From Your Lobbyist: House and Senate Advance Major Policies
December 13, 2019
Week of Dec. 9-13
Despite a lot of the national attention on the ongoing impeachment proceedings, this week proved that, indeed, Congress can walk and chew gum––as it was a jam-packed week of higher ed policymaking and hearings. Over the last week, the House and Senate advanced legislation that would permanently reauthorize HBCU funding and simplify the FAFSA form, Secretary Betsy DeVos got called to the carpet by House Democrats in a hearing about her failure to process loan discharges for defrauded students, the House Financial Services Committee passed a few pieces of legislation to protect student borrowers out of committee, and House and Senate leadership are within inches from a final government spending deal.
FUTURE Act Advances, Close to Enactment: After expiring on October 1st 2019, the House took up and passed, with some tweaks, a Senate version of the FUTURE Act which simplify the FAFSA by reducing the number of questions and would permanently approve $225 million in annual funding for minority serving institutions like HBCUs, HSIs and tribal colleges. The Senate then swiftly passed the House’s slightly modified version of the bill where it now awaits the President’s signature. Politico reported that the “House changes were designed to allay concerns from some lawmakersabout a provision of the legislation that allows the IRS to more seamlessly share students’ taxpayer data with the Education Department, helping students to more easily apply for federal financial aid and enroll in — and stay enrolled in — income-based loan repayment programs, which require an annual certification of income.” While the measure passed by 319-96 in the House and by unanimous consent, some members of the extremely conservative Freedom Caucus said that while they support funding for minority institutions, they were still concerned with the data sharing provisions in the bill stating a possible threat to privacy. The President is expected to sign the bill into law in the near future.
Contentious Student Borrower Hearing, DeVos Under Fire: Democrats held Secretary DeVos’ feet to the fire on Thursday during a heated hearing about her failure to process hundreds of thousands of claims to discharge loans for student borrowers defrauded by defunct for-profit schools. Despite a court order giving the Secretary the sole discretion to approve these claims, DeVos spent much of the hearing claiming her Department hasn’t adjudicated these claims for forgiveness because there still isn’t a good “process” or “methodology” for doing so. Additionally, she claimed that it “isn’t fair to taxpayers” to discharge large swaths of loans without individually reviewing each claim, even when all of those students attended a now closed school. Even more troubling, to highlight her point, she claimed that there “many students that received valuable education from Corinthian just like they do from many other institutions”, which is absurd given Corinthian is among the most notorious now-defunct schools after defrauding thousands of students. While Republicans rushed to her defense of these poor excuses, Democrats were outraged by the lack of commitment by this Department to rectify the lives of thousands of defrauded students. Chairman of the Education & Labor Committee, which held the hearing, Bobby Scott (D-VA) explained that her blatant refusal to adjudicate these claims and provide justice for defrauded students is “inflicting serious harm on the students you have a duty to serve” while Rep. Bonamici (D-OR) explained that just because a previously harmed student borrower now has a job and is earning money doesn’t mean that they were not defrauded, arguing that even they should have their loans discharged. The hearing became contentious when Reps. Harder (D-CA), Wilson (D-FL), and Hayes (D-CT) all used their time for questions to lambast the Secretary for her incompetency, unpopularity, and downright refusal to uphold the law and protect students.
House Financial Services Markup: On Wednesday, the House Financial Services Committee amended and passed several pieces of legislation dealing with student loans, among dozens of other unrelated banking bills. The student loan bills were approved along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. A summary from Politico on their status is below:
- “Rep. Madeleine Dean’s (D-PA) bill, H.R. 4545 (116), to discharge private student loans when the borrower dies or becomes permanently disabled was approved on a party-line 32-25 vote, after Republicans argued that banks already commonly forgive those loans on request.
- Rep. Alma Adams’ (D-NC) bill, H.R. 5294 (116) , establishing minimum servicing standards for student loans also advanced out of the committee on a party-line 32-26 vote. The legislation would also prohibit pre-dispute, forced arbitration clauses and class action bans in student loan agreements. A 2015 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau study found that 86 percent of the largest lenders in the private student loan market include arbitration clauses in their contracts.
- Rep. Al Lawson’s (D-FL) bill, H.R. 5287 (116) , would bar debt collectors from collecting on a loan through wage garnishment in cases where the loan would not require payment under an income-driven repayment plan. The committee approved it on a party-line 32-24 vote.”
And last but not least, check out our latest FYL video on Instagram (@ayamericans) to learn about the appropriations process and government funding. After months of negotiating, the House and Senate are inches away from finalizing a fiscal year 2020 government spending deal that would fund higher education programs, which AYA has been strongly advocating for the last several months.