Durbin, Murray, Senators Urge Social Security Administration To Provide Data Needed For Gainful Employment
Durbin also seeks update from Department of Education on progress producing second round of debt-to-earnings rates required by rule
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Patty Murray (D-WA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) today pressed the Social Security Administration (SSA) to enter into a new data sharing agreement with the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to allow the development of debt-to-earnings (D/E) rates under the gainful employment rule. Under the rule, ED is required to use mean and median earnings data generated by SSA to calculate D/E rates. The previous data sharing agreement expired in May before ED met its legal obligation to publish the second round of D/E rates.
“A new data sharing agreement between SSA and the Department is critical to fulfilling the federal government’s legal responsibility under the gainful employment rule to protect students and taxpayers. If the federal government fails to uphold this responsibility, student loan borrowers and their families may fall deeper into debt without the economic mobility that comes with gainful employment,” the Senators wrote. “We urge SSA to negotiate and enter into a new agreement with the Department as soon as possible that includes appropriate restrictions on the use of the data for the sole purpose of enforcing the gainful employment rule.”
Durbin also sent a separate letter to Secretary DeVos blasting the Department’s delays and misuse of data which led to the data sharing agreement expiring and seeking an update on the Department’s progress and timeline for publishing a second round of D/E rates. Durbin has been pushing the Department to produce the rates as required by the gainful employment rule. Under President Trump and Secretary DeVos, the Department is at least a year behind the schedule for publishing final rates set by the Department under Obama.
The gainful employment rule, which has been in effect since July 1, 2015, uses debt-to-earnings rates to determine which career education programs meet the statutory requirement that they prepare their students for “gainful employment.” Programs that consistently saddle students with too much debt compared to the earnings they can expect after completing the program lose eligibility to receive Title IV federal financial aid.
Full text of the letter to SSA is available here and below:
October 18, 2018
Ms. Nancy Berryhill
Social Security Administration
1300 D Street, SW
Washington, DC 20024
Dear Acting Commissioner Berryhill:
We write today to urge the Social Security Administration (SSA) to enter into a new data sharing agreement with the Department of Education (“Department”) for the sole purpose of calculating and providing to the Department aggregate mean and median earnings data for graduates of career training programs, as required by the gainful employment rule. We appreciate SSA’s critical efforts to enable the effective enforcement of this important federal regulation to protect students and taxpayers.
The Higher Education Act requires career education programs to prepare students for “gainful employment in a recognized occupation.” Under the gainful employment rule, a critical consumer protection regulation in effect since July 1, 2015, the Department submit lists of career training program completers to the SSA for the calculation of mean and median earnings data (34 CFR §668.405). Because SSA earnings data is the best and most reliable data for this important regulation, the rule requires the Department to use this data to calculate debt-to-earnings rates to determine which programs of study are leaving graduates with student debt they cannot repay. The rule’s reliance on SSA earnings data is a matter of fairness to both institutions of higher education and students.
Agreement No. 10012 between the Department and SSA allowed for this necessary cooperation. The agreement, however, expired on May 24, 2018, before the Department met its legal obligation to produce the latest round of D/E rates for the information of consumers and use in determining which career programs can remain eligible for federal Title IV funds.
A new data sharing agreement between SSA and the Department is critical to fulfilling the federal government’s legal responsibility under the gainful employment rule to protect students and taxpayers. If the federal government fails to uphold this responsibility, student loan borrowers and their families may fall deeper into debt without the economic mobility that comes with gainful employment. Billions in taxpayer-funded federal financial aid could be wasted. Inaction is also likely to result in increased long-term pressure on federal resources, including those administered by SSA.
We appreciate SSA’s priority in ensuring that any new data sharing agreement is not misused by the Department and protects the underlying data. At the same time, we know from the Department’s calculation and publication of the first round of D/E rates released on January 9, 2017, that SSA earnings data can be used effectively, efficiently, securely, and responsibly. We urge SSA to negotiate and enter into a new agreement with the Department as soon as possible that includes appropriate restrictions on the use of the data for the sole purpose of enforcing the gainful employment rule. We also encourage SSA to maintain and enhance, where appropriate, security procedures to protect related federal information systems and personally identifiable data.
We look forward to continuing to working with you to protect students and taxpayers and would greatly appreciate your response by November 1. Thank you for your consideration of this request.
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