The Pay-to-Pay bill is a proposed piece of legislation that would force people who are paying off their debts to pay a transaction fee every time they made an online payment. This bill would effectively force people to pay extra money just so they could get out of debt. The pay-to-pay model is unjust, and particularly harmful to people navigating barriers to economic security or living on low, fixed incomes.
In order to gain more perspective on how Pay-to-Pay could impact low-income communities, we spoke with Nicole Carbine, a Housing Case Manager at Solid Ground, a direct service provider in Seattle (and our parent organization!). She is part of the JourneyHome Rapid Rehousing program, and works with families to place them quickly into housing. Nicole offered the perspective of someone who works with people experiencing homelessness and barriers to economic security. Below is our interview.
Who are the people that you serve in the JourneyHome Rapid Rehousing program?
We serve the most vulnerable clients in JourneyHome. To get housing assistance in Seattle, you need to meet certain requirements—fleeing domestic violence, living on the streets or in a car, or living in a shelter. My clients are all families who have at least one child who is under the age of 18. As the name of the program suggests, we try to house our clients as quickly as possible.
However, we often come up against barriers to housing our clients quickly. These barriers are things like past evictions, housing debt, or poor credit scores. Many of my clients are really behind financially, because of homelessness or other circumstances that made them homeless.
How do you support your clients and help them navigate these barriers to housing?
As a case manager, I have to help my clients negotiate whatever economic barriers they have and help them budget, if that is an option. For example, if debt is a barrier to their housing applications being approved, I will try to find ways that help them manage or minimize their debt.
Many of my clients are living off of SSI or SSDI, which is only about $760/month. They may also rely on food assistance, like SNAP. Families have to find housing that they can afford on a very low, fixed budget, which is practically impossible in the Seattle area. Sometimes you’re lucky to find a unit that will only charge you 30% of your income, but mostly it’s market rate, which my clients cannot pay.
You’ve mentioned debt a few times. Are there times when a client has to pay off a certain debt before they are allowed into housing?
Yes, almost every single client. Many clients owe old housing debts, debts on storage units, etc. Housing providers, like landlords or property managers, often will not accept people as tenants if they have outstanding housing debt. As a case manager I try to negotiate and try to get the debt reduced, but almost every family that we work with has some type of debt that is blocking them from getting housing.
That’s why the Pay-to-Pay bill is such a threat to people who are already in debt and living on very tight budgets. When someone’s been in turmoil, and has been financially oppressed and depressed for such a lengthy amount of time, having an extra transaction fee every time they pay a bill—that’s going to demobilize them even more. Every bill, every transaction makes a difference in my clients’ lives.
Would the Pay-to-Pay bill, if it passed, threaten someone’s housing stability?
Potentially any additional cost can threaten my clients’ housing security. The fact that their debts are being sent to collections already threatens their housing security, but additional fees for transaction costs just compounds it. I don’t think adding additional fees will support my clients. It’s just going to make them further in debt, make it harder for them to pay their bills.
My clients need better solutions than what the system offers right now, and adding more debt to their debt in the form of transaction fees, is not a sustainable system for the majority of people paying off debt.
Let’s make sure that Pay-to-Pay does not go any further in the Legislature. Send your lawmakers an email urging them to not support this bill!