As the COVID-19 pandemic has created additional strain on the American financial system in addition to driving millions of working people out of employment, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has failed to adequately respond to the needs of working Americans at a time in which assistance is sorely needed.
This was the contention that Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) made to CFPB Director Kathleen Kraninger during a hearing of the Senate Banking Committee last week, in which Kraninger was questioned by legislators, according to a recording of the exchange made available via C-SPAN.
Warren focused particular attention on recent CFPB guidance issued to mortgage servicers in March, in which the Bureau stated that it would consider the circumstances that servicers may face due to the pandemic, and that it would be “sensitive to good-faith efforts demonstrably designed to assist consumers.”
“Today, the biggest category of COVID-related complaints to the CFPB are coming from people struggling to pay their mortgages,” Warren said during the hearing. “It’s the CFPB’s job to ensure that the companies that handle mortgages are following the law so that families don’t end up in foreclosures when the law says they shouldn’t.”
Instead of enforcing those rules and laws, however, CFPB’s “good faith” guidelines indicate that the Bureau will not step in “if [servicers] break the law,” Warren contended.
“Director Kraninger, can you give me other examples of when law enforcement says, for example to a thief, that as long as you claim you’re [acting] in good faith you’re not going to be held responsible when you break the law?,” Warren asked.
Director Kraninger disagreed with the Senator’s conception of the March guidance, adding that as time has gone on the amount of servicing complaints has diminished as the pandemic has gone on.
“The number of mortgage complaints were early in that process in March and April, and I think they’re actually a great example of the Bureau responding to [the issue of foreclosure complaints], and working with our federal partners,” she said. “So, the number of complaints related to that have decreased.”
Kraninger went on to say that the guidance specifies compliance with the law as “critical,” and that any law enforcement entity has discretion in determining how much enforcement leverage to apply to a certain case based on its specific circumstances.
“If Congress had wanted to write into law a ‘good faith’ exception [to scenarios where a law is broken], we certainly could’ve done that,” Warren responded. “But we didn’t do it. Not enforcing the law has real impact, and in the two months since you handed out a ‘get out of jail free card’ to every mortgage servicer, consumer complaints related to foreclosures have gone up, not down.”
Before Kraninger could respond, Warren shifted to another topic of Bureau oversight in credit reporting, where the two officials disagreed on the extent of allowances companies have in resolving disputes.
Warren is widely seen as an architect of the CFPB, since her advocacy and academic efforts led directly to its establishment in 2011. The Bureau’s oversight of the financial sector has led it to have regulatory enforcement authority over the reverse mortgage industry.
Director Kraninger ascended to her position at the head of the agency in late 2018 after being nominated to the post by President Donald Trump. Recently, Kraninger expressed support for a Supreme Court challenge to the single director structure of the agency she leads as unconstitutional. The Court ruled in June that it agreed, though stopped short of invalidating the agency at-large.