Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is being sued by student advocacy organizations because the department failed to stop garnishing wages of borrowers who fell behind on payments during the pandemic.
There were provisions in the CARES Act, the act passed by congress and signed by the President in March to provide relief from the pandemic, meant to stop the practice.
The act stipulated that all payments on both interest and principal, including the automatic garnishment of wages, for those who owe on federal atudent loans was to cease until September 30th.
The recent lawsuit filed by the Student Defense and the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) alleges that, contrary to that order, the garnishments have continued. The suit demands that the Department of Education both cease the garnishments and refund the money already taken from borrowers.
The lead plaintiff in the suit, home health aide Elizabeth Barber, said that she has seen a significant decrease in hours since the pandemic. She makes only $12.89/hour, but her wages have continued to be garnished.
She said she was just barely able to cover her expenses before the garnishment began in January, and with the decrease in hours she falls further behind on her bills with each paycheck.
"I need every dollar I earn at work to survive each day. I don't understand why the government keeps taking my money away after it passed a law that says they will stop."
Persis Yu, director of the NCLC's Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project, said in a statement that they have been "flooded" with complaints like Barber's.
"Right now, low-wage workers hit hardest by the economic impact of the pandemic need their paychecks to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads."
"By continuing to use its harsh collection tools during this public health and economic crisis, the Department of Education is placing the health, safety, and well-being of vulnerable student loan borrowers in peril."
Angela Morabito, spokesperson for the Department of Education, told The Hill that the department is currently working to tell employers to cease garnishing wages.
Morabito did not comment on the ongoing lawsuit, but siad that the department is committed to refunding garnished wages since the CARES Act stipulated garnishment should cease.
"Payments we receive via garnished wages will be immediately processed for refund, and the employer will be contacted again to ensure the guidance to stop garnishing wages is understood."
"The Department relies on employers to stop garnishing wages, but is taking every measure to contact employers and refund garnished wages to borrowers until."
As previously covered by The Washington Post, these notifications were emails to employers, that many allegedly never opened.
No formal letters were sent, so many employers never got the notice that they should cease garnishments. As a result, many employees are still having their wages garnished during a time when they can least afford to have that happen.
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