Week Ending March 13, 2015
President Issues Student Loan Bill of Rights
President Obama issued an executive memorandum that directs the Department of Education and other federal agencies to do more to help student loan borrowers through a “Student Aid Bill of Rights.” It declares that all students deserve a quality, affordable education; access to the resources they need to pay for college; the right to an affordable repayment plan; and the right to reliable information and quality customer service even if they struggle to repay their loans. The plan targets third parties that contract with the government to service student loans, including Sallie Mae/Navient, and requires that they inform borrowers about repayment options and notify them when they are delinquent.
The memorandum charges the Department of Education with creating a new website by July 2016 to give students and borrowers an easy, direct channel to provide feedback – including complaints – about federal student loan lenders, servicers, collection agencies, and institutions of higher education. The Department is also charged with requiring stronger consumer protections to protect borrowers from falling behind in payments and to ensure consistency across loan processes.
The memorandum also directs the Department of Education and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFBP) to make additional suggestions for regulations on student loan servicers by October. One potential area for consideration is allowing student loans to be discharged in bankruptcy, an action that would require legislation.
Rep. Wilson Introduces Student Loan Legislation
Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) re-introduced The Student Borrowers’ Bill of Rights (H.R. 1352), which is consistent with the President’s student loan actions and takes additional steps. H.R. 1352 creates for student loan holders the same protections as holders of credit card, mortgage, auto and other forms of debt including bankruptcy protections (for federal and private student loans), a statute of limitations on debt collection (six years), and a prohibition on the garnishment of wages, tax refunds, and Social Security benefits. The bill removes the taxability of student loan forgiveness, provides partial loan forgiveness for graduates who have completed five years of public service, and enables borrowers to pay down student loan interest or principal using educational savings plans. It also establishes student loan borrowers’ rights to basic consumer protections, reasonable and flexible repayment options, and access to earned credentials and degrees. Please urge your Representative to co-sponsor H.R. 1352.
Lawsuit Against President Obama’s Immigration Executive Actions Moves to the Appeals Court
On Thursday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) requested an “emergency stay” from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to halt the preliminary injunction issued Feb. 16 by a conservative district court judge in Texas which has prevented President Obama’s immigration executive actions from moving forward. The lawsuit was brought by 26 Republican attorneys general, alleging that the President’s actions will be costly to states.
President Obama took executive action last November in response to Congress’s failure to take any legislative steps to fix our broken immigration system. Among other policies, the President’s actions will expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and establish a Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program for unauthorized immigrants who have U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident children. Those eligible for either of these programs would receive work authorization and would not be deportable for three years.
Also on Thursday, 14 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia filed an amicus brief in the appeals court, defending President Obama’s executive actions. Washington State’s attorney general, Bob Ferguson, took the lead and was joined by CA, CT, DE, HI, IL, IA, MD, MA, NM, NY, OR, RI, VT and Washington, D.C.
AFSCME agrees with these attorneys general that rather than President Obama’s executive actions placing a fiscal burden on states, bringing unauthorized workers out of the shadows is good for the economy. The wage increases these workers will receive when they work legally will have far-reaching positive effects on state and local economies. For example, more money will be spent in local communities and tax revenues will increase. Our communities will also be safer when immigrants do not fear reporting crimes or serving as witnesses.
AFSCME members and their family members who are eligible for the expanded DACA program and the DAPA program will directly benefit when these executive actions are implemented. We continue to encourage those who are eligible to apply for either program to gather documentation they will need to establish eligibility and begin to put aside money to pay the fees. AFSCME has added a new immigration web page to the International Union’s website to keep members up-to-date on DACA and DAPA implementation and other immigration issues. It can be found at: www.afscme.org/immigration-update.
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