Bill seeks to prohibit vaccine discrimination in lending, credit access

A BILL INTRODUCED in the R.I. House of Representatives seeks to prevent discrimination based on vaccination status or proof of vaccination, including in access to credit or loans by financial institutions. / AP FILE PHOTO/TED S. WARREN

PROVIDENCE – Getting on a plane, going to school or landing a job all may at some point require proof of vaccination against COVID-19. But what about taking out a loan from a bank?

Preventing discrimination in credit or loan access based on vaccination status is among the provisions of a bill introduced in the R.I. House of Representatives by Rep. Thomas Noret, D-Coventry. But financial experts and institutions appear unconcerned with borrowers’ immunization status.

The legislation, which has been held for further study after a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month, amends existing state laws on anti-discrimination to add vaccine status or proof of vaccination as a protected class.

Noret, who himself has not been vaccinated but stressed that he is not opposed to the vaccine, said the bill intends to protect constituents who have expressed hesitancy with immunization from being hired or just going out to dinner at a restaurant – common concerns as vaccinations ramp up across the country.

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What’s not so common are concerns that banks or financial institutions won’t lend to borrowers if they aren’t immunized. Noret admitted he had not heard this raised as an issue but because the existing state statute prohibits lending and credit-based discrimination, he incorporated it into his bill as well.

But that may not fly with state and federal regulators. Peter Nigro, Sarkisian chair of financial services for Bryant University, said any kind of medical or health-related provision tied to issuing credit would “raise a huge red flag” for the state and federal agencies that regulate financial institutions.

He also questioned whether banks and credit unions were even concerned with this.

“I don’t think impacting access to credit based on whether you’re vaccinated makes any economic sense at all,” he said.

Mark K. W. Gim, chief operating officer for The Washington Trust Co., corroborated this. The Westerly-based bank never asked or considered health-related information in its consumer or business loan applications, nor did he anticipate such questions would ever come up.

And even if a bank or credit union in the state were to try to use vaccine status to deny a loan or credit application, its decision could only be overruled if both state and federal laws aligned in classifying vaccination status as a protected class. Particularly for larger regional and national banks, federal law trumps state regulations, and in this case, there has been no discussion of such regulations as it relates to lending and credit at the national level, Nigro said.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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