WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden are among 34 Senate Democrats urging Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to ensure all struggling federal student borrowers can gain access to crucial federal relief.
Since March, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act has provided forbearance, waived interest, and halted collections for borrowers whose student loans were directly held by the U.S. Department of Education. But, according to new information, 8.2 million federal student loan borrowers currently cannot take advantage of this relief, because some or all of their loans do not quality. Of those borrowers, 4.4 million people are not receiving any relief, and 3.8 million people have a mix of loans that qualify and those that do not. To ensure that these borrowers don’t continue to face unnecessary financial struggles and confusion, the senators wrote to Secretary DeVos to demand that she take immediate action to help these students qualify for much-needed relief.
“The more than eight million student loan borrowers falling into donut holes of critical relief have missed out on needed benefits and suffered unnecessary complexity and confusion for more than six months,” wrote the senators in their letter. “It is essential that the Department immediately begin the targeted outreach and take the actions we are requesting.”
In order to ensure that students receive critical relief, the senators demanded that Secretary DeVos immediately reach out to borrowers currently missing out on relief and help them consolidate their loans into qualifying loans. They also urged Secretary DeVos to use her administrative authority to improve the consolidation process for borrowers by waiving restrictions and penalties during the coronavirus national emergency.
The letter follows the introduction of a resolution by Merkley, Wyden, and 11 of their senate colleagues, outlining a bold plan for the next president to use existing authority under the Higher Education Act to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt for federal student loan borrowers.
Merkley has kept a steady drumbeat on the needs of students throughout Betsy DeVos’ disastrous tenure as Secretary of Education—including the introduction of the If It’s Good Enough for the Banks, It’s Good Enough for Students Act, which would allow students to refinance their student loans at the same rates available to big banks, and an effort to push the Secretary to hold a massive student loan servicer accountable for a serious blunder this year that could have lowered millions of federal student loan borrowers’ credit scores.
Wyden and Merkley have also urged commercial student loan lenders and guaranty agencies to take additional measures to support federal student loan borrowers during the pandemic, and pressed the Trump administration during COVID-19 to halt the seizure of tax refunds from federal student loan borrowers in default and refund any payments seized contrary to CARES Act requirements.
In addition to Merkley and Wyden, the letter was signed by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Angus King (D-ME), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Edward Markey (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Tom Udall (D-NM), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).
The full letter is available here and follows below.