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AG James leads fight for emergency relief for federal student loan borrowers


STAFF REPORTS


NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today co-led a coalition of 27 attorneys general from around the nation in calling on the U.S. Department of Education to provide federal student loan borrowers with crucial emergency measures to help in the wake of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. In a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the coalition asks the Department of Education to take specific steps to protect borrowers from further financial burden and debt collection due to job losses and lost wages, resulting from the exponential rise in national unemployment in the last few weeks.

"Thousands of New Yorkers and millions more across the country were already struggling with student loan debt prior to the coronavirus, but today, the financial hardship many face is more severe as a result of business closures, lost wages, and job losses," said Attorney General James.

"Borrowers need immediate relief and cannot wait for a stimulus package to pass through Congress which is why our coalition is calling on the Department of Education to take immediate action and protect student loan borrowers. Any stimulus relief should be weighed separately and should not be used as an excuse to deprive borrowers what they need. Secretary DeVos has the power to help millions or ensure they are left with billions in insurmountable debt."

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro co-led today's letter with Attorney General James that urges the Department of Education to immediately implement emergency measures to protect federal student loan borrowers. The letter notes that while the federal government has already taken a series of initial steps to help student loan borrowers — including ceasing some collection actions — the Department of Education must do more, including:
  1. Halting all new and continuing involuntary collection activities — including wage garnishment and the offset of government benefits, such as Social Security and tax refunds — and refunding 2019 tax refund offsets for all federal student loan borrowers for the duration of the crisis.
  2. Automatically enrolling all federal student loan borrowers who are in or enter into forbearance, who are or become delinquent on their loans, or who request enrollment in an Income Driven Repayment (IDR) Plan in an 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. This would permit struggling borrowers to suspend payments while continuing to make progress toward Public Service Loan Forgiveness or IDR loan forgiveness.
  3. Extending eligibility for all additional relief available pursuant to previously announced modifications for those affected by national emergencies to all federal loan borrowers for the duration of the crisis. 
The coalition's letter urges the Department of Education to extend this emergency relief to all federal student loan borrowers, including borrowers whose Federal Family Education Loans or Federal Perkins loans are not held by the Department of Education.

Today's letter is just one in a number of different actions Attorney General James has taken to ease New Yorkers' financial burdens since the outbreak of the coronavirus in the United States. Last week, Attorney General James temporarily halted the collection of medical and student debt owed to the State of New York and referred to the OAG for collection, for at least a 30-day period, in response to growing financial impairments resulting from the spread of COVID-19. After this 30-day period, the OAG will reassess the needs of state residents for a possible extension. Additionally, the OAG will accept applications for suspension of all other types of debt owed to the State of New York and referred to the OAG for collection.

Joining Attorney General James and Attorney General Shapiro in signing today's letter to the Department of Education are the attorneys general of California, 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.

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