From Your Lobbyist: COVID-19 and a big AYA win.
March 13, 2020
Week of March 9-13
College Campuses Close and Go Virtual: With COVID-19 ravaging the nation and Members of Congress scrambling to pass emergency funding to deal with the response to the virus, it has been a rather hectic week on Capitol Hill. Over the course of the week, over 100 colleges and universities have cancelled classes or gone virtual to the extent they can hold classes online in order to slow the spread of the novel corona virus. While students typically are excited about cancelled classes, these closures have not come without unique challenges to universities and the students and families they serve. Universities must now figure out how long to cancel classes, what to do about students with nowhere to go, and how to make up for lost learning time. In order to help alleviate the problems these colleges face, the Office of Postsecondary Education issued guidelines that give universities additional flexibilities to alter their class schedules, ease enrollment requirements, and relax regulations around financial aid eligibility.
Capitol Hill Shuts Down: With the first confirmed case COVID-19 to infect Senator Maria Cantwell’s staffer, the best practices guidance from the CDC to cancel all gatherings, and the potential for a high number of Members of Congress who are older and at high-risk, lawmakers on Thursday announced that the Capitol, House, and Senate offices would be shutting down access to all non-essential visitors until April 1st. While Congress is still in session and working together to pass emergency legislation and a stimulus package in response to the virus, most staffers are now working remotely. Given the limited access to the Hill, much of AYA’s lobbying and advocacy work will be done virtually over the next few weeks.
Proposals to Postpone Loan Payments: As the economy continues to crash and people begin to cut down on work or socially isolate, concerns about student loan payments during this economic downturn have flared up. To that end, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin indicated to Politico today “that the Trump administration is considering a temporary suspension of student loan payments as one of many options to address the economic fallout from the outbreak of the coronavirus.” Earlier this week, Senate Democrats included a six-month moratorium on some federal student loan payments on the list of requests included in their emergency aid proposals. While the Education Department hasn’t yet made a decision, there appears to be growing broad support for this solution in the face of economic crisis and AYA will strongly support these proposals.
Victory! Bipartisan Senate Rejects Secretary DeVos’ Borrower Defense Rules: In some good news amongst a lot of bad, on Wednesday, the Senate followed the House’s suit and passed a resolution that rejected the harmful borrower defense rules Secretary DeVos that would have made it extremely difficult for defrauded borrowers to discharge their loans. All Democrats voted to approve the rejection of these rules and joining them were 11 Republicans: Senators John Boozman, Shelley Moore Capito, Susan Collins, Joni Ernst, Cory Gardner, Josh Hawley, Martha McSally, Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman, Dan Sullivan, and Todd Young. This rare bipartisan act in both chambers is a clear signal from Congress that it does care more about students and borrowers than protecting bad acting for-profit colleges and universities that financially harm borrowers. Trump hasn’t made clear whether he will sign the measure into law or veto it, as he has flip flopped in the press about what he would actually do. First he said he was neutral, then he said he agreed with the Department’s rule. Politico reported that “Democrats likely have enough GOP votes to pass the legislation blocking the rule on Wednesday, according to Democratic and Republican aides. But the Senate is not expected to approve the measure with a veto-proof majority.” AYA is ecstatic about this news and urges the President to sign the measure into law immediately, not to veto it and continue harming students and borrowers his Department of Education is meant to protect.
Stay tuned next week for a video from Ally, your lobbyist, to see how she is continuing to advocate for our policy priorities and how you can too!