HEROES Act Would Extend Student Aid, Loan Suspension
- If made into law, the HEROES Act would include more relief for college students.
- The bill would also extend the suspension of student loan payments through Sept. 2021.
- Dependent college students would be eligible for $500 federal stimulus checks.
- Private student loan borrowers could also have $10,000 in debt written off.
The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, which passed 208-199 in the House of Representatives back in May, promises broad relief for college students, with stimulus checks for adult dependents, suspended student loan interest and payments, and up to $10,000 in student loan forgiveness.
The HEROES Act promises broad relief for college students.
The current version of the HEROES Act provides $2.2 trillion in coronavirus relief funds, down over $1 trillion from its first iteration. On October 1, the House voted 214-207 to pass the updated HEROES Act.
House Democrats call the stimulus package "Rooseveltian," harking back to the public New Deal programs put in place by President Franklin D. Roosevelt that helped pull the U.S. out of the Great Depression.
The HEROES Act, which extends and amends the existing CARES Act, aims to mitigate the economic recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill would expand the number of individuals eligible for a stimulus check and the amounts disbursed to those in need, while providing extra relief to college students.
The HEROES Act vs. CARES Act for College Students
The CARES Act directed over $14 billion to colleges and universities and mandated that at least half of the money received by each school go directly to students. Still, that money only helped some — undocumented students, international students, and online students were all excluded from receiving emergency relief.
Currently, only students eligible for federal aid can receive funds through the CARES Act. Eligibility requirements include U.S. citizenship, good academic standing, and being up to date on loan payments. The updated HEROES Act casts a wider net, offering loan relief to both federal and private student loan borrowers.
The revised HEROES Act would give eligible Americans a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks along with $500 per dependent, including those aged 17 and older.
The bill would also give eligible Americans a second round of $1,200 stimulus checks along with $500 per dependent. Unlike the CARES Act, the HEROES Act includes dependents aged 17 and older, or the majority of college students.
In addition to stimulus checks, the HEROES Act provides loan debt relief for college students. The CARES Act put federal loans into forbearance until January 31, 2021, but the HEROES Act would extend this forbearance period through September 2021. For private education loans, the bill directs the Secretary of the Treasury to suspend monthly payments for the same duration.
Students behind in their loan payments would also be protected against wage garnishment, Social Security offsets, and tax refund offsets.
HEROES Act Pushes for Student Loan Forgiveness
One of the most notable features of the HEROES Act is its plan to forgive up to $10,000 of student loan debt for "economically distressed borrowers."
Although this proposal initially called for relief for both private and federal student borrowers, the revised HEROES Act currently only mentions private loan relief. It remains unclear whether Democrats will tweak this definition to include federal borrowers as well.
According to page 1,669 of the HEROES Act, you must meet the following criteria to be considered an economically distressed borrower:
- Paying $0 a month on your federal student loans through an income-contingent repayment plan or an income-based repayment plan; or
- Be in default on your private and/or federal student loans (270 days past due); or
- Be delinquent on private and/or federal student loans, or 90 days past due; or
- Your student loans are in forbearance or deferment
Student loan debt forgiveness was a core campaign issue for many Democratic presidential candidates. While the provision in the HEROES Act for education debt forgiveness for economically distressed borrowers falls short of the goals of inclusive debt forgiveness put forward by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, it's more in line with President-elect Joe Biden's suggestions, which include canceling the tuition-related undergraduate debt of borrowers earning less than $125,000 per year.
In November, Biden voiced support for the HEROES Act — or at least a relief package similar to it. "Right now, Congress should come together and pass a COVID relief package like the HEROES Act that the House passed six months ago," Biden said.
Georgia Runoffs Could Help HEROES Act Pass in Senate
As one of the most expensive stimulus bills proposed so far, the HEROES Act remains unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled Senate, where many want to reopen the country to stimulate the economy before spending more in public funds. Most Repulican senators believe the bill — even its new slimmed-down version — is simply too costly.
But Georgia's upcoming runoff elections mean Republicans could lose their Senate stronghold, increasing the possibility of the HEROES Act's passage by Senate Democrats. "If there is a Democratic-controlled Senate, they will be able to get a sizable package through reconciliation," said Heidi Schierholz, policy director of the Economic Policy Institute.
Should both Democratic candidates win in Georgia, the Senate will be evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, giving Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the power to cast a tie-breaking vote — which could very well be in favor of a large coronavirus relief bill like the HEROES Act.
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