Billionaire Betsy DeVos’ Department of Education has picked sides in the debate over predatory and abusive student debt collectors – and sided with the collectors instead of students.
Journalists recently acquired a new internal Department of Education memo arguing that the department should protect student debt collection agencies from state laws that are more aggressive than federal ones. Last year, DeVos’ team announced it would sabotage the efforts of Sen. Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to crack down on debt collectors.
On top of it all, a group of senators just raised concerns that DeVos’ number-three employee might have lucrative financial ties to a major debt collector.
Even diehard red states are taking action against debt collectors. Sustained pressure right now could shame DeVos and make her think twice about continuing to turn her back on students.
The stories are shocking: debt collectors making more than 50 harassing calls per week, assigning wrong or inflated fees, seizing the wrong amount from tax returns, illegally removing people from debt deferment programs and threatening people with credit score damage to make a quick buck.
A bipartisan group of 26 state attorneys general, including some from deep-red states, wrote DeVos last year warning her against siding with an industry that engages in these abusive practices. In many cases, states have instituted more stringent rules than the federal laws or are pursuing legal action. This new memo, in contrast, takes the side of debt collection agencies and argues that they should be protected from aggressive state approaches.
The memo comes on the heels of what one law professor called “a radical change” – DeVos’ decision to hamstring the CFPB’s work by refusing to share data or cooperate in overseeing student debt collection. DeVos is making it clear that she cares more about debt collection profits than the toll of their abusive methods on people who invested in an education.
Just recently, four senators sent a letter to the Department of Education’s ethics officials expressing concern that Acting Under Secretary James Manning may have revolving door financial conflicts of interest. In a prior stint in government, Manning let one debt collector avoid paying hundreds of millions in fines for lying to taxpayers. A different company later paid him handsomely for private sector consulting work, and he now oversees that same company and others owned by a long-time acquaintance and benefactor.
In short, there are signs across the board that DeVos is dramatically shifting the Department of Education to side with debt collectors over students, even over the objections of some fellow Republicans. A focused outcry now could shame DeVos into holding off on any further handouts to this predatory industry.