- 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.”
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.
Texas Governor Will Reopen State “100%” and End Mask Mandate Against Expert Advice
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said Tuesday that he was opening the state “100%” and ending the mask mandate starting March 10, against health guidance from federal officials.
- Abbott justified his decision by noting that nearly 6 million Texans have been vaccinated and hospitalizations are down in the state.
- Experts, however, pointed out that less than 2 million of the state’s 29 million residents are fully inoculated, and the CDC currently ranks Texas 48th for vaccination rates out of all 50 states.
- On Tuesday alone, governors in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Michigan as well as local leaders in Chicago and San Francisco also announced plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions.
Abbott Announces Major COVID Policy Changes
Starting March 10, Texas will no longer have a state-wide mask mandate or any coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses and facilities, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced Tuesday.
The move represents the most expansive reopening of any state and makes Texas the largest state to lift its public masking requirement. However, it also goes entirely against the recommendation of the nation’s top experts.
During a press conference Monday, Rochelle Walensky, the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned leaders against rolling back restrictions. She cited the fact that the recent nation-wide decline in cases has been stalling and that there has been community spread of the new variants — three of which have been found in Texas, saying:
“With these new statistics, I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from COVID-19,” she said.
“Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases, with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained. These variants are a very real threat to our people and our progress,” she continued.
“Now is not the time to relax the critical safeguards that we know can stop the spread of covid-19 in our communities, not when we are so close.”
Conditions in Texas
While cases have been declining in Texas, like most of the country, there is still a lot of data that makes Abbott’s decision especially concerning.
According to The New York Times tracker, Texas still ranks within the top ten states with the highest weekly cases per capita, reporting a weekly average of just over 7,200. Texas also has more hot-spot counties than any other state, according to Business Insider’s analysis of the Times data, which found that 10 counties have reported more than 100 cases per 100,000 residents on average over the last week.
Notably, that number could be skewed because of the massive drop in the testing due to a recent storm that left millions without power and clean water. In fact, experts have warned that Texas could see more COVID cases in the fallout of the storm because people were forced to shelter together.
Abbott, however, did not focus on any of that in his announcement. Instead, he cited other metrics, noting that nearly 5.7 Texans have been vaccinated. He also pointed to declines in hospitalizations.
But both of these justifications are misleading. While it is true that Texas has vaccinated close to 6 million people, according to the CDC, less than 2 million out of 29 million state residents have received both doses needed to be considered fully inoculated.
Beyond that, the CDC’s latest vaccination report ranks Texas 48th in vaccination rates out of all 50 states. Part of that is tied to the lag the state faced because of the storm, but experts still say this just proves that the state needs to be focus on catching up and vaccinating more people instead of rolling back restrictions.
To that point, public health officials have also pushed back against Abbott’s use of declining hospitalization rates as a rationale for his reopening plans. They warned that current hospitalization declines are already slowing and could reverse, and that will only get worse with reopenings.
Other States Reopen
Texas, however, is not the only state that has rolled back restrictions lately, or even just in the past 24 hours.
On Tuesday alone, the governors of Louisiana and Michigan as well as the mayors of Chicago and San Francisco all announced that they would be easing some restrictions on businesses and/or the capacity at which they operate.
Right after Abbott’s announcement, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) made a nearly identical one with an even shorter timeline. In a tweet, he said that starting Wednesday, he would lift all county mask mandates and allow businesses to “operate at full capacity without any state-imposed rules.”
The recent easing of restrictions is part of a broader trend — and not just in states that have Republican governors or large conservative populations.
While California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) slammed Abbott’s move as “absolutely reckless,” he has also been widely condemned by leaders in his state for recently rolling back numerous restrictions.
Over the last few weeks, the Democratic governors of Virginia, North Carolina, and New York have all also lifted or otherwise modified regulations to make them less restrictive.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Dallas Morning News) (Business Insider)
Georgia House Passes Sweeping Bill To Restrict Voting Access
- The Georgia House approved an election bill Monday that would impose new restrictions on absentee voting and provisional ballots, cut weekend early voting hours, and limit physical access to voting options, among other measures.
- Republicans proposed the bill after losing the Presidential and Senate races, arguing that it is necessary to restore confidence in the state’s elections and prevent fraud.
- Democrats have condemned the proposed law, noting that Republicans created the distrust by spreading former President Trump’s false claims about election fraud even when top GOP officials in the state said there was no evidence. They also accused them of trying to suppress voters, particularly Black residents.
Georgia House Approves Election Bill
Republicans in the Georgia House passed a sweeping bill Monday that would significantly roll back voting access in the state.
The bill, which was proposed by Republicans who want to impose new restrictions after losing the election, was passed 97-72 along party lines. If signed into law, among other things, the legislation would:
- Require a photo ID for absentee voting.
- Cut the amount of time voters have to request an absentee ballot.
- Restrict ballot drop box locations to inside early voting locations.
- Shorten Georgia’s runoff election period.
- Impose more strict regulations on provisional ballots.
- Prevent the governments from mailing out unsolicited absentee ballot applications to registered voters.
- Ban nonprofit organizations from helping fund elections.
- Almost entirely cut early voting busses that are key to transport people to the polls.
- Prohibit food and drinks from being distributed to voters waiting in long lines.
- Limit early voting hours on weekends.
The last provision is one of the most controversial because it would include limiting the get-out-the-vote campaign known as “souls to the polls,” which is widely used by Black churches. That initiative has been credited with mobilizing Black voters all over the country since the Jim Crow era. The proposed law would limit events to just one Sunday during the early voting period, which would also be cut short.
Arguments For And Against The Bill
The Republicans who have pushed for the bill argue that it is necessary to restore public confidence in Georgia’s elections and help prevent fraud.
But Democrats, voting rights organizations, and protestors who have gathered in front of the capitol to demonstrate against the bill have pointed out that it was Republicans who hurt public trust in the state’s elections by repeating former President Donald Trump’s false claims about election fraud.
Meanwhile, numerous top Republican officials — including Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger — have said time and time again that there was no evidence of fraud in the 2020 elections.
Though notably, many Republican state legislators who supported the former president’s false that massive fraud had occurred in their states never contested the results of their own elections, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Democrats have also said that the bill is just the Republican’s latest, transparent attempt to drive down turnout and suppress voters — particularly Black voters who helped Democrat’s wins in the state and take the Senate — rather than actually increase election security.
As far as what happens next, the bill will head to the state Senate, which is also Republican-controlled, and already considering its own elections bill that would end no-excuse absentee voting, among other things.
From there, it will go to Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who will likely sympathetic to the cause.
Notably, this legislation the only election bill like this being proposed in state capitols around the country or even in Georgia.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, legislators in 43 states are considering more than 250 bills that would create impediments to voting. Dozens of those proposals exist in Georgia alone.
See what others are saying: (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) (NPR) (The Associated Press)
Second Former Aide Accuses N.Y. Governor of Sexual Harassment
- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has been accused of sexual harassment by another former staffer, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, who first relayed the allegations to The New York Times on Saturday.
- Bennett said Cuomo asked her multiple inappropriate questions about her sex life and told her he would be open to dating women in their 20s, which she interpreted as a request for a sexual relationship.
- Bennett’s allegations come less than a week after another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, detailed years of sexual harassment from the governor, including an alleged non-consensual kiss, all of which Cuomo denied.
- In a series of statements over the weekend, Cuomo said he never made advances towards Bennett, apologized to anyone who interpreted his comments as “unwanted flirtation,” and agreed to refer the matter to the state attorney general’s office.
Charlotte Bennett Claims Cuomo Sexually Harassed Her
A second former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has come forward with allegations of sexual harassment.
In the essay, Boylan also said that Cuomo had created a culture of harassment and bullying in his administration. Allegations of hostility and a toxic work environment have also recently been echoed by numerous officials during the political fallout over the Cuomos administration’s failure to properly disclose COVID-19 related deaths in the state’s nursing home.
Now, the most recent accusations made by 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, also support the same narrative. During an interview with The New York Times on Saturday, Bennett described a series of escalating interactions in which the governor asked her multiple questions about her personal life that she “interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship.”
Bennett, who was hired for an entry-level position at Cuomo’s Manhattan office in 2019, said she and the governor became friendly shortly after she started. She said things started to escalate when she was moved to the Capitol office in Albany to work on the pandemic response in March.
She recounted several episodes where she said the governor asked her about her personal and romantic life in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. The most upsetting exchange she said she had was on June 5, during which Cuomo allegedly asked her a number of inappropriate questions, like whether she was monogamous in her recent relationships, if she believed age difference mattered, and if she had ever been with an older man.
Cuomo allegedly said he felt lonely during the pandemic and that he wanted a girlfriend, “preferably in the Albany area.” She claimed he also told her “age doesn’t matter” and that he was fine with dating “anyone above the age of 22.”
She said she then tried to shift the conversation, at one point telling him she was thinking about getting a tattoo, but said that Cuomo had suggested should put it on her buttocks so people would not see it when she wore a dress.
Bennett told The Times Cuomo never was physical with her, though she believed that what he wanted from her was clear.
“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared. And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”
Others Back Bennett’s Account
Notably, Bennett also shared text messages she had sent friends and family after each interaction that were verified by The Times. Additionally, both her mother and a friend who was also a Cuomo official at the time confirmed that she had told them about the details of the June 5 interaction.
Shortly after that incident, Bennett also disclosed what happened with Cuomo to his chief of staff, who she said was very apologetic, asked if she wanted to move jobs either inside or outside the executive branch, and ultimately helped her transfer to another job in a different part of the Capitol.
Towards the end of June, Bennett met with a special counsel to the governor — a fact that was confirmed to The Times by another special counsel to the governor — but she ultimately decided just to move on and not pursue an investigation.
Cuomo Calls for Investigation
Cuomo, for his part, told The Times in a statement Saturday that he believed he had been acting as a mentor and “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.”
His special counsel also said later that day that the governor had tapped a federal judge to launch an independent investigation into the allegations.
That announcement, however, sparked backlash from top lawmakers who believed there needed to be a truly independent probe, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), who called the allegations from both women “serious and credible.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also told reporters that President Joe Biden supported an independent review.
On Sunday, Cuomo reversed his position in a statement and said that he would refer the investigation to the New York attorney general. The governor also claimed that he “never inappropriately touched anybody” and “never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm,” but that he just liked to tease people about their personal lives.
“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended,” he said. “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”