Congress to consider student loan deferrals for victims of sexual violence

A invoice introduced in Congress on Wednesday would grant students who are victims of sexual violence federal loan deferrals while they are on temporary leave from college for treatment.

Under the Student Loan Deferral for Survivors of Sexual Violence Act HR 7980, students would be eligible for up to three years of federal loan deferral — divided into six- to 12-month increments — after reporting an incident of sexual violence at their campus Title Coordinator IX.

Most federal student loans come with a six-month grace period that takes effect after graduation or when students take a semester off. But under the current system, even if students need more time to recover from an incident of violence, they must start repaying their loans when those six months expire.

According to Rep. Madeleine Dean, a Pennsylvania Democrat who introduced the bill, easing the combined burden of mental and physical healing from sexual violence and paying off student loans is “the human thing to do.”

As an English teacher for 10 years at La Salle University, Philadelphia, Dean knew students who “got really derailed” by sexual assault.

“I saw how they withdrew, how they couldn’t continue their education,” Dean said. “And I also saw, of course, regular students under the weight of high debt.”

Calls for Student Loan Debt Cancellation Mount Nationwide, and Students Continue to Reveal injustices faced in sexual assault cases on campus. Thirteen percent of all undergraduate and graduate students experience rape or sexual assault on campus, 2020 study finds report by the Association of American Universities. Rates are higher for women and LGBTQ+ students.

The Association of Title IX Administrators, known as Atixa, worked with Dean to draft the bill. The organization, which provides counseling on the federal gender equity act, began advocating for loan deferrals due to sexual violence after hearing from its members that surviving students on furlough recovery were not eligible for deferrals — an “oversight” that should have been corrected “a long time ago,” said group president Brett A. Sokolow.

Currently, students are eligible for federal loan deferral due to a variety of circumstances, including cancer treatment and economic hardship. Qualifications for federal loan deferral are to be set by Congress.

“The Department of Education is really pushing for colleges and schools to provide victim supports because it helps them complete their education and participate fully,” Sokolow said. “And yet here we are, seeing that the kind of equivalent supports that could come from the Department of Education were not being provided in a way that would allow survivors to financially continue their education.”

Paying for health care to support recovery can be costly. And this financial pressure is compounded when students have to repay their loans at the same time.

“They might be forced to find a job,” Sokolow said, “and never be able to resume [college] or repay their loans as they began to accumulate.

The dean’s bill would also give the Department of Education the power to waive the amount of federal financial aid students must return when they temporarily withdraw — another protection that would ease the financial burden on survivors. .

In order to qualify for deferment, students would report sexual abuse they had experienced—including sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, and harassment—to their college’s Title IX coordinator. The coordinator would then certify that the student could apply for a sexual violence recovery loan deferral, and the Department of Education would review the request. Students would not be required to file a formal complaint or go through a Title IX investigation to receive a loan deferral.

“We didn’t want to create a situation where someone felt they had to go through the Title IX system to get the deferment, when the reason they were taking a break from college might be that they was overwhelmed and really couldn’t handle the resolution process at this particular time,” Sokolow said.

Sokolow is optimistic that the Education Department’s approval process for sexual violence-related loan deferrals won’t create lengthy delays, as happened in his Title IX cases, some students waiting months before the department even decided to investigate.

“Any bureaucracy is liable to bog down,” Sokolow said. “The department is expected to come up with a solid plan to ensure the work doesn’t go to waste.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Education did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Sokolow acknowledges that some people might want a stricter verification process to determine eligibility.

“But we are providing support for survivors in colleges and schools as they see fit,” he said. “So why wouldn’t the Ministry of Education provide support measures?” »

Dean hopes the bill will meet minimal opposition in Congress, despite the intense partisan standoff in Congress right now, because it calls for a “simple postponement”, not a wholesale cancellation of loans.

“It’s the human thing to do,” Dean said. “It’s the smart thing to do. And it could help survivors to heal, and also to heal their own economic status.

About Ernest Decker

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