Silverman Wage Garnishment Protection Bill Passes D.C. Council Unanimously

A bill introduced by D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) to protect D.C.’s lowest wage workers by putting equitable safeguards on debt collectors seeking wage garnishment passed unanimously today on the first of two D.C. Council votes. The legislation is one of several bills Councilmember Silverman has prioritized this year to provide additional tools to help District residents and working families break the cycle of poverty.

“Wage garnishment should not send workers and their families into an economic death spiral or come at the expense of income necessary for adequate housing, food, healthcare, or transportation,” said Silverman. “In a city with extremely high costs of living, we need to address how destabilizing wage garnishment is for working families, and its disproportionate impact on our residents of color.”

Wage garnishment occurs when a worker is sued by a debt collector for payment of an outstanding balance, and a judicial order enables payment collection directly from his or her paycheck. Workers are frequently unaware that they are subject to wage garnishment until they see their reduced paycheck, limiting their ability to respond appropriately and pursue legal support. Under current law, workers earning as little as $11,500 annually are eligible to have up to 25 percent of their wages garnished, limiting their ability to respond to emergencies or urgent needs.

The Wage Garnishment Fairness Amendment Act of 2018 reforms the District’s wage garnishment system in three primary ways. First, the bill prevents wages from being garnished to repay consumer debt for workers who earn the annual District minimum wage or less. Second, the bill creates a new hardship application that protects workers who earn above the minimum wage from subjection to overly punitive garnishments. Finally, the bill requires a notice to workers before wages are garnished, along with a notice of workers’ rights.

Workers making around $39,000 annually or less would be completely protected from wage garnishment, while workers with incomes over that amount would have up to 25 percent of their wages above the threshold garnished. The changes do not affect wage garnishments as a result of unpaid child support.

The legislation, developed in collaboration with Tzedek DC, Legal Aid, Legal Counsel for the Elderly, and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, significantly updates the District’s wage garnishment laws for the first time since its creation by Congress in 1968. It was referred to the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, which further refined the bill and moved it to a full Council vote.

The second and final vote will be at an Additional Legislative Meeting of the D.C. Council on Tuesday, December 4.