New bill from Sen Fetterman would pause student loan repayment for sexual violence survivors

21 September 2023- Pennsylvania U.S. Senator John Fetterman, along with Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) in the House, today introduced legislation to establish a student loan deferment option for survivors of sexual violence who temporarily withdraw from an institute of higher education to seek treatment and focus on their mental and physical health rehabilitation.

“In February, I spent six weeks at Walter Reed Medical Center being treated for depression. Getting help allowed me to be the father and husband I want to be, and the Senator that Pennsylvania deserves,” said Sen. Fetterman. “I strongly encourage anyone who is struggling or in crisis to get help and extending that opportunity to our students is absolutely the right thing to do. This bill will make it possible for students to focus on their mental health without the burden of student loan payments.”

“After going through horrific trauma like harassment, stalking, or assault, survivors deserve the time to heal — and if they’re in school and need to step away from their education to do that, they must be able to do so without the worry or financial burden of student loan repayments beginning,” said Rep. Dean. “As a former professor, I know that the care of every student on campus is paramount. And this deferment will help survivors focus on what’s most important: their mental and physical well-being.”

According to RAINN, 13 percent of all undergraduate and graduate students experience rape or sexual assault, often leaving them with anxiety and trauma, requiring time away from school to focus on themselves and their health. Marginalized communities, such as LGBTQ+ students, students of color, and students with disabilities, are at a higher risk of being sexually assaulted on campus. Survivors are often forced to temporarily withdraw from school for more than 6 months to focus on their mental and emotional wellbeing. This 6-month absence triggers student loan payments. In such a difficult time, victims of sexual violence should be able to focus on their health, which includes reducing barriers that distract from that goal. This legislation would reduce the additional burden of student loan payments by allowing these students to pause their student loan payments and extend the timeline for that student to repay their loans from 6 months to 3 years.

The bill would additionally:

  • Broaden the definition of sexual violence to include “sex-based harassment.”
  • Widen reporting requirements to allow students to report to their health care provider or Title IX official, as there is no reporting standard.
  • Direct the Department of Education to conduct an oversight report 5-year post enactment on effectiveness.

“When a student experiences sex-based harassment in a US school or college, the Department of Education often requires under Title IX that the school offset the financial burden on the harassed person. Yet, for students who have federal student loans, the Department is currently and unfortunately unable to delay the debt burdens for those who are harassed, who need to take time off from college as a result,” said Brett A. Sokolow, Chair of the Association of Title IX Administrators. “Loan deferment exceptions are controlled by Congress, and there is no current deferment permitted for survivors of sexualized harassment or violence. This bill aims to correct that by authorizing the Department to allow loan deferments for survivors. ATIXA is 100% supportive of that change and encourages members of Congress to support it.”