Financial Agencies Urged To Halt All Non-COVID Rulemakings

By Jon Hill
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Law360 (March 17, 2020, 9:45 PM EDT) -- A top Senate Democrat is calling for federal financial regulators to shelve all their rulemaking projects that aren't directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying their attentions right now need to be on protecting the financial system and mitigating economic fallout from the outbreak.

In a letter dated Tuesday, the Senate Banking Committee's ranking member Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, urged the Federal Reserve Board to halt its pre-existing rulemaking work and "instead focus and prioritize actions on activities related to the economic risks posed to markets" by the novel coronavirus.

Brown made similar requests in letters addressed to the heads of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Federal Housing Finance Agency, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, National Credit Union Administration and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

"The COVID-19 virus threatens both the health of the public and the economy," Brown wrote. "In light of this crisis, I urge you to place an immediate moratorium on rulemakings not related to the crisis at hand until the COVID-19 virus has been fully addressed by our financial and public health agencies."

Federal financial regulators had a number of significant rulemaking initiatives underway before the pandemic struck, including projects to wrap up revisions to the Volcker Rule's restrictions on banks' fund investment activities, issuing first-of-their-kind consumer protection rules for the debt collection industry and overhauling Community Reinvestment Act regulations for the first time in years.

Comment periods on proposals associated with those three projects are in fact set to end in the coming weeks, but with the nation gripped by the COVID-19 outbreak, Brown said the agencies should expect that the public won't have the bandwidth to provide "meaningful" feedback on anything but pandemic-related rulemaking proposals.

Brown said the regulators should also be concentrating on "providing reliable guidance and responding to the health and economic effects of this crisis rather than on processing other rulemakings."

"During this period, all rulemakings and comment periods closing after March 1, 2020, that are not related to the virus response or other imminent health, safety or national security threats should be suspended or extended for at least 45 days," Brown urged.

In addition to the financial regulators, Brown called on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to similarly table any pending rulemakings that aren't tied to the pandemic response effort.

The agency's energies would be better spent right now on "advancing the public health and worker protections, increasing access to nutrition services, enhancing our nation's safety, and protecting the financial needs of individuals and families facing economic hardship as a result of the virus and response," Brown said.

In a statement to Law360, a HUD spokesperson pushed back on Brown's letter. 

"Senator Brown should spend less time playing politics with the coronavirus, and instead focus his energies on quickly approving the economic stimulus the president has called for," the spokesperson said. 

Spokespeople for the Fed and the FDIC said their agencies plan to respond to Brown directly. An SEC spokesperson declined to comment. Representatives for the other agencies did not immediately return requests for comment late Tuesday.

--Editing by Michael Watanabe.

Update: This story has been updated with comment from HUD. 

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