Dear distressed student-loan debtor:
You are not alone. There are about 20 million of you all across America--people in default, in delinquency, in forbearance and deferment plans, or making income-based payments that stretch out over 20 or 25 years. You need help, and you deserve help.
You will not find help from Congress. The for-profit college industry owns Congress.
You will not find help from the U.S. Department of Education, which makes soothing noises, but has done very little to help overburdened student-loan debtors.
And you will not find help from most of the presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton's so-called student-loan reform plan is basically a scheme to funnel more money to the higher education industry with only token efforts to keep tuition costs down.
But Bernie Sanders' proposal for a free college education at a public institution offers real change. If his plan is enacted and people could get a college education for free, the for-profit industry would shut down and the private nonprofits would be forced to cut their tuition.
I know Bernie's run for the presidency is a long shot. And even if he is elected, his very sensible plan to offer free postsecondary education would never be approved by Congress, which is beholden to the for-profits and the elite private schools that benefit from the status quo.
But if--by some miracle--Bernie is elected President--he could do a lot for distressed student-loan borrowers even without help from Congress. Here are some things Bernie could do, and I think would do:
1) Direct the Department of Education to adopt regulations prohibiting the for-profit colleges from forcing students to sign "covenants not to sue" as a condition of enrollment.
2) Order the Department of Justice to cooperate with state attorney generals who are suing the for-profit colleges under state consumer-protection laws.
3) Issue an executive order stopping the Internal Revenue Service from garnishing elderly student-loan defaulters' Social Security checks.
4) Direct government attorneys and the DOE's collection agencies to stop opposing bankruptcy relief for deserving student-loan debtors.
Certainly, I don't think Bernie would allow the Department of Education to oppose bankruptcy relief for a quadriplegic debtor whose expenses exceeded his salary, as the Department did recently in Myhre v. U.S. Department of Education.
I don't think President Sanders would permit the government to oppose a bankruptcy discharge for a 40-year old man who is living on $1200 a month and is so broke he has to ride a bicycle to work, as DOE did in the Abney case.
And surely, Bernie's DOE would order debtor collectors like Educational Credit Management Corporation to stop harassing elderly women living on less than $800 a month as ECMC did in the Roth case.
Nor would a Bernie presidency force millions of overwhelmed debtors into long-term repayment plans, as the Obama administration--cheered on by the New York Times and such elite college presidents as Vassar's Catherine Hill--is doing now.
So if you are swamped by your student-loan debt, you better register to vote, and you better vote for Bernie in your state's primary. And you need to find out whether your state has an open primary or whether you have to be a registered Democrat to vote for Bernie. If you have to be a Democrat to vote in the Democratic primary, change your registeration. That's what I did.
In short, do what you have to do to vote for Bernie Sanders, because Bernie is your only hope of student-debt relief in the political arena.
And remember this: Hillary Clinton has her hands in Goldman Sachs' pocket, and Goldman Sachs has an ownership interest in a company that operates several for-profit institutions--Argosy University, Brown Mackie College and South University.
Stephanie Saul. For-Profit College Operator EDMC Will Forgive Student Loans. New York Times, November 16, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/17/us/for-profit-college-operator-edmc-will-forgive-student-loans.html?_r=0