Well, it’s the day after Election Day 2018. Analysts and pundits are still trying to figure out what the election results mean nationally. However, today I want to focus specifically on student loan borrowers.
Ballots are still being counted in many precincts, and not all races have been called. But as it stands, it looks like Democrats have retaken the House of Representatives, while Republicans have expanded their Senate majority. Democrats have flipped at least seven state governorships, while Republicans have held on to several others. There was a Democratic wave in many states, but Republicans also generally held their own or exceeded expectations in several key races. So, how does this all add up for student loan borrowers?
Public Service Loan Forgiveness Is Probably Safe – For Now
Since the 2016 election, there have been two major proposals to defund or repeal the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. First, the President proposed defunding the PSLF program through the budget, which would have had to pass Congress via the House and the Senate. Second, House Republicans had proposed repealing PSLF via the PROSPER Act, which again would have had to pass both the House and the Senate. Both proposals would have grandfathered in current borrowers, but both proposals also failed, even with full Republican control of Congress and the presidency. However, with Democrats controlling the House, any repeal of the PSLF program would now be highly unlikely, if not impossible.
Democratic Student Loan Proposals Now Have a Platform
Democrats had previously proposed a student loan reform bill called the AIM HIGHER Act. The bill would have increased Pell Grants, lowered some payments under income-driven repayment plans, provided financial incentives to states to give their residents discounted or free college, and preserved loan forgiveness programs. The bill was never brought to a vote, however. With Democrats controlling the House, it is very possible that this bill could pass that chamber. It still won’t become law with Republicans controlling the Senate, but it would put pressure on Senate Republicans, and it’s possible that Democrats and Republicans could seek some sort of compromise bill. It’s also possible that there could just be gridlock, and nothing passes.
DeVos Remains in Control of the U.S. Dept. of Education
Under Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Dept. of Education has rolled back oversight of federal student loan servicers and debt collectors. It has refused to crack down on predatory for-profit schools. And it has tried to undo protections for borrowers who have been defrauded by their schools. The midterm elections have done nothing to change this; as a presidential appointee, DeVos will remain at the helm of the Dept. of Education unless the administration changes following the 2020 election. If by some chance DeVos resigns, Senate Republicans will be able to pick her replacement with a simple majority.
More States May Act to Protect Borrowers
At the state level, at least seven Republican-held states have elected new Democratic governors: Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Maine, and Nevada. Some states have been considering passing Student Loan Borrower Bills of Rights, enshrining consumer protections for student loan borrowers in state law. The DeVos administration opposes these laws, and the PROSPER Act would have actually forbidden states from regulating federal student loan servicers. But with the PROSPER Act effectively dead, and new Democratic administrations in several states, we might see more of these bills become law.
More States May Go After Student Loan Servicers in Court
Also at the state level, at least four Republican-held states have elected Democratic state attorneys general: Wisconsin, Colorado, Michigan, and Nevada. This is critical because in the absence of federal oversight, some state attorneys general have been aggressively seeking to protect student loan borrowers in their states by pursuing student loan servicers and the Dept. of Education in court. This could lead to major settlements or even nationwide policy changes. Major lawsuits have already been filed by attorneys general in Massachusetts, California, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. With four attorney general pick-ups, it’s very possible that these other states will step up, as well.