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On April 15, the FTC announced a civil complaint filed by the DOJ on its behalf, against a St. Louis-based company and its owner for violating the Covid-19 Consumer Protection Act and the FTC Act by making deceptive marketing health claims about their products. (See also DOJ press release here.) This is the first action the FTC has brought under the new law, which makes it unlawful under Section 5 of the FTC Act “for any person, partnership, or corporation to engage in a deceptive act or practice in or affecting commerce . . . that is associated with the treatment, cure, prevention, mitigation, or diagnosis of COVID–19” or “a government benefit related to COVID–19.” The FTC’s complaint alleges that the defendants deceptively marketed their products as being an effective treatment for Covid-19 based on the results of certain scientific studies, even though they “lacked any reasonable bases” for their claims. According to the FTC’s announcement, the defendants also allegedly advertised—without scientific support—that their products were equally, or more, effective than the currently available vaccines. The FTC seeks an injunction against the defendants, along with monetary penalties and other civil remedies to prevent harm caused by the defendants’ misrepresentations.
Recently, the Federal Reserve Banks released the 2021 Report on Employer Firms covering findings from their small business credit survey (SBCS), which gathered insights from nearly 10,000 small businesses with fewer than 500 employees on challenges resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as on business performance and credit conditions. SBCS findings showed that few small businesses were able to avoid negative impacts as a result of the pandemic, and notably revealed disparities in experiences and outcomes across business and owner demographics, including race and ethnicity, industry, and firm size. Key findings include:
- Small businesses’ financial conditions sharply declined between 2019 and 2020, with firms owned by people of color reporting greater challenges. Statistics include: (i) 78 percent of firms reported decreases in revenue; (ii) 79 percent, 77 percent, and 66 percent of Asian-owned, Black-owned, and Latinx-owned firms, respectively, “characterized their financial condition as ‘fair’ or ‘poor’” (in contrast to 54 percent of Non-Hispanic White); and (iii) the share of firms carrying more than $100,000 in debt increased from 31 percent in 2019 to 44 percent in 2020.
- 91 percent of small businesses applied for some type of emergency funding. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was the most commonly used program, with 77 percent of PPP applicants receiving all of the funding they requested. Applications were most frequently submitted through large and small banks, with 95 and 83 percent of applicants having an existing relationship with either a large bank or small bank, respectively, prior to applying for a PPP loan.
- 64 percent of small businesses would apply for additional government-provided assistance if it were available, with 39 percent reporting that “they would be unlikely to survive until sales return to ‘normal’ (that is, 2019 levels) without further government assistance.”
- Approval rates on loans, lines of credit, and cash advances decreased. Prior to the start of the pandemic, 81 percent of small businesses were at least partially approved for funding. After March 1, only 70 percent received partial approval.
- Use of online lenders decreased during 2020, with 42 percent of small businesses applying for loans, lines of credit, or cash advances through a large bank (43 percent turned to a small bank). In contrast, the number of small businesses that applied to online lenders fell from 33 percent in 2019 to 20 percent in 2020. Notably, small businesses with lower credit scores applied to online lenders and nonbank finance companies more often than their higher credit score counterparts. Moreover, small businesses that received financing from online lenders reported a decline in net satisfaction.
On April 14, the CFPB issued its annual fair lending report to Congress, which outlines the Bureau’s efforts in 2020 to fulfill its fair lending mandate, while protecting consumers against the resulting economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the report, the Bureau continued to focus on promoting fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit, highlighting several fair lending priorities that continued from years past such as mortgage origination, small business lending, and student loan origination. The report also discusses new policy areas and programs for fair lending examinations or investigations, including (i) the Fair Lending Help Desks; (ii) amendments concerning Regulation C, which will increase the permanent threshold for collecting, recording, and reporting data about open-end lines of credit from 100 to 200; and (iii) two HMDA data point articles. Additionally, the report discusses the Bureau’s efforts in expanding access to credit for underserved or underbanked populations, including: (i) hosting the first “Tech Sprint” (covered by InfoBytes here) to encourage regulatory innovation and stakeholder collaboration; (ii) continuing to examine and investigate institutions for compliance with HMDA and ECOA; (iii) engaging with stakeholders to discuss fair lending compliance, issues related to credit access, and policy decisions; and (iv) issuing Supervisory Recommendations relating to weak or nonexistent fair lending policies and procedures, risk assessments, and fair lending training. The report also provides information related to regulation, supervision, enforcement, and education efforts.
Industry group sues to stop Washington’s emergency rule banning credit scoring in insurance underwriting
According to sources, the American Property Casualty Insurance Association (APCIA) recently filed a lawsuit in Washington Superior Court in an attempt to stop an emergency rule issued last month by the Washington Insurance Commissioner, which bans the use of credit-based insurance scores in the rating and underwriting of insurance for a three-year period. The rule specifically prohibits insurers from “us[ing] credit history to place insurance coverage with a particular affiliated insurer or insurer within an overall group of affiliated insurance companies” and applies to all new policies effective, and existing policies processed for renewal, on or after June 20, 2021.
According to a press release issued by the Commissioner, the emergency rule is intended to prevent discriminatory pricing in private auto, renters, and homeowners insurance in anticipation of the end of the CARES Act, which will expire 120 days after President Biden declares an end to the national emergency caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Under the CARES Act, Congress required furnishers of information to credit bureaus to modify credit reporting practices if and when they grant an “accommodation”—that is, an agreement to defer payments, modify a loan, or grant other relief—to borrowers impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, irrespective of asset type to ensure that borrowers who sought and obtained forbearance or other relief were not credit reported as becoming delinquent or further delinquent as a result of the forbearance or other relief (see Buckley Special Alert), which the Commissioner believes has disrupted the credit reporting process and reportedly caused credit bureaus to collect inaccurate credit histories for some consumers. The Commissioner further contends that because “the predicative ability of current credit scoring models cannot be assumed,” scoring models used by insurers to set rates for policyholders have been degraded and will have a disparate impact on consumers with lower incomes and communities of color. Sources report that APCIA’s lawsuit—which seeks declaratory and injunctive relief (and asks the court to declare the Commissioner’s rule invalid and to enjoin its enforcement)—claims the Commissioner’s rule will harm insured consumers in the state who pay less for auto, homeowners, and renters insurance because of the use of credit-based insurance scores to predict risk and set rates.
On April 6, the Small Business Administration (SBA) updated its Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) frequently asked questions to clarify when an applicant or owner is no longer considered to be “presently involved in any bankruptcy” for PPP loan eligibility purposes. In order to be eligible for a PPP loan, SBA requires all borrowers to certify on their applications that the applicant, as well as any owner of 20 percent or more of the applicant, is not “presently involved in any bankruptcy.” SBA’s FAQ provides that “[i]f an applicant or owner has filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, the applicant or owner is considered to be ‘presently involved in any bankruptcy’ for PPP eligibility purposes until the Bankruptcy Court has entered a discharge order in the case.” For Chapter 11, 12, or 13 bankruptcy petitions, the applicant or owner will be “considered to be ‘presently involved in any bankruptcy’ for PPP eligibility purposes until the Bankruptcy Court has entered an order confirming the plan in the case.” An applicant or owner will not be considered to be “presently involved in any bankruptcy” if the Bankruptcy Court has entered an order dismissing the case, regardless of the type of bankruptcy petition. SBA stipulates, however, that the order must be entered before the date of the PPP loan application.
The SBA also issued a procedural notice to lenders announcing it will shut down the PPP platform to new PPP loan guaranty applications at 12 a.m. EDT on June 1.
On April 7, the CFPB proposed to extend the effective date of two recent debt collection rules to allow affected parties additional time to comply due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) delays the effective date by 60 days of the two final rules issued under the FDCPA, which were scheduled to take effect on November 30 but are now proposed to take effect January 29, 2022. The proposed delay would give stakeholders affected by the pandemic more time to examine and implement the rules. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the first debt collection rule, issued in October 2020, addressed debt collection communications and prohibitions on harassment or abuse, false or misleading representations, and unfair practices. The second debt collection rule, issued in December 2020, clarified the information debt collectors must provide to consumers at the outset of collection communications and provided a model validation notice containing such information (covered by InfoBytes here).
On April 2, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker issued Executive Order 2021-06, which extends several previous executive orders through May 1, 2021 (previously covered here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Among other things, the order extends: (i) Executive Order 2020-07 regarding in-person meeting requirements, (ii) Executive Order 2020-23 regarding actions by individuals licensed by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation engaged in disaster response, (iii) Executive Order 2020-25 regarding garnishment and wage deductions (previously covered here), (iv) Executive Order 2020-30 regarding residential evictions (previously covered here), and (v) Executive Order 2020-72 regarding the residential eviction moratorium (previously covered here and here).
On March 31, the CFPB rescinded, effective April 1, the following policy statements, which provided temporary regulatory flexibility measures to help financial institutions work with consumers affected by the Covid-19 pandemic:
- A March 26, 2020, statement addressing the Bureau’s commitment to taking into account staffing and related resource challenges facing financial institutions related to supervision and enforcement activities.
- A March 26, 2020, statement postponing quarterly HMDA reporting requirements. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
- A March 26, 2020, statement postponing annual data submission requirements related to credit card and prepaid accounts required under TILA, Regulation Z and Regulation E. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
- An April 1, 2020, statement on credit reporting agencies and furnishers’ credit reporting obligations under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and Regulation V during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Bureau notes that the rescission “leaves intact the section entitled “Furnishing Consumer Information Impacted by COVID-19” which articulates the CFPB’s support for furnishers’ voluntary efforts to provide payment relief and that the CFPB does not intend to cite in examinations or take enforcement actions against those who furnish information to consumer reporting agencies that accurately reflect the payment relief measures they are employing.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
- An April 27, 2020, statement affirming that the Bureau would not take supervisory or enforcement action against land developers subject to the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act and Regulation J for delays in filing financial statements and annual reports of activity. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
- A May 13, 2020, statement providing supervision and enforcement flexibility for creditors to resolve billing errors during the pandemic. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
- A June 3, 2020, statement providing temporary flexibility for credit card issuers regarding electronic provision of certain disclosures during the Covid-19 pandemic in accordance with the E-Sign Act and Regulation Z. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
The rescission also withdraws the Bureau as a signatory to the April 7, 2020, Interagency Statement on Loan Modifications and Reporting for Financial Institutions Working with Customers Affected by the Coronavirus (covered by InfoBytes here), and the April 14, 2020, Interagency Statement on Appraisals and Evaluations for Real Estate Related Financial Transactions Affected by the Coronavirus (covered by InfoBytes here).
Additionally, the Bureau issued Bulletin 2021-01 announcing changes to how it communicates supervisory expectations to institutions. Bulletin 2021-01 replaces Bulletin 2018-01 (covered by InfoBytes here), which previously created two categories of findings conveying supervisory expectations: Matters Requiring Attention (MRAs) and Supervisory Recommendations (SRs). Under the revised Bulletin, the Bureau notes that examiners “will continue to rely on [MRAs] to convey supervisory expectations” but will no longer issue formal written SRs, as the agency believes that MRAs will more effectively convey its supervisory expectations. The Bulletin further states that “Bureau examiners may issue MRAs with or without a related supervisory finding that a supervised entity has violated a Federal consumer financial law.”
On March 24 and 25, EU and U.S. participants, including officials from the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve Board, CFTC, FDIC, SEC, and OCC, participated in the U.S.-EU Joint Financial Regulatory Forum to discuss topics of mutual interest, including those related to (i) “next steps” for Covid-19 recovery and for mitigating financial stability risks; (ii) “sustainable finance”; (iii) banking and insurance multilateral and bilateral engagement; (iv) capital market regulatory and supervisory cooperation; (v) regulatory and supervisory developments pertaining to financial innovation, including the importance of promoting ongoing “responsible innovation and international supervisory cooperation”; and (vi) anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) issues, including “the potential for enhanced cooperation to combat money laundering and terrorist financing bilaterally and in the framework of [the Financial Action Task Force].” Participants also discussed possible responses to climate-related financial risks, as well as “the progress in their respective legislative and supervisory efforts to ensure a smooth transition away from LIBOR.”
On March 30, the U.S. Treasury Department issued frequently asked questions to provide timely guidance concerning all aspects of the Emergency Capital Investment Program (ECIP). The FAQs cover issues regarding:
- The types of institutions eligible to participate in the ECIP;
- Submission of an ECIP application and emergency investment lending plan;
- How Treasury will decide allocation of the available capital among applicants that meet the thresholds for eligibility, including how well an applicant has responded to the needs of communities impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic;
- Whether an institution can choose to issue preferred stock or subordinated debt in the ECIP; and
- Compliance and reporting requirements.
The ECIP was established by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 (covered by InfoBytes here), and will provide up to $9 billion in capital directly to Community Development Financial Institutions and minority depository institutions to provide, among other things, “loans, grants, and forbearance for small and minority businesses and consumers in low income communities” that may be disproportionately impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. As previously covered in InfoBytes, on March 22, the OCC, Federal Reserve Board, and the FDIC published an interim final rule (IFR) to facilitate the implementation of the ECIP.
- Garylene D. Javier to discuss “How to ensure customer and workforce equality in consumer financial services” at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Spring Meeting
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss “The bureau in transition” at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Spring Meeting
- Kari K. Hall to discuss “Fair lending and artificial intelligence” at the American Bar Association Business Law Section Spring Meeting
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Reading the tea leaves of President Biden’s initial financial appointees" at LendIt Fintech
- APPROVED Webcast: Staying in the know with Buckley regtech solutions
- Moorari K. Shah to discuss “CA, NY, federal licensing and disclosure” at the Equipment Leasing & Finance Association Legal Forum
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss "Compliance under Biden" at the WSJ Risk & Compliance Forum
- Sherry-Maria Safchuk to discuss UDAAP at an American Bar Association webinar
- Jeffrey P. Naimon to discuss "What to expect: The new administration and regulatory changes" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Jonice Gray Tucker to discuss “The future of fair lending” at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Steven R. vonBerg to discuss "LO comp challenges" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss "Major litigation" at the Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues and Regulatory Compliance Conference
- Michelle L. Rogers to discuss “The False Claims Act today” at the Federal Bar Association Qui Tam Section Roundtable