By Mary Ellen Flannery
As COVID-19 closes workplaces across the U.S., upending careers and interrupting paychecks, Democratic lawmakers are seeking to ease the unrelenting burden of student loan debt on 45 million Americans.
Last week, Senate leaders, including Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), unveiled an emergency plan to provide much-needed relief to federal student loan borrowers. The plan, which is part of Senate Democrats’ $750 billion “Phase 3” response to the coronavirus crisis, would suspend federal student loan interest and require the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to make the monthly loan payments for all federal borrowers during the national emergency, so that every borrower gets at least a $10,000 loan payoff once the crisis has concluded.
On Sunday, former Vice President Joe Biden tweeted his support, saying, “Young people and other student debt holders bore the brunt of the last crisis. It shouldn’t happen again.”
NEA also strongly supports lawmakers’ efforts to relieve the enormous burden of student loan debt on Americans, so that they don’t have to choose during this crisis between paying their monthly loan payment or their rent or mortgage, or food or healthcare bills. To urge your lawmaker to give Americans the support they need, visit edvotes.org/issue/covid-19/.
“Too many student borrowers are drowning in student loan debt. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, experts warned that student loan debt was having a negative impact on our economy, and will now only get worse,” said Durbin, in a statement. “As Congress continues to address the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis, it’ll be imperative that we provide real relief to these borrowers who are in serious need of our help.”
On Monday, House Democrats, led by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), introduced similar legislation. Their bill, the Student Debt Emergency Relief Act, also would have ED assume monthly payments, but would cancel at least $30,000 of every borrower’s debt.
“During this public health emergency, no person should have to choose between paying their student loan payment, putting food on the table or keeping themselves and their families safe and healthy,” said Pressley, in a statement.
Under both proposals, the monthly loan payments made by the ED would still count toward the payments required for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, and all canceled debt would be exempt from taxation. The proposals also suspend any involuntary collection efforts, including wage garnishing of borrowers in default.
Last week, the Trump/DeVos administration announced that interest rates on federal student loans would be held to zero and that borrowers could enter forbearance, which allows them to skip payments, for 60 days. This announcement is welcome, but would delay educators’ road to forgiveness and doesn’t affect the balance of debt. Additionally, this process is not automatic, and borrowers would need to contact their federal loan servicer to take advantage of this opportunity.
Americans currently owe more than $1.6 trillion in student debt, including nearly $1.5 trillion to the federal government.