Durbin Slams Devos For Cut To Special Olympics, Delayed Relief For Defrauded For-Profit College Students, And Public Service Loan Forgiveness Elimination

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) today, in a Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Services Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing, pressed U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about her proposed $18 million cut in annual federal funding to the Special Olympics, slammed her delay of borrower defense relief to tens of thousands of student borrowers defrauded by for-profit colleges, and questioned the effect that the proposed elimination of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program would have on teacher shortages in Illinois and across the country. 

When pressed by Durbin on whether she personally approved the budget cut to Special Olympics, DeVos said no, but admitted she had to make “tough choices” on budget priorities.  The Department of Education’s annual budget last year was $71 billion dollars, and $18 million of that goes to support the Special Olympics, which hosted its first games in Chicago in 1968. 

“Whoever came up with that idea at OMB gets a Special Olympic gold medal for insensitivity. To think that we can’t spend $18 million to support this dramatically successful venture–which incidentally started in Chicago, Illinois, and now reaches countries all across the world and millions of young people with disabilities,” Durbin said. “Eliminating $18 million out of a $70 or $80 billion dollar budget is shameful.”

Durbin then slammed DeVos for her agency’s delay in granting financial relief to former for-profit college students who were defrauded and are now buried in debt with nothing to show for it but a worthless college degree. Hundreds of thousands of students from now defunct for-profit colleges – like Corinthian Colleges – have applied for Borrower Defense, but the Department has delayed their applications for relief. 

“Don’t you have a heart when it comes to these 140,000 victim students who are trying through the borrower defense rule to get relief from the fraud that was perpetrated on them by these schools?” Durbin asked. “There are 140,000 victim students waiting on your Department to give them relief so they can get on with their lives. You’ve got a court order now saying ‘don’t delay it’ …they need some help right now from this Borrower Defense rule.”

The for-profit college industry enrolls just nine percent of all post-secondary students, but accounts for 34 percent of all federal student loan defaults. In the last five years, nearly every major for-profit college has been investigated or sued by one or more state attorney general and federal agency for unfair, deceptive, and abusive practices. And yet, the Trump-DeVos Department of Education has begun to unwind the unit tasked with investigating fraud at colleges and universities and is attempting to repeal the Borrower Defense and Gainful Employment rules.

Durbin also blasted the proposed elimination of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and the Department’s poor management of it, at a time when Illinois and states across the country are facing teacher shortages.  Secretary DeVos refused to acknowledge a teacher shortage and the damage its doing to districts across the country.  

“There is a shortage.  I have seen it in my own state this last week in Decatur, Illinois, and Zion, Illinois.  I asked the principals what’s the problem and they said we can’t pay them enough money to keep them and their burdened with student debt,” Durbin said.  “Your unwillingness in your Department to deal with the Public Service Loan program is destroying an incentive…for those to go on and become teachers with the prospect that after ten years their student loans will be forgiven…and now you want to eliminate the program.”

The Department’s poor handling of the program and its failed oversight of student loan servicers with responsibility for the program has been the subject of scathing reports by the Government Accountability Office and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  The Department has denied 99.6 percent of applicants for forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.

Video of Durbin’s remarks is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s remarks is available here for TV Stations.