by Mary Ellen Flannery
The 45 million Americans who owe a collective $1.4 trillion in federal student loans are getting much-needed relief from Congress in its latest COVID-19 package, the CARES Act, which Senators passed Wednesday night after intense pressure from NEA members and other advocates.
Specifically, the legislation means:
- Borrowers will not have to make monthly payments to their federal student loans for six months.
- Borrowers are also protected from any involuntary collections, wage garnishments, reduction of tax refund, or reduction of federal benefit payment during the COVID-19 public health crisis.
- Suspended payments will count towards the 120 required for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
- During this time, student loan interest also is suspended.
As the pandemic upends public education and forces millions of Americans into joblessness, NEA has been forceful in its advocacy for immediate financial support for educators and students, as well as their families and communities. “We know that our message to Congress is being heard: Put people—not corporations—first, and address the impending crisis head-on with critically needed help and resources,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.
The six-month suspension is a good step forward to “provide some much-needed relief to educators and others faced with crushing debt,” said Eskelsen García. But, “more could—and should—be done.”
By providing immediate relief to borrowers, Congress is making sure Americans don’t have to choose between making their monthly student loan payment, or paying their rent or food bill. It’s also an acknowledgment of the negative impact that student debt has had on the economy. But more still needs to be done. While the CARES Act suspends payments, it does not include the Democrats’ proposal, which would have canceled $10,000 from each borrower’s balance, and NEA will be urging Congress to include this in future COVID-19 relief efforts.
The House of Representatives is expected to vote tomorrow, March 27, on the bill.
As the cost of tuition has risen in the U.S., aspiring educators, especially students of color, commonly borrow tens of thousands of dollars to finance their degrees. Some NEA members owe as much as $200,000. At these levels, student debt isn’t just a burden, it’s a barrier to the profession, contributing to a national teacher shortage that means not every student is getting what they need to succeed—a highly qualified teacher in their classroom.
Improving access to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program also is a priority for NEA, as is increasing access to federal Pell Grants and boosting funds for public colleges and universities, especially minority-serving institutions.