From Your Lobbyist: Black Lives Matter, Colleges, and Trump Veto
June 12, 2020
Black Lives Matter: Right now, we’re in the middle of the largest demonstration of civil unrest in regards to racist violence in our generation’s history. AYA’s core mission is always viewed through a lens of equity, but recently, AYA has been actively engaged on all of our channels to show our ongoing support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Right now, it is imperative that we turn this momentum into ongoing action: whether it is showing up to marches, joining racial justice organizations, donating to organizations that support black communities, and/or taking this time to educate ourselves in a deeper and permanent way as we continue this fight for our fellow Americans. Here is our full blog post with additional resources.
Senate Hearing: Last week, the Senate HELP Committee held a hearing on returning to college safely in the fall with the COVID-19 pandemic likely still ongoing. As the hearing’s title and Committee Chairman Alexander’s (R-TN) previous statements make clear, the Senate Republicans’ message is not whether students should return to campus but how. The three higher education institution witnesses, representing college presidents from the Big Ten, the Ivy League and Historically Black Colleges, buttressed this message as all the witnesses have already decided that their schools will return in person (Purdue) or are leaning heavily in that direction (Brown and Lane). Chairman Alexander’s opening statement focused on the mechanics of returning to school safely, with a particular emphasis on testing all returning students (though he hedged on whether everyone really needs to be tested), contact tracing those who become infected, masks and social distancing. Daniels and Paxson outlined extensive health protocols in their remarks that closely tracked the Chairman’s position. To further advance the message of returning safely, he highlighted still emerging data that young people are less at risk than older people for getting COVID-19 and suggested numerous times that said colleges could increase social distancing and safety by making more efficient use of their spaces. He also endorsed a very limited federal role in the return to school: guidelines, additional funding and liability protections. Decisions on whether and how to return should be left to individual institutions on reopening; Congress and the President should not be telling schools whether to reopen and how to handle student safety. Senator Collins (R-ME) supported the Chairman’s overall message by describing the impact on hourly workers in Maine when colleges closed. Paxson and Daniels also supported reopening on the grounds that many students will not complete their degrees if colleges remain closed.
Ranking Member Murray (D-WA) and the Democrats attempted to temper the push to return by emphasizing the need for better health guidance from the federal government, with Senator Kaine (D-VA) doing a very effective job of describing how the CDC’s guidance to return to college was very comprehensive but omitted almost any role for testing. They also strove to focus attention on the needs of students and workers. Murray stated that stated COVID-19 had had a unique impact on minority communities, with a disproportionate number of cases and deaths amongst African-Americans and Hispanics, and had exacerbated existing problems students from those communities already face, including homelessness, food insecurity, and lack of online learning access. Other Democrats, notably Senators Warren (D-MA) and Baldwin (D-WI) emphasized the need to protect school workers and faculty. Noting that the most severe health outcomes for COVID-19 were among older people and that many faculty are over the age of 60, particularly at technical colleges, Baldwin pushed her legislation to require that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue emergency protection standards for infectious disease. She also stated that those rules should be in place before colleges reopen.
Finally, one thread running through the hearing was the federal government’s role. While Alexander opposed government intrusion on institution decision-making on reopening, even Daniels suggested that was within the federal government’s authority. A number of members, including Murray and Baldwin, pushed for better guidance from the CDC. Sen. Collins pushed to expand TRIO, which Hampton supported as his institution had just missed out on TRIO funding. Hampton urged Congress to double the maximum Pell and appropriate through the next COVID-19 relief package an additional $1 billion for HBCU’s, MSI’s and Tribal Colleges. He also endorsed S. 3701 Senator Klobuchar’s (D-MN) bill that would provide Internet access funding to low income college students.
Trump Vetoes Congress’s Bipartisan Resolution to Repeal Borrower Defense Rules: In the midst of a pandemic and a racial justice war, Trump, on June 4th, vetoed the bipartisan resolution passed by Congress to repeal the harmful borrower defense rules this administration finalized in September 2019. Despite public pressure from student groups, including AYA, education organizations, consumer protection groups, and dozens of states, Trump and his administration deal doom to student borrowers as these rules will make it harder for defrauded students to obtain relief from the federal government. Essentially, the rules set much higher standards students must meet to prove they have been defrauded by a school, making it much more likely for a student to obtain automatic loan forgiveness. In addition to proving the school engaged in misrepresentation, students will have to show that they relied on that misrepresentation and carefully document the “financial harm” – beyond just paying into a school that intentionally misled them. Further, borrowers now only have 3 years to submit their claims. To add salt to the wound, when these rules go into effect July 1st, it is likely that borrowers will face immediate harm given the likelihood of school closures due to the pandemic and who may already be facing underemployment as a result of COVID. The battle is not lost yet, however: We must urge Congress to override this veto and stand up for what is right. We will be sharing a campaign in the coming days that makes it easy to take action on this issue.