With reauthorization of the Higher Education Act due for action, members of Congress unveil new proposals for the future of higher education on a continuous basis. NASFAA's series, The Capitol Recap, provides a monthly update on new pieces of legislation introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to provide aid administrators with the most up-to-date information for their offices and their own administration. Bills listed here, unless otherwise noted, have been referred to committee and are awaiting action or consideration.
For a complete list of legislation introduced in this session of Congress, visit the NASFAA Legislative Tracker.
- H.R.748 - The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, "CARES" Act introduced by Rep. Courtney [D-CT] represents a compromise between Senate Republicans and Democrats for COVID-19 relief. The bill allocates nearly $14 billion to higher education in the Emergency Stabilization Fund. 90% of that will be allocated to institutions based 75% on the enrollment of full-time equivalent (FTE) Pell Grant recipients and 25% on enrollment of FTE non-Pell Grant recipients. Students who were enrolled exclusively in online, distance education courses prior to the COVID-19 emergency will be excluded from this calculation. Under the CARES Act, the non-federal share requirements of the Federal Work-Study (FWS) and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) programs would be waived for the 2019-20 and 2020-21 award years in cases where the non-federal share is paid by the institution. The bill would also allow institutions to transfer up to 100% of FWS funds into FSEOG during a period of a qualifying emergency. The bill grants ED the authority to exclude from subsidized loan usage calculations any portions of the Direct Loan period that the student is unable to complete due to the COVID-19 outbreak as well as allows ED to exclude from a student's Pell Grant Lifetime Eligibility Used (LEU) any Pell Grant amounts received during a period that the student is unable to complete due to this qualifying emergency. The bill allows ED to waive the return of Title IV funds (R2T4) requirements for schools or students to return unearned grant or loan assistance for students who withdrew because of COVID-19 and allows for the cancelation for the portion of a Direct Loan associated with a payment period which the student did not complete due to COVID-19. The bipartisan proposal suspends payments and interest accrual on federal Direct Loans and Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) held by ED until Sept. 30, 2020. The bill also counts each month of suspended loan payments as if the borrower had made a payment for the purpose of income-driven repayment plan loan forgiveness or Public Service Loan Forgiveness, as well as for loan rehabilitation purposes.
- H.R.6397 - The Coronavirus Emergency Student Loan Refinancing Act introduced by Rep. Courtney would allow a borrower who had a loan disbursed before July 1, 2020 to refinance their Direct Loan or their FFEL program loan. The refinanced interest rates would be applicable to each loan type. For undergraduate borrowers (at the time) with Federal Direct Stafford, Unsubsidized, PLUS, and Consolidation loans, the interest rate would be equal to the lowest yield on the 10-year Treasury note in the preceeding 6 months plus 2.05 percent; for the Federal Direct Stafford or Unsubsidized loans for graduate students (at the time) the interest rate would be equal to the lowest yield on the 10-year Treasury note in the preceding 6 months plus 3.6 percent, and for borrowers with PLUS loans, the new interest rate would be equal to the lowest yield on the 10-year Treasury note in the preceding 6 months plus 4.6 percent. This bill would also create a new loan type, the Federal Direct Refinanced Private Loan, which would allow borrowers of private loans to refinance their loans into the Federal Direct loan program.
- H.R.6316 - The Emergency Relief for Student Borrowers Act of 2020 introduced by Rep. Dean [D-PA] would require the federal government during the COVID–19 emergency period and the 6-month period immediately following to pay the total amount due for each month for both federal and private loans based on the payment plan selected by the borrower or the borrower's loan status. The bill would also waive the interest on these loans during the same period of time. The payments would continue to count towards repayment for borrowers enrolled in PSLF and borrowers working towards rehabilitation.
- H.R.6363 - The Student Debt Emergency Relief Act introduced by Rep. Pressley [D-MA] would cancel at least $30,000 in outstanding federal student loan debt due to a national emergency as well as allow for loan payment deferment and interest waivers. The bill would also direct the Department of Education to halt all collection activity.
- S.3556 - The COVID-19 Graduate Relief Act introduced by Sen. Romney [R-UT] would allow borrowers a payment deferment for up to three years following the coronavirus pandemic and the enactment of this bill.
- S.3543 - The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Protection Act introduced by Sen. Tester [D-MT] would waive the requirement to make payments for borrowers enrolled in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program during any period of time there is a qualifying emergency in the state that the borrower is employed.
- H.R.6275 / S.3489 - The Supporting Students in Response to Coronavirus Act, a bicameral bill introduced by Rep. Scott [D-VA] and Sen. Murray [D-WA] would provide more than $3 billion in funding for a variety of supports for preschool, K-12, and higher education, including a new student emergency grant fund. The bill also provides additional flexibility for certain Title IV statutory requirements for students and institutions impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. The bill grants the Department of Education (ED) authority to exclude from Subsidized Usage Limits any academic period during which a student was unable to remain enrolled because of a qualifying emergency. It also permits ED authority to waive — for institutions who request such a waiver — the return of Title IV funds (R2T4) requirement for schools or students to return unearned grant or loan assistance for students who withdrew because of a qualifying emergency. The bill would also allow institutions broader authority to offer students, as a result of a qualifying emergency, approved Leaves of Absence (LOA). An infusion of $1.2 billion ($600,000 for fiscal year 2020 and 2021) is included in the bill for emergency financial aid for higher education institutions to award to students up to $1,500 each award year to help them meet unexpected expenses related to their basic needs during a qualifying emergency. Lastly, the bill also allows the Secretary to exclude from a student's Pell Grant Lifetime Eligibility Used (LEU) any semester (or equivalent) that that the student does not complete due to COVID-19.
- H.R.6230 - The PSLF Administrative Improvements Act introduced by Rep. Boyle [D-PA] would require ED to create and maintain a publicly accessible database of eligible PSLF employers which would also include instructions on how to apply and complete an employment certification form. The bill would also require ED, to the extent practicable, work with relevant Federal agencies who possess information about public service employees and their loan status' to provide that information to ED to avoid the need for those employers to have to submit an employment certification form. The PSLF Administrative Improvements Act also calls for the creation of an online portal that allows borrowers to get information on why their loans may have been rejected for forgiveness, as well as the number of the payments they have left before receiving forgiveness.
- S.3503 / H.R.6194 - This bicameral bill introduced by Sen. Moran [R-KS] and Rep. Roe [R-TN] would enable the VA to continue providing the same level of education benefits to students having to take courses online due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This bill also gives the VA temporary authority to continue GI Bill payments uninterrupted in the event of national emergencies. This allows for continued payment of benefits even if the program has changed from resident training to online training.
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