NEW Senator Alexander and Majority Leader McConnell Coronavirus Response Legislation: Our Partners Respond

On July 27, 2020, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans announced their latest coronavirus “relief” package. This legislative package is meant to kick off Senate negotiations for this latest round of relief for Americans in light of the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing economic fallout. McConnell’s bill package leaves much to be desired and fails to answer the call from many college affordability and student debt advocates and policy experts across the political spectrum.  

Some Democrats in the House and Senate have introduced numerous pieces of legislation over the past weeks to center the 45 million American student loan borrowers and address the whopping $1.6 trillion of student debt in America. In addition to the previously introduced bills by Representatives Pressley and Omar, and by Senators. Warren, Brown, Murray, and Schumer to cancel large portions of student debt, there is also a recent bill from Senator Murray, the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act, which would create the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund to provide $132 billion in emergency funding to colleges and students. There is also Senators Reed and Murkowski’s Student Loan Fairness Act which would expand the relief from the CARES Act, and Rep. Porter’s COVID-19 Perkins Loan Relief Act to extend CARES relief to Perkins borrowers. 

There are many bills that would provide relief to borrowers being crushed by student debt during this pandemic, but Senator McConnell has refused to acknowledge these options in favor of his own legislation that excludes borrowers and students entirely. 

See what our partners and allies have to say about this legislative package. The full statements by organizations are accessible via hyperlinks.

Americans for Financial Reform Senior Policy Analyst Alexis Goldstein

“Instead of providing the student debt cancellation that would reduce expenses for struggling borrowers and boost the economy overall, Senator Alexander and Majority Leader McConnell have given borrowers nothing but rhetoric. You can’t pay your bills with rhetoric. Borrowers faced with seeing their student loan payments resume on October 1 in the midst of an explosion of the pandemic and an ever-worsening economy need real solutions, not a worse version of repayment plans they already have.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten:  

“Time is running out. The initial COVID-19 relief protections against eviction and the enhanced unemployment benefits either have expired or will expire soon. And states and schools don’t have the resources to reopen safely, even in places where the virus is contained. Unfortunately, this offer is not better late than never—it’s just late. 

The relief McConnell has offered doesn’t match the scale of this crisis. The funds proposed for K-12 public schools, colleges and universities are woefully inadequate given the expenses schools will face to reopen safely, expenses for things like additional staff, infrastructure improvements, personal protective equipment and cleaning. It also falls dramatically short by ignoring what schools actually need to reopen safely and, instead, prioritizes the president’s political agenda, tying the funding to in-person instruction and pushing for private school vouchers. Moreover, it includes no new funding to help states, cities and towns recovering from cratering tax revenues—in contrast to the more than $1 trillion offered in the House-passed HEROES Act. Without some federal aid for state and local budgets, we can expect millions more layoffs, and devastating cuts to the very programs families are relying on, including food assistance, unemployment and healthcare. 

To rub salt in the wound, while this proposal includes no protections for workers on the frontlines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, it does include a nice bailout for corporations and other employers to limit their liability if employees get sick on the job. If McConnell claims to be doing what’s best for the majority of people in this country, he and his colleagues sure have a strange way of showing it. This bill falls far short of what’s necessary to help regular people come out the other side of this crisis.”

Canter for American Progress President Neera Tanden:  

“As a result of President Trump’s incompetence, ignorance, and malice, our country is in the midst of unprecedented economic and health crises. The president urged states to reopen before it was safe to do so, and now, with tens of thousands of new COVID-19 cases daily, some states are being forced to close parts of their economy once again. Yet we only learn the details of their plans a mere days away from unemployment insurance expiring, guaranteeing unnecessary hardship for millions of Americans.

The failed public health response has led to re-closed businesses, continued layoffs, unemployment still more than 10 percent, and a recovery nowhere near what President Trump has promised. Millions of families, workers, and small businesses remain in dire straits, but the Senate majority leader has somehow decided that now is an appropriate moment to force tens of millions of jobless workers to face a huge cut in their income and states and cities to lay off teachers and cut back on key services. Leader McConnell’s proposal holds school funding hostage with demands to allocate critical public school funds to private schools, and that they fully reopen whether it is safe to do so or not.  While the U.S. House of Representatives passed the comprehensive HEROES Act more than two months ago, it is telling that the president and his cronies have left the American people in a precarious place by waiting until the last possible moment to begin negotiations with House Democrats.”

Center for Responsible Lending Federal Advocacy Director and Senior Counsel Ashley Harrington:  

“The HEALS Act does nothing to protect struggling student borrowers who will resume payments on their loans come October 1. The bill proposes returning to regular repayment structures that may require vulnerable borrowers to pay more and provides no protections for defaulted borrowers. At a time when African Americans and other students of color are disproportionately affected by the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, tinkering at the margins of this crisis is not enough. We must extend the payment suspension and provide broad universal student debt cancellation. Real relief is measured by actions, not empty promises. This bill most certainly comes up short.”

National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project Director Persis Yu:  

“As Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) correctly stated this past week, ‘[i]n less than three months, 43 million student loan borrowers will be required by law to begin monthly payments again on their loans … Many of those borrowers won’t be able to afford those payments.’ And yet, while Congress continues to bail out big businesses, the bill introduced today proposes to resume collection of federal student loans on October 1st.

There is a pandemic still happening. Workers are still unemployed. Schools and child care programs are still closed. It is not yet safe for our economy to fully function. This so-called solution for the millions of student loan borrowers struggling to feed their families and pay their bills is to recreate a less generous, more onerous, and ultimately more expensive version of a student loan repayment program that already exists. This new proposal continues to leave out millions of federal student loan borrowers and is less generous than current income-driven repayment plans, and will be more expensive for borrowers over the long term. This is not relief and fails the 43 million student loan borrowers counting on Congress to act.

We call on Congress to pass real relief to borrowers as detailed in our recommendations.”

Student Debt Crisis Executive Director Natalia Abrams:  

“With the temporary pause on student loan payments for tens of millions of Americans ending on September 30th, an already bleak economic outlook just got even more dire. While only student debt cancellation can free millions from fear and anxiety in this ongoing crisis, the suspension of payments and interest was an incremental step forward.

The Senate GOP plan to end this temporary relief is unconscionable. We need immediate action to end the ever-worsening debt crisis, and we’re disappointed that Mitch McConnell and other Senators won’t offer even a small step in the right direction. We will continue to pressure the House and the Senate to do what’s right and offer meaningful, lasting reform.”

Student Borrower Protection Center Policy Director Mike Pierce:  

“Nearly forty million student loan borrowers are hurtling towards a financial cliff as Senate Republicans look to force borrowers to resume loan payments at the worst possible time. Instead of taking the necessary steps to protect borrowers from a looming financial disaster, we see tired policies that fail to address the magnitude of this crisis.”

The Institute for College Access and Success President James Kvaal:  

“For college students and student loan borrowers, the HEALS Act proposed by Senator McConnell today is too little, too late. In the face of a surging pandemic, it cuts off much-needed relief for millions of student loan borrowers and fails to invest enough in public colleges to prevent dire consequences for students.

Public colleges and universities never recovered from the Great Recession, and now they face additional expenses and huge falls in revenue from tuition and state aid. While the bill provides nearly $30 billion in much-needed direct higher education relief, more funding is needed to prevent a run-up in tuition and student debt.

It’s deeply disappointing that the Republican bill fails to include one penny for Pell Grants. Doubling Pell Grants would help students stay enrolled in college, boosting the economy now and investing in long-term economic growth. To make no movement toward that crucial goal as student need skyrockets will leave students behind and potentially create a drag on educational attainment in the United States for years to come.

With economic conditions continuing to deteriorate, Congress should extend and expand the pause on student loan payments and interest. The relief has already saved 18 million borrowers more than $45 billion, but it fails to reach all federal student loans and expires on September 30. Congress should also immediately discharge federal student loans for students who are covered by government findings of wrongdoing.

While the Senate Republicans’ proposal to simplify student loan repayment should be considered within the context of broader reforms to college affordability, it does nothing to help colleges, students, and borrowers now. Millions of borrowers are struggling with large debts in the middle of a historic pandemic and recession. It is simply not feasible to establish a new repayment plan and require them all to enroll within two months.

Finally, any recovery legislation must include strong accountability measures to address the increased risks — including low-quality programs and predatory recruitment — that students and taxpayers face as a result of the pandemic. The bill should not provide additional subsidizes to for-profit colleges beyond emergency financial support paid directly to their students.”

Young Invincibles Policy and Advocacy Director for Higher Education and Workforce Kyle Southern:  

““This proposed legislation falls far short of what young Americans need and should expect from their leaders. Rather than extend vital support during a dual public health and economic crisis, this bill would leave millions of student loan borrowers without protections while failing to extend and expand a repayment suspension put in place by the CARES Act. Doing so would only make the burden of student debt heavier, leaving many young Americans financially insecure. 

Young people have been behind financially since the Great Recession. It’s alarming some members of Congress would again shortchange student borrowers in the midst of financial turmoil. Today, we’re proud to stand with other leading advocates in demanding real measures to protect student borrowers in the short term and put young people on more solid financial footing for long-term recovery.”

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