The Department of Education (ED) on Friday provided updates on the negotiated rulemaking process that is seeking an “alternative path to debt relief” in response to President Joe Biden’s student debt relief plan being struck down by the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) earlier this summer.
During a press call Friday morning, Education Under Secretary James Kvaal announced that the department released an issue paper outlining ED’s policy considerations to implement debt relief for student loan borrowers in need. ED also announced its non-federal negotiators and facilitators for the negotiated rulemaking student loan debt relief committee, which is scheduled to have its first public hearings on October 10-11. In its announcement, ED did not list the federal negotiator that would represent the department.
In June, SCOTUS struck down Biden’s student debt relief plan, which would have forgiven up to $20,000 in student loans to eligible borrowers. In response to that decision, the Biden administration shortly announced it would seek to implement a debt relief program through the negotiated rulemaking process through the Higher Education Act (HEA).
On Friday’s press call, Kvaal said the announcement of the committee’s issue paper and non-federal negotiators served as a “critical step” in the negotiated rulemaking process. He added that the administration will not “rest until we fix our broken student loan system.”
The issue paper ED released on Friday asks the negotiated rulemaking committee for feedback on how it may provide loan relief to five categories of borrowers.
Those five categories include; borrowers whose balances are greater than what they originally borrowed; borrowers whose loans first entered repayment decades ago; borrowers who attended programs that did not provide “sufficient financial value;” borrowers who are eligible for relief under programs like income-driven repayment but have not applied; and borrowers who have experienced financial hardship and need support “but for whom the current student loan system does not adequately address.”
“We want to explore what potential types of hardship borrowers face and how the department might deliver relief to those borrowers under the Higher Education Act,” Kvaal said during the press call. “We will also listen to the ideas brought forward by the negotiators.”
The issue paper will be discussed at the first committee hearings in October, ED said. The committee is also slated to meet in November and December. The hearings will be virtual and the public can watch the livestream by registering. Updates on this negotiated rulemaking process will be posted on ED’s website.
The upcoming negotiated rulemaking committee is composed of 14 affected constituency groups and includes some NASFAA members. Representing private non-profit institutions is Angelika Williams, FAAC®, of the University of San Francisco, and Susan Teerink of Marquette University. Representing public institutions is Melissa Kunes of the Pennsylvania State University.
In its press release, ED noted that it is still looking for individuals who can serve as alternate negotiators for two constituencies; state officials, including state higher education executive officers; and historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and minority-serving institutions. Those interested should email [email protected] before October 6.
The press call on Friday also touched on concerns following the threat of a government shut down due to issues with Congress passing a short-term spending deal, and how that could impact the committee’s planned meeting, as well as the timeline of the rulemaking process.
Zayn Siddique, deputy assistant to the president and deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said that if a government shutdown does happen, “key activities” at Federal Student Aid (FSA) will continue for a “couple of weeks.” He added that FSA plans to continue to engage borrowers and help them return to repayment, with student loan payments due in October. However, he stressed that if the shutdown goes longer than that, there could be issues.
“A prolonged shutdown lasting more than a few weeks could substantially disrupt the returns repayment effort and long term servicing support for borrowers,” Siddique said. “As we've said before, extreme House Republicans need to stop playing political games with people's lives and livelihoods and abide by the bipartisan agreement to keep the government open.”
Over the weekend, congressional leaders averted a government shutdown by passing a 45-day continuing resolution which will keep the government funded through mid-November.
Publication Date: 10/2/2023