonation fraud. According to the FTC, reported losses due to impersonation fraud have spiked during the Covid-19 pandemic, with data from the Social Security Administration reporting $2 billion in total losses between October 2020 and September 2021. These impersonation scams include persons posing as government officials or employees or persons claiming they represent well-known businesses or charities, and may use “misleading domain names, URLs, and ‘spoofed’ contact information’” to create the illusion of legitimacy. The FTC added that scammers are looking for information that can be used to commit identity theft or seek monetary payment and often request that funds be paid through wire transfer, gift cards, or cryptocurrency. Government impersonators also often threaten consumers with severe consequences, while business impersonators regularly use ploys claiming they have identified suspicious activity on a consumer’s account or computer.

    The ANPR - the FTC’s first action under its streamlined rulemaking procedures announced earlier this year (covered by InfoBytes here) - seeks feedback, data, and arguments from the public concerning the need for rulemaking to prevent this type of fraud.” Comments on the ANPR are due within 60 days of publication in the Federal Register.

    Agency Rule-Making & Guidance FTC Consumer Protection Covid-19 Privacy/Cyber Risk & Data Security Fraud

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