Chris Arnold | KBIA

Chris Arnold

NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.

Most recently, Arnold has been reporting on the financial struggle millions of Americans are facing amidst the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. As part of that, he's done investigative stories showing how mortgage companies have been misleading homeowners who've lost their jobs, demanding outrageous balloon payments if they skip mortgage payments and scaring them away from help that Congress wanted them to have under the CARES Act.

Arnold's reporting often focuses on consumer protection issues. His series of stories "The Trouble with TEACH Grants," that he reported with NPR's Cory Turner, exposed a debacle at the U.S. Department of Education through which public school teachers had grants unfairly converted into large student loan debts — some upwards of $20,000. As a result of the stories, members of Congress demanded reforms and the Education Department overhauled the program and is now giving thousands of teachers their grant money back and erasing their debts.

Arnold was honored with a 2017 George Foster Peabody Award for his coverage of the Wells Fargo banking scandal. His stories sparked a Senate inquiry into the bank's treatment of employees who tried to blow the whistle on the wrongdoing. Arnold also won the National Association of Consumer Advocates Award for Investigative Journalism for a series of stories he reported with ProPublica that exposed improper debt collection practices by non-profit hospitals who were suing thousands of their low-income patients.

In addition to reporting for NPR's main radio programs, Arnold has been hosting the personal finance episodes of NPR's Life Kit podcasts, which offer listeners actionable tips backed up by behavioral economics research on the best ways to save money, invest for the future and a range of other topics.

Arnold previously served as the lead reporter for the NPR series "Your Money and Your Life", which explored personal finance issues. As part of that, he reported on the problem of Wall Street firms charging excessive fees in retirement accounts — fees that siphon billions of dollars annually from Americans trying to save for the future. For this series, Arnold won the 2016 Gerald Loeb Award, which honors work that informs and protects the private investor and the general public.

Following the 2008 financial crisis and collapse of the housing market, Arnold reported on problems within the nation's largest banks that led to the banks improperly foreclosing on thousands of American homeowners. For this work, Arnold earned a 2011 Edward R. Murrow Award for the special series, "The Foreclosure Nightmare." He's also been honored with the Newspaper Guild's 2009 Heywood Broun Award for broadcast journalism. He was also a finalist for the Scripps Howard Foundation's National Journalism Award.

Arnold was chosen for a Nieman Journalism Fellowship at Harvard University during the 2012-2013 academic year. He joined a small group of other journalists from the U.S. and abroad and studied economics, leadership, and the future of journalism in the digital age. Arnold also teaches Radio Journalism as a Lecturer at Yale University and was named a Poynter Fellow by Yale in 2016.

Over his career at NPR, Arnold has covered a range of other subjects — from Katrina recovery in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, to immigrant workers in the fishing industry, to a new kind of table saw that won't cut your fingers off. He traveled to Turin, Italy, for NPR's coverage of the 2006 Winter Olympics. He has also followed the dramatic rise in the numbers of teenagers abusing the powerful and highly addictive painkiller Oxycontin.

In the days and months following the Sept. 11 attacks, Arnold reported from New York and contributed to the NPR coverage that won the Overseas Press Club and the George Foster Peabody Awards. He chronicled the recovery effort at Ground Zero, focusing on members of the Port Authority Police department as they struggled with the deaths of 37 officers — the greatest loss of any police department in U.S. history.

Prior to his move to Boston, Arnold traveled the country for NPR doing feature stories on entrepreneurship. His pieces covered technologists, farmers, and family business owners. He also reported on efforts to kindle entrepreneurship in economically disadvantaged areas ranging from inner-city Los Angeles to the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in South Dakota.

Arnold has worked in public radio since 1993. Before joining NPR, he was a freelance reporter working out of San Francisco's NPR Member Station, KQED.

Before a new federal eviction ban went into effect recently, Alice and Jeremy Bumpus were on the verge of getting evicted. They live in a house outside Houston with their three kids, and they both lost their jobs after the pandemic hit. Alice worked at an airport fast food restaurant; Jeremy worked at a warehouse.

"We explained to the judge that due to everything that was going on, we just fell behind on just our one month's rent," Alice says.

For months after the pandemic hit, Caroline Wells and her husband were working remotely from their home in San Antonio while trying to ride herd on their two young children. She says the house has basically no yard, and it's on a busy street. So sending the kids outside to play was not happening.

Jane Courcy was living in San Diego doing IT consulting work for colleges and universities when the pandemic hit. Suddenly, her work dried up completely.

With the extra $600 a week in federal unemployment money she was able to get by. But with that gone now, she says the state benefits won't cover her rent and other bills.

"I'm concerned — will I have a place to live," Courcy says. "You know, I come from New England and we're strong people and we take care of ourselves, but we also need government to help us a little bit. When the money runs out, what do I do?"

Millions of Americans are refinancing their mortgages to save money as superlow interest rates create a rare financial bright spot amid the pandemic.

But homeowners are about to get hit with a big new fee. Starting next month, all home mortgages that are refinanced will have to pay half of 1% of the loan. In other words, $1,500 for a $300,000 mortgage.

Lawmakers in California are rushing to create a new financial protection watchdog agency by the end of the month. They say it's needed because, under the Trump administration, the main federal regulator has been paralyzed.

And they say that during the pandemic that is leaving millions of Americans who are in dire financial straits more vulnerable to predatory lenders, get-out-of-debt-scams and other wrongdoing.

Merry Collins lost her job as a home health aide in Dallas after the coronavirus outbreak hit. Before she started getting $600 a week in extra federal unemployment benefits, she got behind on the rent. And in June her landlord took her to court to evict her.

"The first day the courts opened here in Dallas," she says, "that's when they filed for eviction."

Sheera Talpaz, an assistant professor of literature at Oberlin College, has been teaching remotely, stuck indoors. So she figured having a place she could make her own would be good. And now she's found one and is buying her first house.

"I'm really happy because I like the home," she says. "And I think I will just simply enjoy my day-to-day life more living in it."

Mandy Collins lives in Little Mountain, S.C., with her husband and three kids. The 38-year-old never owned a gun before. Her husband doesn't have one either. But after the pandemic hit, she spent $450 on a powerful handgun.

"With all the toilet paper gone and everything, people just started acting crazy," she says. "I guess the fear of the unknown and letting prisoners out of prison, and I just ... decided I wanted to go ahead and just purchase one."

When you're a man of a certain age and you don't get a haircut for a few months, the thinning hair on top starts getting wispy and blowing around, the sides stick out all crazy. It is not a good look.

And it seemed beyond the help of a YouTube haircut video. So when the stylist who cuts my hair, Vincent Cox, told me that the salon he works at was opening up, I thought — "Well, I don't know. What am I going to risk my health just for vanity?"

Many people with underlying medical conditions are worried about what's going to happen at the end of the month. It's not currently safe for many of them to go back to work. The COVID-19 death rate is 12 times higher for people with underlying conditions.

But an extra $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits, which has been enabling them to pay their rent and other bills, will stop coming at the end of July.

Many state and local governments have decided it isn't safe yet to hold in-person eviction hearings in court during the pandemic. But apparently it's OK for people to be put out on the street during the outbreak if you do it after a Zoom call.

That's what's happening in some states as eviction moratoriums expire, and courts hold remote hearings for people who can't pay their rent.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The past few months have weighed heavily on Edgar Fields. He has been meeting with workers at chicken processing plants across Georgia and in nearby states. His union represents them, and many have become sick. Some have died.

"You know, you lay in the bed and you can't sleep because stuff is on your mind? I've got to do this. I've got to do that," he says. "That's what I wake up in every morning thinking, 'What can I do to protect my members to where they have a safe work environment to go to?' "

Americans are skipping payments on mortgages, auto loans and other bills. Normally, that could mean massive foreclosures, evictions, cars repossessions and people's credit getting destroyed.

But much of that has been put on pause. Help from Congress and leniency from lenders have kept impending financial disaster at bay for millions of people. But that may not last for long.

NPR is reporting on how the pandemic has upended every inch of our financial lives, from our ability to make money to how we spend it.

Millions of people have had to seek help from the government, whether it's unemployment benefits or business loans. Some have put off major life decisions because of the economic turmoil.

Now, some states are easing stay-at-home restrictions. And we want to know: Are you ready and able to go back to your normal work and social life?

Please fill out the form below. An NPR reporter may reach out to you for a story.

As businesses reopen, many Americans being called back to work say they don't feel safe — especially those who work in restaurants, hair salons or other high-contact jobs.

"With people eating food, not having masks on, with servers having to touch their plates and their silverware, there's just absolutely no way to keep the servers safe," says Lindsey, a waitress in Iowa.

She has been out of work for two months. But this week, the pub-style restaurant she works at is reopening.

About 2.9 million homeowners have been allowed to put their mortgage payments on hold as the coronavirus shutdowns around the country put more people out of work. That's nearly 6% of all outstanding mortgages.

"We saw the share of mortgages in forbearance increase this week from 3.74% to 5.95%," says Michael Fratantoni, chief economist at the Mortgage Bankers Association which released the latest numbers Monday. "A lot of people are in distress."

About 17 million people have applied for unemployment benefits in the U.S. in recent weeks. It's an astonishing number that's nearly 10 times what the system has ever handled so quickly.

Updated on April 15 at 11:19 a.m. ET

Those $1,200 federal payments to help Americans through the coronavirus crisis have started arriving in some people's bank accounts via direct deposit. But many people will have to wait longer — and there could be pitfalls, such as debt collectors grabbing the money before you do.

Those who'll be getting checks in the mail may not see them for weeks or even months. To get the money faster, millions of people will have to provide direct-deposit account information to the IRS.

Updated at 2:58 p.m. ET

About a third of renters did not pay on time this month as business closures put millions of people out of work.

The National Multifamily Housing Council says 31% of renters didn't make their payment in the first week of April. Normally, about 20% of people don't pay their rent on time. The group tracks more than 13 million units through its survey.

Updated at 3:28 p.m. ET

Homeowners who've lost their jobs or income say their lenders are demanding punishing terms if they take part in what's supposed to be a government effort to help them.

To avoid a wave of home loan defaults, Congress and regulators told lenders that they have to let homeowners defer payments if they've been hurt financially during the coronavirus crisis.

Rent is due for the first time since millions of Americans lost their jobs or incomes as the coronavirus pandemic shut down large swaths of the U.S. economy.

Many renters are in a tough financial spot because they received fewer protections out of the $2 trillion economic rescue package than homeowners did.

The federal government took a major step toward helping homeowners this week, ordering lenders to give people hurt financially by the coronavirus pandemic up to a 12-month break on their mortgage payments.

But what about renters?

Many cities say they're halting evictions if renters can't pay. But that's about it, says Laurie Goodman, co-director of the Housing Finance Policy Center at the Urban Institute.

Updated at 2:49 p.m. ET

Homeowners who have lost income or their jobs because of the coronavirus outbreak are getting some relief. Depending on their situation, they should be eligible to have their mortgage payments reduced or suspended for up to 12 months.

As the economy rapidly shuts down, many small businesses around the country are on the verge of collapsing. They have a message for the federal government: Please send money fast or we'll be out of business.

After the financial crisis hit in 2008, millions of Americans who worked at small businesses lost their jobs. It happened in just a matter of months. That's because many smaller businesses operate kind of like people who live paycheck to paycheck, without much savings.

In what's looking more like a public health debacle, the U.S. has a serious testing problem with the coronavirus. Only around 15,000 people have been tested so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And public health experts say that's not nearly enough to know how widespread the outbreak is and how to respond.

But the Food and Drug Administration has just approved a new test from the giant pharmaceutical company Roche that could represent a major breakthrough.

A dramatic drop in mortgage rates may give prospective homebuyers a chance to afford the house they've been eyeing — or may lower monthly payments for homeowners who refinance.

Last week, fears over the novel coronavirus outbreak's anticipated economic impact sparked the most dramatic stock market sell-off since the 2008 financial crisis. Stocks rallied Monday on expectations that the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates to boost the economy.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

If you're looking to sell your home and avoid people tromping through your living room at open houses, there's a new option that's becoming popular in many parts of the country. Companies called iBuyers, or instant buyers, use computer algorithms to make you an offer, often within a day.

With rising home prices, many young people think they can't afford homes. But there are alternatives to the traditional 20% down payment, giving more people the opportunity of homeownership.

Listen to the full story on finding the right mortgage from Life Kit here.

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