House passes bill to help survivors of domestic violence escape student loans from abusers

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WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday passed a bill to help student loan recipients escape debt incurred by abusive spouses.

The Senate unanimously approved the legislation in June, so House passage sends the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk. The House vote was 232 to 193, with 14 Republicans joining 218 Democrats in voting in favour.

Congress previously allowed student borrowers to consolidate their loans with a spouse, but for years it didn’t allow them to separate loans if their circumstances changed. This has resulted in thousands of borrowers being stuck with debt they did not incur themselves.

“The bill we have before us today is simple. It closes the loophole and allows loan separation,” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said during a House Rules Committee hearing Monday afternoon.

“Victims of domestic violence or economic abuse should never have to pay their abuser’s debts,” he added. “Closing this loophole is just common sense.”

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), told the story of a voter, a single mother named Sara, whose estranged ex-husband refused to repay his share of their loan consolidated.

“Sara faced the threat of having her public school teacher’s salary garnished if she did not pay her and her ex-husband’s share of the debt,” Warner’s office said in a statement when the Senate passed the bill.

Domestic violence survivor advocates, including the National Network to End Domestic Violence, endorsed the legislation.

The bill represents a modest change to student loan policy after Biden said he would unilaterally eliminate large-scale student debt. Once the new policy goes into effect, the White House said up to 43 million people could benefit, with borrowers who received Pell grants eligible for debt forgiveness of up to $20,000. In contrast, there are only about 14,000 consolidated joint loans outstanding.

Although the bill enjoyed bipartisan support in the Senate, where it passed without even a roll-call vote, House Republicans on the Rules Committee said it needed to be amended before it was passed. go to the White House for Biden’s signature.

Specifically, they said the bill would take too long for the Department of Education to implement, expand the government’s role in student loans, and could be exploited by abusers.

Representative Virginia Foxx (RN.C.), a senior member of the House Education and Labor Committee, said that as currently drafted, the bill would allow one or the other party to a joint consolidated loan to apply for a new loan, potentially leaving their spouse with little control over how much each will owe on the original loan balance.

“In some cases, this could leave the abused spouse with an economic burden that doesn’t belong to that person,” she said.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chair of the Education and Labor Committee, said the bill’s formula would simply determine how much of the debt goes to whom.

“If we change it, and maybe even make it worse, it goes through the Senate and who knows what happens, if the clock ever starts ticking or we revisit the bill,” he said.

McGovern said had it not been for House GOP objections, the bill could have been quickly passed as part of a group of routine, uncontroversial bills the House votes on each week, skipping committee. rules.

“It’s just frustrating that we’re here,” he said.

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