- The Senate has voted to overturn a Trump administration rule that would make it harder for students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges to have their loans forgiven or reduced.
- Education Secretary Betsy Devos’ changes require applicants to individually prove a school knowingly misled them and that they were financially harmed by the deception, among other difficult measures aimed at limiting who gets assistance.
- The legislation will now go to President Donald Trump’s desk for him to decide whether or not to uphold the rule with a veto or side with Congress against his own education secretary.
What Is DeVos’ Rule?
The Senate voted Wednesday to overturn a Trump administration rule that would limit debt relief for students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges.
In a 53-42 vote, 10 Republicans joined Democrats to pass the resolution, which has already been approved by the House. This decision is a bipartisan rebuke of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ rule, aimed at weakening an Obama-era policy.
The Obama-era-updated “borrower defense” rule allowed for students who attended schools that committed serious fraud to request that their loan debt be forgiven. It was meant to regulate the for-profit sector and protect students whose colleges engaged in misconduct. It was updated in the wake of the collapse of schools like ITT Tech and Corinthian.
But DeVos made changes that raised the bar for borrowers’ relief claims. Her adjustments made it so that applicants had to individually prove a school knowingly misled them and that they were financially harmed by the deception. It also set a three-year deadline on claims.
According to the New York Times, the education department later adopted a complicated formula for calculating relief that limits nearly all applicants to only partial relief and required the majority to repay most of their loans.
Arguments For and Against It
The rule change is scheduled to take effect in July and the Education Department argues that it protects community colleges, historically back colleges, and taxpayers “from undue harm from the poorly written Obama-era regulation.”
DeVos has slammed the debt-relief system as a “free money” giveaway and told members of Congress last year that her rule would protect taxpayers from people trying to scam the system by applying for debt relief when they suffered no harm. At the time, she said those students who were defrauded would still be eligible for loan forgiveness.
But critics of the rule said this would effectively kill the department’s loan forgiveness program by setting requirements that almost no borrowers would be able to meet. “The burden of proof for these students is so absurdly unrealistic,” said Representative Susie Lee, Democrat of Nevada, who sponsored a companion resolution in the House.
“We don’t believe your life should be ruined because some school lied to you about the education they were promising, the loans you were taking out. We believe that you deserve a second chance in life,” said Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who sponsored the legislation.
Democrats also stressed that the original loan forgiveness law, which has been around since 1995, was rarely used until for-profit chains started falling apart in 2014.
So far, the Education Department has approved 51,000 loan-relief applications. Nearly all of them were approved during the Obama administration and the department has eliminated some $535 million in debt. Under DeVos, the department stopped processing the applications while the rewrite was challenged in court. There are currently about 170,000 pending applications.
The American Legion and dozens of other veterans groups also backed the effort to overturn the rewritten rules. The focus on veterans attracted much Republican support because veterans have long been targetted with predatory recruitment tactics thanks to their lucrative G.I. Bill benefits.
The benefits are particularly attractive to for-profit schools because federal law requires those schools to obtain at least 10% of their revenue from sources other than Education Department-backed student loans.
Trump Has Veto Power
After the decision, Department of Education spokeswoman Angela Morabito said, “It’s disappointing to see so many in Congress fooled by misinformation from the Left and the fake news narrative about our efforts to protect students from fraud.”
“Students, including veterans, who are defrauded by their school and suffer financial harm as a result deserve relief, and our rule provides them relief,” she added.
The legislation will now go to President Donald Trump’s desk for him to decide whether or not to uphold the rule with a veto or side with Congress against his own education secretary. The White House has already threatened a veto but several outlets reported that Trump told Senate Republicans on Tuesday that he is “neutral” on repealing the rule.
“I have sort of a neutral position,” Trump allegedly said according to people in the room. “I’m in between.”
The White House did not dispute those reports but instead pointed to a statement from the administration released in February. That statement said Trump’s advisors would recommend he veto the resolution and defended DeVos’ plan, saying it “restores due process, the rule of law and student choice.”
A source close to the president told The New York Times that DeVos called Trump after his “neutral” comment. They said Trump supports finding a solution to the loan problem but doesn’t feel strongly about DeVos’ approach. However, Politico reported that after speaking over the phone, Trump indicated that he would vote in favor of DeVos’ regulations.
So at this time, it’s unclear what Trump will decide, but a veto wouldn’t be unlikely. At a news conference on the resolution Wednesday, Durbin said he will work hard to get the votes needed for a veto override if the president rejects the measure.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (Politico)
Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains
Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.
Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston
Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.
Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.
Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.
Signs That Went Unnoticed
The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.
On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.
Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.
“I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.
She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.
Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.
Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.
“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”
Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges
According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.
After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.
At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.
Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.
ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.
On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.
Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.
See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)
Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say
The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card
Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.
Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.
On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.
The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.
Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
Misuse of COVID Relief Funds
Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.
In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.
According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”
On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.
In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.
See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.