US: Bankruptcy Bill attacks workers

Banks and credit card companies celebrate

The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention Act of 2005, passed by Congress and signed by Bush, will toughen bankruptcy laws to make it harder for workers to clear their debt, while increasing the profits of banks and credit card companies, which have made the bill a top priority for years.

This blatant attack on the working class will not allow many people to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, under which their debt would be erased once most of their assets are liquidated. Instead, they will be forced to file under Chapter 13, meaning they will be required to continue paying off their debts under a payment plan.

This change will force millions of working-class debtors to make significant payments to creditors from their current income, and destroys the chance for a fresh start after financial emergencies, such as unemployment or towering medical bills.

The Bush Administration dishonestly blames the increasing bankruptcy rate on people who recklessly abuse the system with excessive shopping, gambling, or avoiding financial obligations, like child support. The truth of the matter, however, is most debtors file for bankruptcy only when they are overwhelmed financially due to high medical bills, unemployment, failed businesses, or divorce.

According to the Administrative Office of the US Courts, more than 50% of the 1.6 million bankruptcies filed in 2004 were direct results of high medical bills. Additionally, a study by Harvard University found that one third of all bankruptcies are filed by families living below the federal poverty level. This law will hit workers especially hard, at a time of record credit card debt.

Unsurprisingly, special loopholes that protect the rich will remain intact. Wealthy people can protect their money by using asset protection trusts before filing for bankruptcy. While the bill was primarily pushed by the Republicans, more than one third of the Democrats in Congress voted for the bill, and the rest let it slip by without making a sound. The Democrats could have raised awareness to start a public outcry against the bill and expose it for what it truly is, but instead they played their typical role of the loyal opposition.

Many Democrats formally voted against the bill to appease their constituents, but would not anger the banking industry by exposing it, assuring that they can continue receiving banking money for their re-election efforts. This is just another example of the failure of the Democratic Party to protect the working class of America, and reveals who they truly represent – Corporate America.

This article appears in the new edition of ‘Justice’, paper of Socialist Alternative (CWI) in the US

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May 2005