Student Loan Borrowers Are Suing The U.S. Education Department

Supermajority Education Fund

May 8, 2020

Elizabeth Barber, a 59-year-old home health aide from Rochester, New York, still owes $10,000 of student loans and can’t currently afford to pay her water and electricity bills, she told NBC. In late March, DeVos announced that her department would halt wage garnishment from student loan borrowers like Barber because of the coronavirus pandemic. But Barber says she has not seen relief; Every paycheck she’s received since the CARES Act passed has been shorted.

Last Thursday, the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) and the National Student Legal Defense Network, with support from the Student Borrower Protection Center, filed a lawsuit against U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and the Education Department on Barber’s behalf. While the lawsuit is in her name, Barber is far from the only person feeling the strain of this continued wage garnishment. On May 1, the Post spoke to anonymous sources who said that the Education Department sent emails to employers notifying them to cease wage garnishment, but that many of these emails have gone unopened. 

Because the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was signed into law by President Trump on March 27, went into effect immediately, however, the government should not still be taking wages from Americans’ paychecks, Persis Yu, National Consumer Law Center attorney and director of NCLC’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project, told Supermajority News.

Moira Vahey, Communications & Outreach Director from the Student Borrower Protection Center, told Supermajority News that borrowers across 20 states have complained to her organization about wage garnishment since the pandemic began. In a press release, the organization noted that the Department of Education seized more than $840 million using wage garnishment in 2018 and that 285,000 borrowers were “subject to the practice in the last month alone.”

“Like many of the impacts of this pandemic, this problem exacerbates already existing inequalities,” Wu said. “Women and borrowers of color disproportionately rely on student loans to finance their education and disproportionately struggle to repay these loans. We’ve also learned that disadvantaged communities are being hit the hardest by the pandemic, making it all the more necessary to ensure that these student loan borrowers are able to keep their full paychecks.”

Barber told the Post that her finances were already tight before the pandemic, but now her employer has cut her hours, so it’s nearly impossible to pay her bills. With more than 33 million Americans unemployed, wage garnishment is likely as devastating, if not more so, for millions of others. 

“I need every dollar I earn at work to survive each day,” Barber said. “I don’t understand why the government keeps taking my money away after it passed a law that says they will stop.”