In a move that progressives say should be implemented on a permanent basis and nationwide, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Tuesday that her office is temporarily suspending the collection of medical and student loan debt in an effort to assist New Yorkers as they cope with the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak.
Effective immediately, the New York Office of the Attorney General (OAG) "will halt the collection of medical and student debt owed to the state of New York and referred to the OAG for collection from March 17, 2020 through April 16, 2020," James said in a statement.
The new policy will also halt the accrual of interest on medical and student loan debt to ensure that New Yorkers don't face even larger payments when collection is resumed.
"In this time of crisis, my office will not add undue stress or saddle New Yorkers with unnecessary financial burden," said James. "New Yorkers need to focus on keeping themselves safe and healthy from the coronavirus, and therefore can rest assured that state medical and student debt referred to my office will not be collected against them for at least 30 days."
James said she will immediately begin accepting applications for suspension of all other types of debt as well.
"This is the time when New Yorkers need to rally around each other and pick each other up," said James, "which is why I am committed to doing everything in my power to support our state's residents."
Progressives celebrated James' decision while voicing the need to go much further by permanently canceling all student loan and medical debt nationwide, which Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has made a central plank of his campaign.
"Bernie Sanders has been the only candidate in a crowded field to ever have a plan to cancel medical debt," Briahna Joy Gray, national press secretary for Sanders' presidential campaign, tweeted in response to James' announcement. "And it didn't take a crisis for him to understand we could do it. And we should do it."
Nearly 1,500 people have tested positive for coronavirus in New York as of Tuesday morning, according to the New York Times.
"The numbers are daunting," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a press briefing Tuesday. "What are we doing? Everything we can."
In a statement, Cuomo said the temporary suspension of medical and student loan debt collection "will help mitigate the financial impact of the outbreak on individuals, families, communities and businesses in New York as we continue to do everything we can to slow the spread of the virus."