Student loan debt is stressing out hundreds of congressional staff

  • At least 360 senior employees working on Capitol Hill in 2020 and 2021 will have student loan debt.
  • Congressional staff say living with student loan debt gives them “daily anxiety”.
  • Democratic lawmakers are pursuing several bills to provide student loan debt relief.

Lawmakers cannot agree on how to save college students from years of suffocating loan debt. It is an ideological tug of war that cannot end fast enough for millions of Americans.

It is also a struggle that is personal to many congressmen who work under these members and who still pay the bills for their own educations – some of which have paid for decades.

An insider analysis of Congress’s financial revelations for 2020 and 2021 showed that Congress itself was deeply affected: About 360 senior executives owed money on student loans. Dozens of these employees work for either the House or Senate leadership, in committees with jurisdiction over student debt restructuring, or both.

Together, these congressmen are juggling more than 500 outstanding student loans. Even for those earning good wages by national standards, such loans can consume available resources in the ever-expensive Washington, DC area, and even cause some employees to consider leaving the public service for more lucrative jobs in the private sector. and the lobbying industry.

Some of these influential helpers have ears of leaders on both sides of the debt forgiveness effort.

Debt-ridden employees tied to Democratic supporters by wiping the board clean include those working for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York; three attorneys working for House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina; and an education policy wonk working for rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

Debt-ridden employees tied to anti-loan forgiveness GOP executives include two attorneys working for Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the executive member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Work and Pensions; a policy director and a tax attorney working for Senate Republican whip John Thune of South Dakota; and a lawyer, senior adviser and operations manager working for House Republican Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

There are also a handful of senior advisers, each assisting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who oppose California delegation members, none of whom have commented much on debt relief plans.

Insider does not mention specific employees with education-related loans because it is common to seek such financial aid among students who lack the funds to pay for college directly. But highlighting certain segments of congressional borrowers helps illustrate the extent of student loan debt on Capitol Hill at a time when the issue is a controversial political issue.

Nearly four dozen of the affected employees have accumulated more than $ 250,000 in student loan debt. More than 230 owe up to $ 100,000 in loans. More than 160 owe up to $ 50,000 – all of which would be wiped out by the debt forgiveness proposals that progressives in both houses are asking President Joe Biden to pass by an executive order. Their prayers to date have not been met, and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters the Biden administration will not extend its student loan disbursement program beyond the end of January 2022.

Researchers have estimated that the total student loan debt was $ 1.7 trillion in the United States, affecting nearly 45 million Americans. While Democrats seem to agree that something needs to be done on the debt forgiveness front, they are still far apart in terms of how much pain relief can be done.

Bid campaign to delete up to $ 10,000 per. borrower. Progressives, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Rep. Ilhan Omar from Minnesota, wants more and wants to get loans of up to $ 50,000 for school loans.

Given the looming ghost of next fall’s midterm elections that could turn power in Congress, proponents of debt forgiveness insist it’s time to strike.

At least four dozen student debt-related bills have been introduced so far in the 117th Congress, not including student loan-centric pet projects seeking special treatment for niche constituencies, including frontline health care workers, terror survivors and military spouses.

Pending student loan legislation runs the gamut. There are plans that offer general forgiveness. Others cut associated interest rates or strengthen similar tax breaks. Several bills aim to expand the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program – a debt retirement plan that relieves federal full-time employees of any remaining obligations after making qualifying monthly payments for 10 years.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., In the center, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., right, and other congressional leaders, respond to a failed White House presidential meeting on infrastructure, at.  Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, May 22, 2019. From left is House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., Sen.  Ron Wyden, D-Ore., House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Pelosi.  , House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, DS.C., and Schumer.

Employees with student loan debt include some who work for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer.

AP Photo / J. Scott Applewhite


One Hill employee has spent 32 years paying off student loans

Insider analyzed the annual financial disclosure documents submitted by congressmen earning at least $ 132,552 a year. Those who earn less are not required to submit such financial information, which means there could easily be thousands of additional students burdened with debt-ridden staff working on Capitol Hill.

The nearly 360 employees that Insider found provide a cross-section of financial difficulties in the legislative branch.

Some employees have spent decades – 32 years in one case – scraping back on student loans that have piled up over the course of their careers.

A serial borrower took out seven loans in a matter of months. Another took out 11 loans within two years. Over three dozen revealed taking out multiple loans within a 12-month period, and more than 30 took out several loans two plus years in a row.

The issue is personal to employees who have worked in recent years to promote debilitating student debt legislation through a deadlocked Congress. It has also been a source of anxiety or even embarrassment.

A former Democratic senior congressional assistant who has previously worked on student debt legislation said her nearly $ 150,000 in student loan debt was a constant source of anxiety. Even though she had been dealing with it for more than 17 years, she still had not told her parents how much it was.

“It’s been a part of my life since 2004,” said staff, who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of this issue. “It’s often easier to manage the monthly payment as chief of staff than it was when you were a first-year Hill employee. But I can tell you, you think about it every single day.”

The former helper said she had to bartend and live with a roommate while working on Capitol Hill to be able to pay rent and pay her monthly student loan installments on time.

The mental health burden that student debt takes on employees and borrowers of student loans across the country is almost never talked about, said Brendan Rooks, a government coordinator at the Student Debt Crisis Center.

“A lot of people go to college to start building generational wealth and get on the right track for their lives and in their careers,” Rooks said. “When debt holds them back so much, it just feels a little like a waste.”

Still, some employees with student loans said they did not think debt forgiveness was the answer.

A senior Republican congressman said he had had to contend with $ 70,000 in student loan debt since graduating from law school in 2010.

“It’s like a stray dog. It just does not disappear,” said staff, speaking on condition of anonymity over fears of retaliation. “It’s a constant annoyance.”

The GOP employee said his student debt had delayed plans to have children, buy a house and get married. But despite these delays, he still felt it was “unfair” to cancel student loan debt for everyone.

“It’s a really bad idea,” said the helper, who does not work with education policy.

Some Democratic congressmen who spoke to Insider were in doubt about how to solve this problem.

“I do not think Congress is doing enough,” said a senior Democratic congressman about passing any kind of forgiveness law. “They really need to focus on long-term fixes.”

He said a certain amount of forgiveness could help many people, but he was not “sure if it makes sense to pay off everyone’s debts.”

“It’s a little unfair to people who have paid off all their debts,” said the Democratic aide, who has been paying his student debt since 2010.

Low expectations on Capitol Hill

The student debt crisis is hampering acutely colored college graduates who want to work on Capitol Hill and influence crucial issues, such as forgiving student debt, Rooks said.

“If we know that congressmen are not paid very well, and if we know that they are one of the largest groups facing the student loan crisis, then we know that colored communities and low-income communities are likely to be excluded from themselves. to be able to pursue this career path, “he said.

By 2022, lawmakers continue to disagree on how to move forward, which could mean they will not move forward at all.

As Insider found out, Capitol Hill has a small army of student debt-laden congressmen who are well positioned to change lending laws for everyone.

And while their bosses continue to hash it out, the former Democratic assistant in the Senate, who had nearly $ 150,000 in student debt, said she remained hoping Congress could get something done in the coming months.

“Is it disappointing? Yes. Is it surprising for a Capitol Hill employee? No,” said the former aide. “Does it promote the conversation and hopefully lead to a policy change? We’ll see.”

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