US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Harkin, Hagan Work to Protect Servicemembers & Veterans in Pursuit of Higher Education

After recent violations, new bill would ensure servicemembers receive benefits they have earned and are legally guaranteed

Thursday, June 05, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Kay Hagan (D-NC) today introduced new legislation to protect servicemembers and veterans in response to the Justice Department’s recent settlement with Sallie Mae, a student lending corporation that violated federal law and charged servicemembers excessive interest rates on their student loans. The Servicemember Higher Education Protection Act makes a number of updates and improvements to current law to better serve military families, including provisions to ensure lenders are providing military borrowers with the benefits and protections they have earned through their service.

“As our recent higher education hearings in the HELP Committee have found, the current financial aid process for servicemembers and their families can be confusing and burdensome.  This process has made it very difficult for servicemembers to take advantage of the protections and benefits they are earning through their service,” said Harkin, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.“I applaud Senator Hagan for introducing this legislation, which will help countless military families by simplifying the federal financial aid process and ensuring that all facets of government are working together to better serve our men and women in uniform.”

“We should be making it easier, not harder, for the men and women sacrificing for our country to pursue a college degree and pay off their student loan debt, particularly at a time when our youngest veterans are facing higher than average unemployment rates and more and more servicemembers are making the transition into civilian life,” said Hagan, a member of the Armed Services and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committees. “It is clear that our current system is not working, and this legislation will make needed improvements to ensure our servicemembers are receiving the benefits they have earned and that there is clear information about the financial tools and resources available to them. America’s men and women in uniform have served courageously, and I will continue working to support them in their pursuit of higher education.”

In addition to safeguarding servicemembers’ benefits and protections, this legislation makes a number of commonsense reforms to the Higher Education Act. It would improve access to financial aid information, allow military spouses to defer student loans after a mandatory move while they find a job and get settled, and prevent interest from accruing on servicemembers’ student loans while they are deployed in a combat zone.

For a full list of provisions in the bill, please click here.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cumulative amount of student loan debt for active duty servicemembers graduating from college in 2008 was $25,566. With over two million men and women currently serving in the military, ensuring servicemembers have access to clear information and tools to successfully manage this debt is critical. 

Among other provisions, the Servicemember Higher Education Protection Act:

  • Simplifies the process for a servicemember to lower the interest rate on their student loans to 6% while they are serving on active duty as provided by the Servicemember Civil Relief Act (SCRA) by reducing the amount of paperwork and bureaucratic red tape.
  • Extends SCRA interest rate protections for one year after active duty, ensuring that at a time of chronic unemployment and underemployment, a servicemember’s student loans do not increase the day he or she takes off the uniform.
  • Requires the Department of Education to work with the IRS to ensure that student loan borrowers are receiving 0% interest while deployed in a combat zone.
  • Create a military spouse student loan deferment after a permanent change of station move, which would allow up to 6 months to find a job and get settled.

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