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New York suspends its collections of medical, student debts

ALBANY  – The New York State Attorney General’s Office is suspending its collection of medical and student debt across New York as the novel coronavirus strains the economy and people’s personal finances.

The order affects more than 165,000 separate collection efforts.

“It this time of crisis, my office will not will not add undue stress or saddle New Yorkers with unnecessary financial burden,’’ Attorney General Letitia James said in a written statement Tuesday afternoon.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the step “will help mitigate the financial impact of the outbreak on individuals, families, communities and businesses” in New York.

The suspension of collection efforts is effective immediately and will last for at least 30 days.

The order affects people who owe medical and student debts to New York State and that had been referred to the attorney general’s collection unit. It also halts the accrual of interest on such debt during the suspension period.

The attorney general will decide in one month whether to continue the debt collection stoppage. “New Yorkers need to focus on keeping themselves safe and healthy from the coronavirus,’’ James said.

The order pertains to people who might have medical debts from expenses incurred at five state hospitals and five veteran’s homes, as well as people who went to the State University of New York. It will also affect people who owe state debt involving oil spill cleanup, property damage and breach of contract situations.

Also, people with nonmedical and nonstudent state debt can apply to the Attorney General’s Office to suspend collection efforts during the crisis.

The attorney general had previously announced that cease and desist letters have been sent to various entities marketing items as treatments or cures; she said such orders have been sent to televangelist Jim Bakker, Alex Jones, Dr. Sherrill Sellman and the Silver Edge Co. A number of New York businesses have also been targeted for charging sky-hike prices for items such as hand sanitizers.

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