Sen. Wieckowski: Prioritizing financial stability for California’s working families

Senator Bob Wieckowski: Prioritizing financial stability for California's working families 

Senator Bob Wieckowski

California’s economy is making tremendous strides since the Great Recession hit in late 2007. However, throughout the state, Californians have witnessed an era of vast income disparity.  Too many individuals and working families have not experienced the wage growth needed to keep up with the cost of living.

For too many of these families, the high cost of living and the loss of jobs often lead to increasing debt, sending them spiraling into poverty.  Statewide between 1979 and 2012, the Top 1 percent saw their incomes increase 189 percent, while the bottom 99 percent experienced a 6.3 percent decline, according to the Economic Policy Institute.  

To assist these struggling Californians, I am authoring a three-bill Economic Equity and Financial Stability Initiative, which overwhelmingly passed the Senate floor on May 22.  It will help those among us whose wages are being garnished and those who are filing for bankruptcy.   

At a time when one out of seven Californians lives in poverty, this initiative will help families reduce their personal debt, have their day in court against unscrupulous debt buyers and regain their financial footing.  Once on solid ground, they can make meaningful contributions to our economy and build California’s prosperity.

The three bills are SB 308, SB 501 and SB 641. 

SB 308 updates bankruptcy laws that have not kept up with the times.  Bankruptcy is a last resort for people who are being swallowed debt.  Its purpose is to help families start over. As a practicing bankruptcy attorney for more than 30 years, I know the power to start over has been diluted over the years. SB 308 makes it less likely that families will have their home forcibly sold to pay off an unsecured debt.  It also prevents the forced sale of a debtor’s life insurance policy. 

SB 501 allows low-income workers to keep more of their paychecks to afford their basic needs.  Currently, people making just above the state minimum wage can lose every single dollar they earn above the minimum level to $12 an hour. When 100 percent of your wages above the minimum level can be garnished, it is a big disincentive to earn more and negatively affects a person’s ability to pay rent, groceries or medical expenses.  substantially lowering the maximum garnishment rate on those earning $12 or less, and bringing down the overall rate from 25 percent, SB 501 brings California in line with most other states.  It also ties the minimum wage level to local minimum wage ordinances to avoid undermining the positive steps activists have taken to aid workers.

SB 641 closes a loophole utilized unscrupulous debt buyers who fail to properly notice consumers when seeking a default judgment.  When the unaware consumer does not appear in court, the default judgment is granted and the debt buyers then wait to collect on the debt until the consumer is time-barred from contesting the judgment.  My bill would stop this troubling violation of due process and give consumers who are not properly noticed, the opportunity to fight their case on the merits.

Each of these three bills takes a different path to arrive at the shared goal of helping those less fortunate help themselves. Restoring financial stability to these families will give them a fresh start and a better opportunity to contribute to our economy.

Bob Wieckowski represents California’s 10th Senate District.