Government ministers in Italy have approved a temporary suspension of mortgage payments for its citizens as the nation takes drastic measures to curb the outbreak of coronavirus.
On March 10, Reuters reported that the move was part of a plan to soften the impact of Italy’s virus containment efforts. Currently, the country is virtually on lockdown — people are urged to stay home except in the case of emergencies.
Italians could already contact their banks to apply for mortgage aid, but the decision to help was left to the bank. The new financial relief package goes a couple of steps further: Mortgage, tax and other bill payments will be suspended, and 10 billion euros ($11.35 billion) in government aid will be available for families and businesses.
As of Thursday, Italy had recorded more than 12,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, and more than 800 people have died, the most of any country outside of mainland China, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Resource Center.
The move to suspend mortgage payments is not new for Italy; the nation extended similar protections during the 2008 financial crisis.
In the United States, no such plan is in motion. The U.S. has confirmed less than 1,000 cases across the country, and few restrictions are in place for the majority of citizens.
There are existing disaster assistance programs: The Federal Housing Finance Agency has a webpage with information for borrowers, including a tip that mortgages owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are eligible for a “temporary relief period” if a disaster prevents you from paying your mortgage.
There’s also a number to call, the Homeowner’s Hope Hotline, that offers advice.
It’s unclear whether a virus pandemic is included in the definition of the term “natural disaster.” A page on the Department of Homeland Security website only mentions weather and geological events as natural disasters.
Right now, a spending package of more than $8 billion is approved to help local and federal health services battle the virus, with a portion allocated for international aid, and the House is pushing another aid package aimed at workers to help with sick pay and free coronavirus testing.