Outgoing U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urged Congress to "reject" calls to forgive student loan debt, a promise made on the campaign trail by President-elect Joe Biden.
In what reads like a farewell letter, DeVos offered "closing thoughts" on her time leading the education department. DeVos, a decadeslong advocate for school choice, made her final case as education secretary for expanding federal tax dollars for families that opt for private schools and opposed student loan forgiveness and free college, calling the proposals "misguided."
"Across-the-board forgiveness of college debts is not only unfair to most Americans, it is also the most regressive of policy proposals – rewarding the wealthiest sector of our labor force at the expense of the poorest," DeVos wrote in the Monday letter obtained by CBS News.
The Department of Education suspended all monthly federal student loan payments in March amid the coronavirus outbreak and the economic fallout caused by the pandemic, granting all borrowers an interest-free forbearance period. In its $900 billion stimulus bill, Congress neglected to extend the program and student loan payments could resume as soon as February.
It's possible the popular forbearance program will be extended again after President-elect Joe Biden takes office on January 20. When student loan payments do resume, the Department of Education doesn't expect a smooth transition. In its 2020 annual report, issued Tuesday, the department said it expects loan servicers and the federal government will "face a heavy burden in 'converting' millions of borrowers to active repayment." Some of those borrowers, the report warns, will become delinquent.
Tackling student loan debt will be a major issue for the Biden administration. Mr. Biden has pledged to address the student loan crisis, including a proposal to cancel $10,000 in debt for students who work in national or community service.
Last year student loan debt reached an all-time high, nearly $1.6 trillion among more than 40 million Americans, making the Department of Education the country's biggest consumer lender, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. About 1 in every 5 borrowers are in default, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
DeVos wrote that under her leadership the way in which borrowers apply and pay back loans was "revolutionized" thanks to a streamlining of services.
"Where there was once a confusing and frustrating maze of websites, StudentAid.gov is now the single online home for information. Where there were once dozens of phone numbers, now there is a single 800 number," DeVos wrote. "Understanding and repaying student loans is becoming easier than ever."
DeVos did not directly acknowledge President Trump's loss or refer to Mr. Biden by name in the five-page letter, which was shared with Congressional leadership and House and Senate education committee members as well as Congressional appropriation subcommittee members.
First published on January 5, 2021 / 5:45 PM