Progressive lawmakers want to stop Social Security garnishment

Three progressive lawmakers have introduced the Stop Social Security Garnishment for Student Debt Act to reverse the 1996 law enacted by former President Bill Clinton that allows the garnishment the Social Security benefits to pay for outstanding federal student loans.

Representatives Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH) contend that the Clinton-era law is having an unjust impact on aging Americans, but some observers believe it could influence voters to support presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

“Legislation that gave predatory lenders a priority over seniors living on fixed income shows a difference in philosophy between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders,” said Democratic strategist James J. Devine. “There are a lot of laws signed by President Clinton that were opposed by Sanders and they cast a light on the direction America should move in the future.”

“It is the height of irresponsibility to take Social Security funds from recipients when they or their children have outstanding student loans,” Grijalva said. “The Stop Social Security Garnishment for Student Debt Act upholds our historical commitment to retirees and ensures the money they are counting on to retire with dignity is there when they need it most.”

“We can’t solve our student debt crisis on the backs of seniors and people with disabilities,” Grijalva said. “Congressional leaders must act immediately stop this shameful process once and for all.”

“Social Security is one of America’s most important and successful earned benefit programs, and one that many seniors and people with disabilities rely on as their only source of income.” Ellison said. “Naomia Davis took out a student loan in the 1980s to help her pay for cosmetology school. She is now 80, has Alzheimer’s, can no longer read, and can’t talk on the phone. Still, every month, the government takes $134 of her $894 Social Security check to put toward paying back her loan.

“It’s wrong to deny seniors and people with disabilities money they have earned and rely on to put food on the table or buy medicine because they can’t afford to pay back old college debts.”

“Social Security is not just another check: it is an economic lifeline for many of our seniors struggling to pay their bills,” Fudge said. “The federal government should not continue to reduce these usually meager monthly benefits for student loan debt.”

“The Stop Social Security Garnishment for Student Debt Act aims to end this harmful practice and protect Social Security’s hard earned benefits for all of America’s seniors,” Fudge said. “College should be affordable, not a burden that even follows a person into retirement.”

The full text of the bill can be found here.

In 2014, the government withheld $161 million in Social Security payments to cover student loan debt that had fallen into default. With overall student loan debt now standing at more than $1.2 trillion, the senators cautioned that older Americans looking to head back to school to learn new skills could see their critical lifeline endangered if they cannot pay back their loans.

A September study by the GAO on the issue found that from 2002 to 2013, the number of Americans who had their Social Security benefits cut to cover student loan debt increased five-fold.

The study also noted that older Americans taking on student loans are more likely to already be carrying other types of debt, such as a mortgage or credit card debt, and that they are more likely to default on student loans.



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