TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — While student loan debt relief has divided politicians in both the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, one student loan bill that has garnered bipartisan support is the Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act, sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and John Cornyn (R-Texas).
The bill has passed both the House and Senate and is now on its way to President Joe Biden for a signature or veto. If it gets Biden’s approval, the bill will allow student loan borrowers to separate their loans if they divorce their spouse, removing the consolidated debt and splitting up for each individual. Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) introduced the companion bill version in the U.S. House.
In a statement provided by Sen. Rubio’s office, the senator said the bill would give borrowers a way to stop borrowers from being liable for their former spouse’s debt.
“Survivors of domestic violence should never have to pay the debts of their abuser,” Rubio said in the statement. “This legislation would provide financial independence to those survivors who previously consolidated their student loan debt with their partner. I am proud to join Senators Warner and Cornyn in reintroducing this legislation, and I urge my Senate colleagues to support this bill to deliver relief to these individuals.”
According to bill information provided by Warner and Rubio’s offices, the Joint Consolidation Loan Separation Act fixes an oversight issue that’s hit Americans with student debt since 2006. From 1993 to June 2006, the U.S. Department of Education issued joint consolidation loans to married couples, according to the senators’ one-page explainer. While the program was “eliminated” by U.S. Congress in 2006, a way to separate the consolidated loans “even in the event of domestic violence, economic abuse, or an unresponsive partner” was not provided.
Due to the lack of separation method, “there are borrowers across the country who remain liable for their abusive or uncommunicative spouse’s portion” of the student loan debt, and “no legal options for relief.”
Passage of the JCL Act would allow the USDOE to separate the consolidated loans and let the borrowers submit applications to do so under multiple circumstances.
Allow two borrowers to submit a joint application to sever their JCL or allow one borrower to submit a separate application in certain circumstances, including when:
- One borrower is the victim of domestic or economic abuse
- One borrower has certified that the borrowers are unable to reasonably reach or access the loan information of the other borrower
- An individual application is deemed appropriate by the Secretary of Education
Under the bill, loans that are separated after consolidation will retain the interest rate of the joint consolidation loan. Additionally, “each borrower will be able to transfer eligible payments made on the JCL towards income-driven repayment programs and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.” The JCL is said, by its proponents, to offer needed separation for victims of domestic violence, from their spouses.
“Victims of domestic violence who flee their dangerous living situations shouldn’t find themselves burdened with their partner’s debt when trying to move forward with their lives,” Warner said. “Unfortunately, that’s the reality for some Americans who are stuck with joint consolidation loans. This commonsense bill would help a vulnerable population who’s been unfairly held responsible for their former partner’s debt, by giving them the ability to regain their financial independence.”
While Rubio’s bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent in June, in the House, it passed 232-193. In Florida’s Congressional Delegation, only the state’s House Democrats voted to approve the measure sponsored by Rubio, according to the U.S. House clerk records. 14 House Republican members voted in favor of the measure, while seven representatives across the aisle did not vote on the bill at all.
The bill had support from more than lawmakers, but domestic violence victim advocates as well. The document from Rubio and Warner said National Network to End Domestic Violence, National Consumer Law Center, North Carolina Coalition against Domestic Violence, and the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance all came out in support of the measure.
“When survivors escape abuse, they should be able to start over without the debts of their abusers. We applaud this bill for creating a solution for those survivors who consolidated loans either in good faith or under duress and are now rebuilding their lives,” Monica McLaughlin, Director of Public Policy at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said.
Now that the bill is on its way to Biden, it’s up to the president to approve or reject the loan separation legislation.