Sara Innamorato Is Fighting to Reduce the Harms of COVID-19’s Economic Crush
The state representative wants to bar landlords in Pennsylvania from reporting missed or late rent payments to credit agencies.
Roughly 15 percent of renters were behind on payments in Pennsylvania as of the end of August, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and more than 10 percent of all renters surveyed in the state didn’t think they would be able to afford their next payment.
Although a national moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent means these people can remain in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, these missed payments may be wreaking havoc on their credit scores, causing lasting damage to their financial futures.
State Representative Sara Innamorato, who represents part of Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas, introduced a bill in late August to mitigate those harms caused by financial hardship during the pandemic.
Innamorato’s bill would prevent landlords from reporting missed or delinquent rent payments to consumer credit reporting agencies during the pandemic.
“We know that the credit scores are abused in America,” Innamorato told The Appeal. “It not only impacts your ability to get a house in the future, but [employers] might look at it when you’re applying for a job. Your ability to access credit or capital or mortgages in the future is going to be impacted by this.”
She said her bill was meant to reduce the number of barriers people face in trying to recover from the pandemic.
Her bill does not absolve tenants from the payments and does not prevent landlords from taking other actions like evictions or refusing to renew a tenant’s lease. The moratorium on reporting to credit agencies would apply as long as Governor Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 emergency declaration is in effect and would remain in effect for six months after the declaration is terminated.
“This is just a tiny, tiny, tiny drop in the bucket for individuals if something happens to them and they can’t pay their rent or they don’t qualify for [rent relief], it’s just giving them a little more of a fighting chance,” she said. “Quite frankly, people shouldn’t have to be fighting this hard.”
The United States is experiencing nearly 8 percent unemployment, a rate more than double what it was before the pandemic hit. More than 17 million credit card and car loan accounts went into financial hardship status, meaning the owner was behind on payments, during the first full month of the pandemic. The Census Bureau estimates that more than 8 million renters nationwide were behind on rent in August and roughly 10 percent of all renters surveyed in September said they had no confidence they would be able to make their next month’s payment.
U.S. Senators Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Sherrod Brown of Ohio introduced similar legislation in March. In addition to preventing landlords from reporting missed rent payments, their bill calls for halting all reporting during the COVID-19 pandemic that would affect a person’s credit negatively, like missed credit card and car payments.
The Senate has taken no action on the legislation since Schatz and Brown introduced it. Chances that Congress will take up and pass COVID-19 relief before the election also dwindled this week after Republicans and Democrats reached an impasse over the scope of future stimulus bills.
“During these uncertain economic times, Americans shouldn’t have to worry about their credit scores as they work to make ends meet,” Brown said in a press release for the bill.
Innamorato is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. She ousted establishment Democrat and former Pittsburgh Police Chief Dom Costa in 2018.
While she didn’t initially plan to run, Innamorato said she realized Costa was not representing the values of the district, which Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential nominee Bernie Sanders carried in the 2016 primary.
In his final session, Costa introduced legislation to create new criminal offenses, increasing the fine for littering, expanding the state’s hate crime statute, and other law-and-order bills.
Prior to joining the state legislature, Innamorato co-founded She Runs SWPA, a nonprofit organization that aims to get more women running for elected office.
Innamorato has sponsored legislation aimed at addressing what she describes as structural social problems, including bills that prohibit non-compete clauses for low-wage workers, expand how people register to vote, help undocumented people obtain driver’s licenses and prevent hazardous waste from oil and natural gas drilling from reaching drinking water.
“We just want to get back to the roots of the Democratic Party, which was centering working people and not corporate interest, and not the folks who make the biggest donation to your campaign,” she said.
Innamorato is up for re-election next month and is facing Republican challenger John Waugh. The district has nearly twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans. Her bill on credit reporting is still awaiting action by the House Consumer Affairs Committee.
“Let’s just work to make people’s lives better,” she said. “Let’s work to expand democracy, not only at the ballot box but in our workplaces and in our community. Let’s just build a better world.”