Borrowers ‘Chilled to the Bone’ as DOE Reneges on Student Loan Forgiveness

Young people who took low-paying, public-sector jobs with promise of loan forgiveness now ‘hosed’

As first wave of qualified workers prepare to apply for loan forgiveness, they may have an unpleasant surprise waiting for them. (Photo: thisisbossi/flickr/cc)

As first wave of qualified workers prepare to apply for loan forgiveness, they may have an unpleasant surprise waiting for them. (Photo: thisisbossi/flickr/cc)

In a troubling development for the countless people saddled with student debt, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) may be reneging on a promise made to over 550,000 such borrowers who were led to believe that their loans would be forgiven after ten years of work in the public service.

Responding to an ongoing lawsuit from four borrowers, the DOE has given no explanation but says that approval letters sent to individuals who signed up for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program are not in fact “binding,” the New York Times reported Thursday.

Times reporter Stacy Cowley wrote:

In a legal filing submitted last week, the Education Department suggested that borrowers could not rely on the program’s administrator to say accurately whether they qualify for debt forgiveness. The thousands of approval letters that have been sent by the administrator, FedLoan Servicing, are not binding and can be rescinded at any time, the agency said.

The filing adds to questions and concerns about the program just as the first potential beneficiaries reach the end of their 10-year commitment—and the clocks start ticking on the remainder of their debts.

The program, established in 2007, covers individuals who work for 10 years at an approved place of employment, such as a nonprofit or government organization. After an individual makes 120 monthly loan payments, the program ostensibly “forgives the remaining balance.” As much as a quarter of the U.S. workforce could potentially qualify for the loan forgiveness, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

However, for the 553,000 who have gone through the process, submitting forms to check their workplace eligibility and then receiving a note of approval, that guarantee is in doubt as they may now unexpectedly owe thousands of dollars to pay off those debts.

Journalist David Dayen compared the move to the Bonus Army scandal, when roughly 43,000 Depression-era World War I veterans and their supporters stormed Washington D.C. to demand payment on cash vouchers given to them for their service before they were forcibly driven out by Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur under order from President Herbert Hoover.

Another reader pointed out on Twitter:

That same reader added, “This should chill every millennial with debt to the bone.”

The program encourages individuals to resubmit the forms each year and with each job change, to make sure they still qualify. But, as Cowley notes, “some of those approved borrowers might get bad news because it is unclear whether the certifications are valid.”

The reporting continues:

[Plaintiff Jamie] Rudert submitted the certification form in 2012 and received a letter from FedLoan affirming that his work as a lawyer at Vietnam Veterans of America, a nonprofit aid group, qualified him for the forgiveness program. But in 2016, after submitting his latest annual recertification note to FedLoan, he got a denial note.

The decision was retroactive, he was told. None of his previous work for the group would be considered valid for the loan forgiveness program.  What changed? Mr. Rudert said he did not know. After filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he received a reply from FedLoan saying that his application “had initially been approved in error.”

In December, Rudert and the American Bar Association filed suit against the DOE charging that the agency acted “arbitrarily and capriciously.”

“The idea that approvals can be reversed at any time, with no explanation, is chilling for borrowers,” Cowley observed, and is incredibly worrisome for the “first wave of qualified workers will be eligible to submit applications for debt forgiveness in October.”

While the scandal falls under the purview of the Obama administration, many fear that recently-installed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will be no friend of student borrowers. One of DeVos’ first acts earlier this month was to reverse an Obama-era guidance which limited fees debt collectors could charge on student loans.

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The Keystone Cops At The White House

My fellow-Americans,” Donald Trump said in his weekly address on Friday, “It’s an exciting time for our country. Our new Administration has so much change under way— change that is going to strengthen our Union and improve so many people’s lives.”

It’s exciting, all right; in fact, it is hard to look away. Just when you think things can’t get worse for the Trump Administration, it drops another clanger on itself.

Three weeks ago, the White House unveiled its revised anti-Muslim travel ban, which the federal courts immediately froze, on constitutional grounds, just as they had blocked its predecessor. Last week, there was the ignominious failure of the G.O.P. health-care bill, which Trump had personally endorsed, although he seemed blissfully unaware of some of its contents. And this week there was the still-developing saga of Devin Nunes, the bumbling head of the House Intelligence Committee, who unwisely tried to do the President a favor and ended up being publicly humiliated.

It is now perfectly evident that Nunes, in claiming he had evidence that Trump and his aides had been caught up in “incidental surveillance” during the transition, was doing the White House’s bidding and trying to create a diversion from James Comey’s confirmation that the F.B.I. is investigating whether Trump’s campaign coördinated with Russia.

According to a Times report, Nunes obtained access to intelligence information from at least two Administration aides when he visited the White House on the night of March 21st, though he initially denied coördinating with anybody who works there. One of the White House staffers was reportedly a member of the National Security Council, and the other was a lawyer in the office of the White House counsel who used to work for Nunes’s committee on Capitol Hill.

So far, Nunes has managed to cling to his committee post, but he has about as much credibility left as a thief caught inside a bank vault. At Friday’s White House press briefing, Glenn Thrush, of the Times, asked Sean Spicer, Trump’s spokesman, whether it was normal for the head of an investigatory committee to roam the White House complex at night and meet two mid-level staffers to see sensitive information. Spicer didn’t have much of an answer, of course. But the larger story here goes beyond Nunes and his nocturnal wanderings.

It concerns the White House’s competence—or lack thereof. Ten weeks ago, when Trump stormed into office attacking the media and promising a blitzkrieg of new policies and initiatives during his first hundred days, the dominant emotion among people who hadn’t voted for him was fear. Many commentators, myself included, warned about the dangers of democratic erosion, and sales of George Orwell’s “1984” soared.

Today, there are still plenty of reasons to be concerned about Trump and his illiberalism. The White House’s recent decision to dismantle President Obama’s clean-air regulations offers fresh testament to the malevolence of the Trump Administration’s agenda, and next week’s meeting between Trump and Xi Jinping, China’s President, will be a reminder of the enormous responsibilities that rest on a President’s shoulders. But, even among ardent Trumpophobes, fear and foreboding have been supplemented by wonderment at the White House’s string of gaffes. These days, instead of Big Brother, it often looks like the Keystone Kops are in charge.

In an interview with Tucker Carlson, of Fox News, a couple of weeks ago, Trump hinted that the White House had some information about possible surveillance by the Obama Administration that it would like the public to see. “We will be submitting certain things, and I will be perhaps speaking about this next week,” he said. The surprise wasn’t that the White House would subsequently use a political ally (Nunes) as a conduit. It was that the operation was handled so clumsily that it backfired almost immediately. “It’s hard to know who is dumber: the Trump White House for giving Nunes the info or Nunes for accepting it. Pure Amateur hour,” Dan Pfeiffer, a former director of communications in the Obama White House, tweeted on Thursday.
Pfeiffer isn’t a neutral player, of course. But the Nunes fiasco is hardly an isolated incident. Consider the fallout from the health-care debacle. Since the moment that Paul Ryan pulled his Obamacare-replacement bill from consideration in the House, Trump’s options for pursuing other elements of his domestic agenda, and perhaps even resuscitating health-care reform, have been clear. He can move even further to the right, to placate the members of the recalcitrant Freedom Caucus, or he can abandon them and try to win over some moderate Democrats.

Last weekend, Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, indicated that the White House would follow the second strategy, and other Administration officials floated the idea of reaching a deal with congressional Democrats on tax reform and infrastructure spending. But Trump himself didn’t appear to have been let in on the plan—he continued to bait and berate the opposition party.

“The Democrats will make a deal with me on healthcare as soon as ObamaCare folds – not long,” he tweeted on Monday. “Do not worry, we are in very good shape!” On the same day, in a pair of tweets, the President also went after his favorite Democratic target, Hillary Clinton. “Why isn’t the House Intelligence Committee looking into the Bill & Hillary deal that allowed big Uranium to go to Russia, Russian speech . . . money to Bill, the Hillary Russian ‘reset,’ praise of Russia by Hillary, or Podesta Russian Company. Trump Russia story is a hoax. #maga!”

On Thursday, Trump directed his fire at the Freedom Caucus. In a tweet, he said that they would “hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” This lumping together of the Freedom Caucus and the Democrats came the morning after a group of conservative activists visited the White House for what was billed as a friendly policy session. If Trump had decided to declare war on the right, he evidently hadn’t informed the members of his staff who arranged that session.

Mixed signals are nothing new from the Trump Administration. On Thursday, a reporter from Axios, the news site, sat in on a strategy session attended by Priebus, Steve Bannon, and Jared Kushner. The session was “on background,” which meant the reporter couldn’t identify who said what. But, on Friday morning, Mike Allen, Axios’s editor-in-chief, reported that one of the officials in the meeting “views the Trump White House in terms that could be applied to the iterative process of designing software. It’s a beta White House.”

Allen went on, “The senior official . . . said the White House was operating on similar principles to the Trump campaign: ‘We rode something until it didn’t work any more,’ the official said. ‘We recognized it didn’t work, we changed it, we adjusted it and then we kind of got better . . . [T]his was much more entrepreneurial.’ In the White House, he said, ‘we’re going to keep adjusting until we get it right.’ ”

No word on how long this adjustment process might take, or what role the man with the itchy Twitter finger might play in it.

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Republican’s Excuse For Cutting Food Stamps: The Bible Says Unemployed ‘Shall Not Eat’

Republican’s Excuse For Cutting Food Stamps: The Bible Says Unemployed ‘Shall Not Eat’
By Jameson Parker on March 31, 2017 12:23 pm ·
Republican lawmakers love using the Bible to dictate their policies. They especially love using it to justify pushing spending cuts to social programs – even if it means intentionally misreading their favorite passages.

In Texas, Rep. Jodey Arrington decided his support for cutting parts of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program needed a bit of New Testament spin. How does one defend taking the food out of mouths of hungry people using the Bible? By cherrypicking this quote:

During a debate on whether or not Republicans will further gut SNAP benefits, Arrington cited the biblical verse in response to a Jewish anti-hunger group pleading with Congress not to do something so foolish as to further dismantle food stamps. He probably thought he was being pretty clever.

Arrington isn’t the first to use the line. It’s extremely popular with conservatives. So popular, in fact, that the Daily Kos once devoted an entire article to debunking the misinterpretation of the quote.

What’s important to understand is working was secondary in this context, this is not so much a moral decree about work, the main message is a warning not to take advantage of the Christian obligation to feed the hungry, especially if you are screwing up the church and community tasked with doing that by behaving like a twelve year-old socialite.

In other words, the real meaning is to judge a man by his heart, not by his employment status. And as the Washington Post points out, in today’s economy, being “unemployed” doesn’t mean lazy, unmotivated, or being a leech. As the economy continues to separate between the “haves” and the “have-nots,” finding employment can be hard.

The verse in question applies specifically to people who can work or otherwise contribute to society but choose not to, said theologians from several denominations who spoke to The Post. There is a perception, among some voters and lawmakers, that many adult SNAP recipients are exactly this sort of “freeloader.”

But policy experts say that is not the case. Many unemployed adults on SNAP simply cannot work, they say. Those include the mentally ill, the borderline disabled and veterans.

Arrington has both biblical and economic reasons to doubt his own reasoning. Instead, his real ideology – the Church of Conservative Magical Thinking – led him to ignore it all in favor of more cuts to the poor to benefit the very richest in the country.

And as if voters needed yet another reminder of why elections matter: Arrington has only been on the job two months. He was voted into office this year. He barely moved into his office and already he’s going after the most disadvantaged people in his district. Hats off to his efficiency, but then, institutionalized cruelty often is.

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