California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today joined a multistate coalition of 27 attorneys general in submitting a comment letter to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos calling on her to immediately implement emergency measures to protect federal student loan borrowers in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Under the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003 (“HEROES Act”), Secretary DeVos has the authority to waive or modify statutory or regulatory provisions applicable to student financial assistance programs during a national emergency. As a result of the COVID-19 public health crisis, hundreds of thousands of federal student loan borrowers risk delinquency and default, ruined credit, and the garnishment of government benefits. In the letter, the coalition urges Secretary DeVos to use her authority to protect borrowers during this emergency.
“In the wake of the COVID-19 public health emergency, it is essential that our national leaders step up and do everything in their power to serve and defend those who are most vulnerable — including those now unable to repay their student loans,” said Attorney General Becerra. “We are asking Secretary DeVos to do her job and use her authority to protect the millions of borrowers who are struggling to meet their obligations during this crisis. We are committed to ensuring that student loan borrowers are getting the protections that they deserve during this unprecedented time.”
In the letter, Attorney General Becerra calls on Secretary DeVos to, at a minimum, do the following:
- To the extent not covered by Secretary Devos’s recent announcement regarding collection of federal loans, halt all new and continuing involuntary collection activities including wage garnishment and offset of government benefits such as Social Security benefits and tax refunds. 2019 tax refund offsets that have already been withheld should be refunded to all federal student loan borrowers for the duration of the crisis;
- For all federal student loan borrowers who either (a) are currently in or request a forbearance, (b) are or become delinquent on their loans, or (c) voluntarily opt in via a request to a servicer, automatically enroll the borrowers into an Income Driven Repayment (IDR) Plan with a $0-per-month payment, without requiring submission of an IDR application, verification of income, or recertification, for the duration of the crisis; and
- Extend eligibility for all previously announced relief under the HEROES Act to all federal loan borrowers for the duration of the crisis.
Attorney General Becerra has ardently defended student borrowers. In October 2017, Attorney General Becerra joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general in filing a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education (ED) for illegally delaying the implementation of the Obama-era Gainful Employment Rule. Attorney General Becerra also criticized this rule when it was first proposed in August 2018, and submitted a comment letter to ED denouncing the proposal. Furthermore, in March 2020, Attorney General Becerra filed a lawsuit against ED over its action to repeal student loan borrower protections under the Gainful Employment Rule. In December 2017, Attorney General Becerra sued Secretary DeVos over ED’s failure to expeditiously grant promised, full loan relief to tens of thousands of borrowers with pending “borrower defense” claims who were defrauded by the Corinthian Colleges. Additionally in October 2018, and again in August 2019, Attorney General Becerra called on Secretary DeVos and Federal Student Aid Acting Chief Operating Officer Jim Manning to address the 99 percent denial rate for Public Service Loan Forgiveness applications, a program that helps student loan borrowers who aspire to give back to their country or community by working in a public service field. In May 2019, Attorney General Becerra sent a letter urging ED to discharge the student loans of tens of thousands of veterans who were disabled as part of their service, by developing an automatic discharge program. In June 2018, Attorney General Becerra filed a lawsuit against Navient and its subsidiaries for unlawfully misleading student loan borrowers, engaging in illegal collections practices, and steering borrowers to more costly repayment options. In 2017, Attorney General Becerra sued Ashford University, and its parent company, Bridgepoint Education, for illegal marketing and collections activity, among other abuses; that lawsuit is pending in Alameda County Superior Court.
In submitting the comment letter, Attorney General Becerra joined the attorneys general of New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico.
A copy of the letter is available here.