(AP) – The Trump administration on Friday suspended all federal student loan payments until the end of January and kept interest rates at 0%, extending a moratorium that began at the start of the pandemic but was due to expire at the end of this month.
By extending payments by a month, the administration effectively leaves it up to the Biden administration or Congress to decide whether to extend longer-term relief to millions of student borrowers. The measure was included in a March relief plan and the White House extended it in August, but its fate was uncertain amid the deadlock on a new relief bill.
In announcing the extension, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos criticized Congress for not taking action. “The overtime also allows Congress to do its job and determine what action it deems necessary and appropriate,” DeVos said in a statement. “Congress, not the executive branch, is in charge of student loan policy. “
Under this measure, students will not be required to make payments, their loans will not accumulate interest, and all collection activities will cease until the end of January.
DeVos received praise for using his authority to suspend federal student loan payments in March. Congress subsequently cemented the measure into legislation and Trump extended it until December, but the impending deadline has fueled fears that millions of borrowers will be forced to resume payments even as rates go. unemployment skyrocketed.
Last month, the American Council on Education and dozens of other higher education associations urged DeVos to extend aid, saying the recent increase in COVID-19 cases would likely lead to even more economic turmoil.
“Bringing millions of Americans back to repayment in the midst of this crisis will cause additional financial hardship and force borrowers to make tough decisions about their limited resources,” the groups wrote in a letter to DeVos.
Even DeVos’ own agency has warned of looming problems if the moratorium ends. In its annual report last month, Federal Student Aid, the office that oversees student loans, said without an extension it would face a “heavy burden” in moving millions of borrowers into active repayment at the same time. time.
President-elect Joe Biden did not directly address the moratorium, but on Tuesday called for immediate relief, including “relief on rent and student loans.” He also supported proposals to write off up to $ 10,000 in student debt for all borrowers as part of a future virus relief program.
In Friday’s announcement, DeVos said his agency is making efforts to notify loan service companies the Education Department has contracted with to manage the collections. A federal prosecution filed against DeVos in April alleged that thousands of late borrowers were still receiving payroll deductions despite the mortar. The Department blamed the error on its servers.
DeVos’ Friday statement says all defaulting borrowers who continue to have their wages withheld will receive repayments.
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