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Hasan Minhaj Testifies as House Committee Debates Protections for Student Loan Borrowers

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  • The House Financial Services Committee held a hearing on Tuesday to discuss protections for student loan borrowers, as well as other proposals that would ease student loan burdens.
  • Comedian Hasan Minhaj testified during the hearing, noting that two-thirds of jobs require some college experience and that the cost of tuition has exponentially increased since the previous generation.
  • Minhaj also blasted loan providers for “predatory” behaviors like convincing students to take out higher-costing loans.

House Committee Looks at Student Loan Protection Bills

The U.S. House Financial Services Committee listened to testimony in a hearing on Tuesday as they debated nine different potential bills that would afford stronger protections to people taking out student loans. 

Though the committee did not vote on any of the bills, if passed, they would create a borrower bill of rights and would help borrowers buy their first homes. 

Another bill, the CFPB Student Loan Integrity and Transparency Act, would strengthen the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s oversight by requiring it and the U.S. Department of Education to share student loan information with each other. It would also force lenders to work with an ombudsman, which is a government advocate for students struggling to repay federal education loans.

The Student Loan Servicing Reform and Consumer Protection Act, another proposed bill, would require lenders to provide accurate repayment options and resources for struggling student borrowers. It would also prevent lenders from omitting or misrepresenting loan serving information and would set minimum industry standards for all student loan transactions.

Currently, U.S. student debt sits at $1.6 trillion dollars, according to Forbes. The business magazine also reports the number of people taking out student loans in the U.S. at just under 45 million. Student loans are the second-highest consumer debt behind mortgages, and 20% of borrowers are behind on their loans.

Lawsuits and student loan providers are not a new combination. Common types of student loan lawsuits involve allegations of lenders convincing students to take out higher-costing payment plans or convincing them to overuse their forbearance, which is a process that allows students to postpone their payments if they’re struggling through other financial issues.

Under U.S. law, Congress sets the repayment terms for loans.

At the hearing yesterday, Chair of the House Financial Services Committee Maxine Waters criticized the current ombudsman, who is a former top official at the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, which is a loan provider that’s been the subject of similar lawsuits and state investigations. 

On the other side of the aisle, Republican Andy Barr blamed Democratic policies for the debt. 

“I know everyone wants a bogeyman,” he said, “and the student loan servicers are a convenient bogeyman, but guess what — look in the mirror Congress. Congress created this crisis.” 

Democrats and Republicans, however, agree that there are serious issues surrounding student borrowers and debt. On Sep. 26, the House Financial Services Committee will discuss debt collection practices.

Hasan Minhaj Testimony 

During the hearing, comedian and host of Patriot Act Hasan Minhaj testified before Congress, saying that even though he himself isn’t in debt, it is a serious issue facing his generation.

“I’m 33, and growing up, it was drilled into our heads: you gotta go to college if you want a middle-class job. And we even tell kids today, ‘Look, if you don’t go to college, you might as well get a face tattoo.’ And then they point to Post Malone, and we’re like, ‘Okay, that’s one guy.’” 

Minhaj also argued that degrees are becoming a basic requirement for most jobs and that the previous generation spent far less on college.

“Two-thirds of all jobs require at least some college,” Netflix’s Patriot Act host said. “This is the standard now, and that wasn’t the case when most members of this committee were in school. And you paid far less for your degrees. That’s not speculation. We looked up where the 60 members of this committee went to college and what your school’s tuition was at that time, even adjusting for inflation, college cost way less across the board.”

Minhaj then went on to say a lot of borrowers are “treated like deadbeats, and he blamed the government for allowing “predatory” for-profit lenders to mislead borrowers. He noted that the Department of Education chooses what lenders a student uses. In turn, he said that means there’s no competition to create better services.

In February, Minhaj reported on student loans in Patriot Act, where he found that his audience, at the time of recording, had a student loan debt of over $6 million dollars.

Minhaj also referenced how desperate some people are becoming by going up to celebrities and asking them to pay off their student debt, a reference to announcements that both Taylor Swift and Lil Uzi Vert would both be paying off a few of their fans’ debt.

I think it’s a huge problem that the youth of America have to bombard their favorite rapper or pop musician and ask them to pay back their student loans. They’re not even asking for selfies anymore,” Minhaj said. “That’s how desperate student borrowers are.”

AOC’s Debt

On average, the committee graduated college 33 years ago, but one representative in the room isn’t even that old yet.

During the hearing, Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29, said she’s still paying off her college debt and made a display by reading her payment in front of the committee.

“I literally made a student loan payment while I was sitting here at this chair,” she said, “and I looked at my balance, and it was $20,237.16. I just made a payment that took me down to $19,000, so I feel really accomplished right now.”

According to Roll Call, her debt is actually less than the average student loan debt for a Congress member. Currently, 68 members of Congress have student loan debt either for themselves or a dependent, with the average debt being around $37,000. Eight members of Congress have more than $100,000 in debt.

See what others are saying: (NBC) (USA Today) (Vulture)

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Senate Democrats and Republicans Reach Agreement With White House on $2 Trillion Stimulus Package

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  • After a long day of talks, Senate Democrats and Republicans reached an agreement with the White House on a stimulus package that would now cost the government $2 trillion.
  • On Monday, Democrats shot down a stimulus package designed by Republicans and the White House.
  • The revised package would include an increase in unemployment pay as well as an extension to unemployment insurance.
  • It would also provide $500 billion to companies but would bar President Donald Trump, White House officials, and Congress from taking out loans for their businesses.

Senate Leaders and the White House Reach a Deal

After long talks and worries that lawmakers would go home empty-handed Tuesday, Senate Democrats finally reached a historic $2 trillion stimulus package with Senate Republicans and the Trump Administration around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

The agreement, which comes after Senate Democrats blocked a different version of the bill on Monday, includes several noticeable differences.

While Republicans had sought to extend unemployment insurance for up to three months, Democrats convinced them to extend that program for up to four months. Additionally, the bill would reportedly expand eligibility to cover more people, including gig economy workers. 

People eligible for benefits will also see an additional $600 each week from the federal government, on top of their state benefits. On average, people receive $385 in state benefits each week while on unemployment.

The bill also includes $150 billion to hospitals and other health-care providers for equipment and supplies. According to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the bill will also increase Medicare payments to all hospitals and providers.

As for direct checks, that breakdown remains unchanged. Adults making under $75,000 would receive two $1,200 checks and two $500 checks for each child. The first of those payments would go out on April 6.

People making above $75,000 would see a dip in that assistance, with payments phasing out altogether for people making more than $99,000 a year. 

Trump and Congress Can’t Benefit From Business Loans

The bill also provides loan options for both small and large businesses. 

Small businesses would receive more than $350 in aid. Notably, those loans would be federally guaranteed as long as a small business pledges not to lay off workers. If an employer continues to pay workers for the duration of the crisis, those loans would then be forgiven.

Big businesses would still receive about $500 billion to be used as back loans and assistance, a provision that originally led Democrats to vote down the previous version of the bill on Monday. 

However, this bill also contains a few key limitations.

The most buzzworthy is that Democrats won language barring any business owned by President Trump from applying for those loans. That includes both Trump hotels and Mar-a-lago. Democrats sought such a measure because of their concern that Trump might try to use this bill to help his businesses, especially since many of them are connected to the travel industry.

Because they barred Trump, the bill also went a step further by also barring White House officials as well as any member of Congress. 

Another limitation is that if a company does take out a loan, it will then be subject to a ban on stock buybacks through the term of the loan and for one year after. 

Republicans also agreed to allow for an oversight board and to create a Treasury Department special inspector general for pandemic recovery. That is largely an attempt by the Democrats to ensure companies limit executive bonuses as well as take steps to protect workers.

Will the Bill Help the Economy and Will It Pass?

As far as if this bill actually will help the economy, that’s still unclear. With an economy that is slowing down every day and with stocks plunging over the last month, there is worry that it may not do enough; however, with more of the details of this package, stocks did see an uptick Tuesday morning. 

Still, Congress is trying to move this bill into law as soon as possible. Reportedly, they’re rushing it through without public hearings or a formal review of the full bill.

If it passes through the Senate as expected, then it moves to the House of Representatives. Here, things could get a little trickier.

“This bipartisan legislation takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Wednesday. “House Democrats will now review the final provisions and legislative text of the agreement to determine a course of action.”

While Pelosi did say that the bill meets some of Democrats’ demands, she didn’t say how the House would vote. On Tuesday, as the agreement was being discussed among Senators and the White House, Pelosi said on CNBC that she hoped the House would pass it with unanimous consent.

While lawmakers are under extreme pressure to get a bill like this passed, unanimous consent may be a tall order for a $2 trillion bill that covers every aspect of the U.S. economy, especially because while the details of the bill have been released, the full document is still under wraps.

Because of that, it’s very possible that some lawmakers might hold off on passing the bill until a formal vote is held, and there have already been some concerns from both sides of the aisle.

If unanimous consent isn’t possible, some version—possibly a very similar version—of this bill will likely get passed; however, taking a formal vote could extend this process by several days. This is because representatives will likely be encouraged to wait an extended amount of time between their trips to the floor to vote.

From there, a couple things could happen. The House could pass a slightly different version. The House and the Senate would then need to hash out those details.

Or, the House could pass the legislation as is and go directly to Trump, who Mnuchin said would “absolutely, absolutely, absolutely” sign the bill.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The Los Angeles Times) (CNN)

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Trump Wants to Reopen the Economy by Easter, Experts Say It’s a Bad Idea

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  • President Trump indicated that he would like to reopen the economy by April 12, despite objections from public health experts who say doing so would make the coronavirus pandemic worse.
  • Speaking at a press conference, the president said that keeping the economy closed will create “far bigger problems,” and claimed that more people will die from job losses than the coronavirus.
  • Meanwhile, cases continue to grow at a rapid pace in the U.S., which reported more than 100 deaths in a single day for the first time Monday.

Trump’s Economic Priorities

President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he wants to ease coronavirus restrictions and reopen the economy by April 12, despite objections from public health experts.

“I would love to have the country opened up and raring to go by Easter,” Trump said during an interview with Fox News.

The president had previously indicated that he wanted to pull Americans out of recommended isolation and put them back to work sooner rather than later during a press conference the day before.

“America will again, and soon, be open for business — very soon — a lot sooner than three or four months that somebody was suggesting,” he said.

“We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. We’re not going to let the cure be worse than the problem,” Trump continued. “We have to open our country, because that causes problems that, in my opinion, could be far bigger problems.” 

Trump said that he would wait until the 15-day period of recommended closures and self-isolation expires on March 30, and then reassess whether or not restrictions should be lifted and people should be sent back to work. 

But when asked if any of the doctors on his team told him reopening the economy is the right move at this juncture, the president seemed to indicate that the medical experts should be taken with a grain of salt.

“Don’t forget, the doctors — if it were up to the doctors, they may say, ‘Let’s keep it shut down. Let’s shut down the entire world,’” he said.

When pushed on the question, Trump reiterated that keeping things shut down could create worse problems for the U.S. because of the size of the country’s economy and workforce.

“You have 160 — almost 160 million jobs in this country now — the most ever, by far,” he said. “So we can’t turn that off and think it’s going to be wonderful. There’ll be tremendous repercussions. There will be a tremendous death from that. Death. You know, you’re talking about death. Probably more death from that than anything that we’re talking about with respect to the virus.” 

Cases in America Grow

While the president may believe that job losses will cause more deaths than the coronavirus pandemic, health experts say otherwise.

The vast majority of doctors and other medical experts say sending people back to work is the opposite of what the U.S. should be doing. 

Despite what Trump may be telling the public, there is broad consensus that if the economy is reopened and people are forced to stop practicing social distancing, the coronavirus will continue to spread and there will be more deaths.

Trump’s remarks are especially concerning right now, as cases in the U.S. continue to grow rapidly. On Tuesday morning, the U.S. reported a total of 46,548 confirmed cases and 592 deaths— a significant jump in the death toll from just 24 hours prior. 

In fact, on Monday, the U.S. reported more than 100 deaths in one day, marking the highest number of deaths reported in a single day in the country since the coronavirus pandemic started.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization said that the U.S. has the potential to become the next epicenter of the disease due to the “very large acceleration” in cases in the states.

Experts Object

But most health officials knew that the situation would get worse before it got better, including those on Trump’s team and in his administration. A majority of experts believe that the U.S. has not hit its peak yet.

The countries that are scaling back their restrictions are doing so because they have reported consistent decreases in numbers— but the U.S. is reporting consistent increases. As a result, the U.S. needs to be ramping up restrictions, not scaling them back.

And when it comes to the economy, many economists believe that pushing to reopen at the risk of spreading the virus more will actually be worse. The move, they argue, could overwhelm the already overburdened health care system, create uncertainty for customers, and do more long-term damage.

“If you don’t flatten the curve and minimize those who are getting infected, the amount of sickness will cripple business,” said John Auerbach, the president of the nonpartisan group the Trust for America’s Health.

Even some of Trump’s biggest allies like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) agree.

“Try running an economy with major hospitals overflowing, doctors and nurses forced to stop treating some because they can’t help all,” Graham tweeted Monday. “There is no functioning economy unless we control the virus.”

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Axios) (The Washington Post)

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Defense Production Act Will Be Used For First Time in Coronavirus Pandemic to Secure Thousands of Test Kits

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  • FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor said Tuesday that the Defense Production Act will be used today to secure 60,000 coronavirus testing kits.
  • This comes after days of backlash against President Trump who has been hesitant to use the act, which would compel private companies to manufacture highly-needed medical equipment.  
  • Still, cases of the virus are rapidly increasing, especially in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the lack of ventilators and other supplies will soon lead to deaths that could have otherwise been prevented.

The DPA and Trump’s Hesitation to Use It 

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Peter Gaynor said Tuesday that the Trump administration will formally implement the Defense Production Act today to secure thousands of desperately needed coronavirus testing kids. 

Last week, President Donald Trump invoked the DPA, a Korean-War era provision that requires and provides incentives for private companies to prioritize federal government orders for products tied to national defense. So essentially, under this act, the government could order private manufactures to fulfill federal orders for critical medical equipment including ventilators, masks, and other supplies. 

But since signing the DPA, Trump has resisted actually using it, despite calls from politicians and medical associations for him to do so. The president has said he will only use the act in a “worst case scenario” and said that he’s concerned about nationalizing American businesses.

“We’re a country not based on nationalizing our business,” President Trump said at a press briefing on Sunday. “The concept of nationalizing our businesses is not a good concept.” 

He has also repeatedly said that invoking the act wasn’t needed because so many private companies have already been volunteering to manufacture supplies, though he did say Sunday that “we may have to use it someplace along the chain.”

On top of that, the president has insisted that state leaders should bear more responsibility for obtaining the live-saving equipment themselves. 

Calls For and Against DPA Use 

Cases of COVID-19 have continued to rise, leaving hospitals across the nation in distress. 

While several companies have actually been voluntarily redirecting their focus towards manufacturing or donating supplies, some have expressed concerns about doing so without clear guidance from the federal government that outlines what equipment is needed and where. 

Even with some companies like Tesla, Facebook, and Apple, stepping in to provide supplies, the need is still incredibly high and local officials have been pleading with the public for any and all help. 

In some cases, they’ve even had to pay hiked-up prices for personal protection equipment or had to compete against other states for supplies. 

But some of Trump’s advisors and business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have raised concerns about using the act. They argue that mandating production could hurt some companies, complicate supply chains of key products, and further hurt the economy. 

Others warned that the law isn’t a quick fix because it could take weeks or even months before facilities could reconfigure themselves to make these highly-needed goods. 

FEMA Admin Says DPA Will Be Used 

Still, Gaynor told CNN Monday, “We’re actually going to use the DPA for the first time today. There are some test kits we need to get our hands on.”

More specifically, he said triggering the act would help secure about 60,000 test kits. For reference, 1 kit alone serves roughly 300-400 patients. If what Gaynor told CNN is true, this would mark the first time the act has been used during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The FEMA Administrator also said the administration would insert “DPA language” into the mass contracts for the federal government’s order of 500 million personal protective masks.

“So we’re going to use it. We’re going to use it when we need it. And we’re going to use it today,” Gaynor reiterated. “We want to be thoughtful and meaningful on how we do it again for the best result,” he added.

However, Gaynor later went on Fox & Friends to say that the law would be used narrowly as “leverage,” and still asked for local officials to bear the brunt of the burden.  

“We ask every governor — if you can find it, buy it. We are ready to use the Defense Production Act,” he said. “If we need as it leverage, we have it as leverage now.”

NY Needs Help Now 

But securing more tests still doesn’t address those who are in desperate need of other life-saving equipment. New York, for instance, has been very public about their shortages. 

Cases around the state are already well over 25,000 and the spread doesn’t appear to be slowing. In fact, Governor Andrew Cuomo said during a Tuesday news conference that the rate of infections in the state is doubling about every three days.

He stressed that he believed New York is just 14-21 days away from its apex and will need 140,000 hospital beds on top of the 30,000 ventilators it already needs.

He said the state has “exhausted every option” to combat the spread of the virus and criticized FEMA, questioning why the DPA isn’t being used to produce ventilators. 

“FEMA says, ‘we’re sending 400 ventilators.’ Really? What am I going to do with 400 ventilators when I need 30,000?” Cuomo said. “You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators.”

Shortly afterward, Vice President Mike Pence admitted during a Fox News town hall that New York is “truly the epicenter of the coronavirus now in our country.”

He added, “We’re in the process of literally sending the entire national stockpile out.”

“Earlier today, FEMA from the national stockpile shipped 2,000 ventilators to the state of New York, and tomorrow there will be another 2,000 ventilators shipped from the national stockpile. We have a ways to go yet.”

See what others are saying: (Politico) (The WallStreet Journal) (CNBC) 

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