DeVos prepping new rules on sexual misconduct standards for campuses

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is formulating new policies regarding how universities handle sexual assault and harassment cases.

The new rules would increase protections for students accused of sexual misconduct, reduce liability for colleges and universities and encourage schools to broaden their support networks for victims, according to The New York Times.

The rules would reportedly limit accountability for schools to complaints that happened on campus and were filed through proper authorities. They would also raise the bar legally for proving a school mishandled a complaint, according to the Times.

The move comes while multiple universities are facing allegations that staff members failed to properly act when made aware of sexual misconduct.

“We are in the midst of a deliberative process. Any information the New York Times claims to have is premature and speculative, and therefore we have no comment.” Liz Hill, press secretary for the Department of Education, told The Hill in a statement.

Last year, DeVos rescinded Obama-era guidelines for universities handling sexual assault complaints. Rescinding the requirements did not have the force of law, while the new rules would, according to the Times.

The move comes while multiple universities are facing allegations that staff members failed to properly act when made aware of sexual misconduct.

“We are in the midst of a deliberative process. Any information the New York Times claims to have is premature and speculative, and therefore we have no comment.” Liz Hill, press secretary for the Department of Education, told The Hill in a statement.

Last year, DeVos rescinded Obama-era guidelinesfor universities handling sexual assault complaints. Rescinding the requirements did not have the force of law, while the new rules would, according to the Times.

DeVos claimed the guidelines represented federal overreach.

“The truth is that the system established by the prior administration has failed too many students,” she said at the time. “Survivors, victims of a lack of due process and campus administrators have all told me that the current approach does a disservice to everyone involved.”

[The Hill]

Student Loan Watchdog Quits; Blames Trump Administration

The federal official in charge of protecting student borrowers from predatory lending practices has stepped down.

In a scathing resignation letter, Seth Frotman, who until now was the student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, says current leadership “has turned its back on young people and their financial futures.” The letter was addressed to Mick Mulvaney, the bureau’s acting director.

In the letter, obtained by NPR, Frotman accuses Mulvaney and the Trump administration of undermining the CFPB and its ability to protect student borrowers.

“Unfortunately, under your leadership, the Bureau has abandoned the very consumers it is tasked by Congress with protecting,” it read. “Instead, you have used the Bureau to serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America.”

The letter raises serious questions about the federal government’s willingness to oversee the $1.5 trillion student loan industry and to protect student borrowers.

Frotman has served as student loan ombudsman for the past three years. Congress created the position in 2010, in the wake of the financial crisis, as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. As ombudsman and assistant director, Frotman oversaw the CFPB’s Office for Students and Young Consumers and reviewed thousands of complaints from student borrowers about the questionable practices of private lenders, loan servicers and debt collectors.

Since 2011, the CFPB has handled more than 60,000 student loan complaints and, through its investigations and enforcement actions, returned more than $750 million to aggrieved borrowers. Frotman’s office was central to those efforts. It also played a role in lawsuits against for-profit giants ITT Tech and Corinthian Colleges and the student loan company Navient.

Over the past year, the Trump administration has increasingly sidelined the CFPB’s student loan office. Last August, the U.S. Department of Education announced it would stop sharing information with the bureau about the department’s oversight of federal student loans, calling the CFPB “overreaching and unaccountable” and arguing that the bureau’s actions were confusing borrowers and loan servicers alike. Of the move, Frotman writes, “the Bureau’s current leadership folded to political pressure … and failed borrowers who depend on independent oversight to halt bad practices.”

In May, Mulvaney called for a major shake-up in Frotman’s division. The Office for Students and Young Consumers would be folded into the bureau’s financial education office, signaling a symbolic shift in mission from investigation to information-sharing. While the CFPB told NPR at the time that the move was “a very modest organizational chart change,” consumer advocates reacted with alarm.

Christopher Peterson, director of financial services at the nonprofit Consumer Federation of America, called the move “an appalling step in a longer march toward the elimination of meaningful American consumer protection law.”

In his resignation, Frotman also accuses the CFPB’s leadership of suppressing a report, prepared by his office, revealing new evidence that some of the nation’s largest banks were “saddling [students] with legally dubious account fees.”

The Trump administration has also taken steps outside the CFPB to curb oversight of the student loan industry. The Justice and Education departments have argued that debt collectors should be protected from state efforts to regulate them. And, earlier this month, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos moved to scrap a rule meant to punish schools where graduates struggle with poor earnings and deep debt. The department defended its decision, saying it would instead give borrowers school performance data so they can decide for themselves what colleges offer the best value.

Mick Mulvaney was tapped to run the CFPB while also serving as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Before joining the Trump administration, he was a Republican congressman from South Carolina and a fierce critic of the bureau he now manages. He once called the CFPB “a joke … in a sick, sad kind of way” because, Mulvaney argued, it often acted above the law with no accountability to Congress.

Frotman has served at the CFPB for seven years, since its inception. He arrived in early 2011 as part of the Treasury Department’s implementation team. Frotman began in the Office of Servicemember Affairs as senior adviser to Holly Petraeus. That office was instrumental in expanding service member protections under the Military Lending Act and in cracking down on lenders and retailers that preyed on service members.

Petraeus, now retired, tells NPR she felt “privileged” to have worked with Frotman at the CFPB. “Seth is a true public servant. I think he’s leaving for the purest of motives: He wants to help student borrowers.”

In response to a request for comment, the CFPB issued this statement: “The Bureau does not comment on specific personnel matters. We hope that all of our departing employees find fulfillment in other pursuits and we thank them for their service.”

[NPR]

 

DeVos ends Obama-era protections for students of for-profit colleges

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos moved Friday to end rules passed under the Obama administration that penalized for-profit colleges with a record of leaving graduates in crippling debt and with few job prospects.

In a statement that appeared on the Education Department’s website on Friday, the agency claimed the move was born out of an effort to treat all types of institutions “fairly.”

“Students deserve useful and relevant data when making important decisions about their education post-high school,” DeVos wrote in the statement.

“That’s why instead of targeting schools simply by their tax status, this administration is working to ensure students have transparent, meaningful information about all colleges and all programs. Our new approach will aid students across all sectors of higher education and improve accountability.”

The agency is now seeking public comment on whether or not the Department of Education should require institutions to disclose publicly whether their programs are accredited as well as their program graduation rates and costs.

After the 30-day comment period, the Obama-era rule is set to be reversed on July 1, 2019.

DeVos’ plan to roll back the gainful employment rule was first reported last month. At that time, the agency refused to comment on the proposal until its completion and publication.

DeVos has taken a number of steps to roll back other Obama-era rules targeting for-profit colleges, including dismantling a team dedicated to uncovering fraud at such institutions and reinstating a for-profit college accreditor despite her own staff’s warnings that the organization did not meet federal standards.

CFPB chief Mick Mulvaney disbands consumer protection board

The Trump administration is disbanding a panel of experts focused on protecting consumers from financial abuse.

Members of the panel, called the Consumer Advisory Board, say Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Acting Director Mick Mulvaney has dissolved the group, which includes consumer advocates, financial industry representatives, community leaders and others. The board advises the CFPB, a federal agency formed after the housing crash to prevent financial abuse.

Mulvaney, told the board’s 25 members that they are being replaced and the panel overhauled, according to two of the members. These people requested anonymity since the announcement was not official yet.

“By both right-sizing its advisory councils and ramping up outreach to external groups, the bureau will enhance its ability to hear from consumer, civil rights, and industry groups on a more regular basis,” the CFPB said in a statement.

Under Dodd Frank, the 2010 financial reform law that created the CFPB, the consumer panel is required to meet twice a year. But meetings were repeatedly cancelled since Mulvaney took the helm at the bureau in November.

Nearly a dozen members of the consumer board have expressed concern about the direction of the CFPB.

“As the Bureau unilaterally shifts its mission from one prioritizing consumer protection and upholding fair market practices to one focused on industry regulatory relief, we see families, once again, being left behind,” Ann Baddour, the consumer panel’s chair and director of the Fair Financial Services Project at Texas Appleseed, said in the statement posted by the National Consumer Law Center.

[CBS News]

For-profit college fraud investigations scaled back under Betsy DeVos

A Department of Education team that had looked into fraud and abuse by for-profit colleges has been dismantled to the point that it has “effectively killed investigations” into institutions where top hires of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos once worked, The New York Times reported Sunday, citing current and former employees.

The team has gone from about a dozen lawyers and investigators looking into advertising, recruitment, and graduate employment claims of several institutions at the end of the Obama administration to just three team members today, the Times reported. Current and former employees, including former team members, said the team’s mission has been reduced to processing student loan forgiveness applications and examining smaller compliance cases, the newspaper said.

An investigation into DeVry University, now known as Adtalem Global Education, “ground to a halt early last year,” and later, over the summer, DeVos picked Julian Schmoke, a former dean at the school, to be the team’s supervisor, the Times reported.

Meanwhile, probes into for-profit education companies Bridgepoint Education and Career Education Corp. also “went dark,” the newspaper said. The Times reported that former employees of those institutions are working for DeVos as well, including Robert S. Eitel, a former Bridgepoint attorney who is now her senior counselor, and Diane Auer Jones, a former Career Education employee who is now a senior postsecondary education adviser at the department. The department’s recently confirmed general counsel, Carlos G. Muñiz, provided consulting services to Career Education, the newspaper said.

[CNN]

Betsy DeVos Is Telling States to Stop Cracking Down on Student Loan Companies

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has stepped into a fight between student loan companies and state regulators — and she’s siding with the loan companies.

State attorneys general have led the charge to hold loan servicers accountable for practices that hurt consumers. The loan companies, by contrast, have argued that because they are hired directly by the U.S. government to manage loan repayment for roughly 40 million borrowers, they shouldn’t be subject to additional state laws aimed at protecting those borrowers.

Now, in an announcement posted online Friday, the U.S. Department of Education has taken a side — maintaining that state rules aimed at greater consumer protection undermine the federal government’s goal to have a single, streamlined federal loan program.

The memo doesn’t have any legal effect on current state laws, according to consumer advocates at the Center for Responsible Lending. But it is the latest move in an ongoing struggle between student loan servicers and state lawmakers.

Loan servicers basically serve as middlemen between you and your lender (in this case, the federal government). You likely associate their names—Navient, Nelnet, PHEAA, or MOHELA, for example—with your monthly student loan bill. Consumer and student advocates have been criticizing the behavior of servicers for years. Borrowers complain of lost paperwork, conflicting advice on repayment plans, payments applied to the wrong loans, and more.

Back in 2015, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported that sloppy customer service practices had led to higher interest charges and late fees, longer repayment, and massive confusion for borrowers. More recently, the Bureau received 12,900 student loan complaints between September 2016 and August 2017 — and 70% of them were related to servicing issues.

Regulators in a handful of states say that federal oversight hasn’t been strict enough to rein in this bad behavior, and have launched their own investigations into the practices of student loan servicers. Twelve states and the District of Columbia also have either passed or introduced legislation that requires loan servicers to obtain licenses — and therefore abide by a given set of guidelines — to operate in their state, according to the National Council of Higher Education Resources, a trade group for lenders.

In Illinois, for example, the Student Loan Bill of Rights — which survived a veto from the governor last fall — will require servicers to employ specially trained staffers to advise struggling borrowers of their repayment plan options. Other state rules outline how quickly servicers must respond to borrower inquiries, or require them to alert a borrower whose account has been transferred to a new servicer (a common practice that borrowers often don’t know about).

The loan servicers, for their part, say they already follow rules put in place by the federal government — and that because they manage accounts across the country, complying with a myriad of additional state laws would be counterproductive, duplicative, and confusing.

NCHER, the lender trade group, said on Friday that while the group believes there are ways the federal loan system could be improved, the current collection of state laws is a “regulatory maze” that adds confusion for borrowers and additional costs for the federal government.

In October, a group of 25 state attorneys general sent a letter to DeVos, defending their right to “[protect] their residents from fraudulent and abusive practices” and asking her not to bow to pressure from industry groups that wanted the department to step in on their behalf. That group of state officials included Democratic attorneys general from Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut, all of which have been at the forefront of pushing for better oversight of student loan servicers. But it also included attorneys general from some Republican states, including Texas, Tennessee, and Indiana.

Politico first reported on DeVos’s plans to try to shield loan servicers from state regulations. The magazine also found, through a records request, that the Education Department has told the student loan companies not to respond directly to information requests from third parties — including state regulators.

More than 11 million borrowers are several months behind on their loan payments, and the rate of new defaults has continued to increase despite the presence of income-driven repayment plans that should keep borrowers out of default. That’s one reason consumer advocates say servicers must do better about informing borrowers about repayment options.

In the department’s newly released memo, DeVos writes that existing federal protections already “ensure that borrowers receive exemplary customer service and are protected from substandard practices.”

Consumer advocates disagree, with many immediately bashing the move from DeVos. The National Consumer Law Center described it as a “plan to protect servicers and debt collectors that lie to borrowers.”

The Consumer Federation of America, meanwhile, says the department’s interpretation doesn’t hold up legally, and that state regulators should ignore it. (Some state lawmakers have already indicated they plan to.) Lawmakers have long held that the federal Higher Education Act doesn’t override state laws that offer additional protections to borrowers, as long as those rules don’t directly conflict with federal law, according to the statement from Christopher Peterson, a senior fellow at the Consumer Federation of America.

“Now the Trump Administration is attempting to trample states’ authority and the best interests of student loan borrowers to pad the bottom line of debt collection businesses,” their statement reads.

[TIME]

Mulvaney closes down consumer bureau office that polices racism in lending

The acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has stripped an office devoted to lending discrimination of its enforcement power, according to an email released Thursday.

Acting CFPB chief Mick Mulvaney told bureau staff in a Tuesday email that he would transfer the agency’s Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity to a department under his purview in an effort to streamline the agency.

Mulvaney said the fair lending office will focus on consumer education and advocacy under control of the office of the director. The bureau’s supervision, enforcement and fair lending division, a separate unit outside of the director’s office, will take over policing the lending market for racial discrimination.

“These changes are intended to help make the Bureau more efficient, effective, and accountable, and I plan to seek both internal and external input as I continue to evaluate how we work,” Mulvaney wrote, saying he didn’t expect layoffs from the move but also could not rule them out.

The decision enraged the CFPB’s progressive backers, who supported former Director Richard Cordray and his aggressive actions against lenders suspected of wrongdoing.

Cordray himself panned the “CFPB squatter leadership” for “interfering” with crucial bureau work.

“We took on tough cases about redlining and other violations,” Cordray tweeted. “Some don’t like it but it is the Law of the Land.”

Mulvaney and his staff insisted the restructuring is simply a matter of streamlining the CFPB while still cracking down on racial discrimination.

“It never made sense to have two separate and duplicative supervision and enforcement functions within the same agency — one for all cases except fair lending, and the other only for fair lending cases,” senior Mulvaney adviser John Czwartacki said in a statement. “By announcing our intent to combine these efforts under one roof, we gain efficiency and consistency without sacrificing effectiveness.”

Mulvaney, who as a GOP congressman opposed the CFPB’s existence, has sought to reshape the bureau from within.

The acting director has promised to make the bureau more responsive to the needs of the financial sector, reopened rules on payday loans and prepaid debit accounts, and called for firms subject to CFPB oversight to send complaints about the bureau’s investigative procedures.

Democrats and liberal political groups that fiercely defended the CFPB under Cordray argue that Mulvaney is destroying the agency and leaving vulnerable consumers without a powerful watchdog.

[The Hill]

Mulvaney requests no funding for Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Every quarter, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau formally requests its operating funds from the Federal Reserve. Last quarter, former director Richard Cordray asked for $217.1 million. Cordray, an appointee of President Barack Obama, needed just $86.6 million the quarter before that. And yesterday, President Donald Trump’s acting CFPB director, Mick Mulvaney, sent his first request to the Fed.

He requested zero.

In a letter to Fed chair Janet Yellen obtained by POLITICO, Mulvaney wrote that the bureau already has $177 million in the bank, enough to cover the $145 million the bureau has budgeted for its second quarter. Cordray had maintained a “reserve fund” in case of overruns or emergencies, but Mulvaney said he didn’t see any reason for it, since the Fed has always given the bureau the money it needs. Mulvaney, who is also Trump’s budget director, noted that instead of advancing the funds to the bureau, the Fed could return them to the Treasury and reduce the deficit.

“While this approximately $145 million may not make much of a dent in the deficit, the men and women at the Bureau are proud to do their part to be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Mulvaney wrote.

The Trump administration has not shown much interest lately in deficit reduction, but it has shown avid interest in reining in the independent CFPB. As a member of Congress, Mulvaney (R-S.C.) routinely denounced it as an overzealous regulator, and on his first day at the bureau after replacing Cordray in November, he trashed his new workplace as “an awful example of a bureaucracy gone wrong.” And even as Cordray’s former deputy, Leandra English, has fought Mulvaney’s appointment in court, he has moved swiftly to shake up its culture.

Earlier this week, he announced the bureau would reconsider its new rules designed to protect consumers from payday lending debt traps, and yesterday, he launched a formal review of how the bureau demands information from firms it investigates. He has even revamped the agency’s mission statement; the new wording suggests that its first priority should be “identifying and addressing outdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome regulations.”

The bureau was created in response to the financial crisis of 2008, and under Cordray, it returned nearly $12 billion to nearly 30 million ripped-off consumers, cracking down on predatory lenders, bullying debt collectors, and a range of Wall Street scoundrels. But the financial industry and many Republicans have portrayed it as an out-of-control liberal bureaucracy, a hotbed of the anti-Trump resistance nestled inside the Washington bureaucracy, with a budget untouchable by Congress and a director with unusually broad powers. And several federal judges have rebuked the agency for overstepping its authority in pursuit of scammers.

Mulvaney has not yet laid out his plans for the bureau, but it’s clear that in general he wants it to do less, so it’s not surprising that he wants it to make do with with less money. In his letter to the Fed, he said he had been assured that the cash the bureau already has on hand is “sufficient to carry out its statutory mandates for the next fiscal quarter while striving to be efficient, effective, and accountable.”

It’s just the latest sign that change is coming to the CFPB. As Mulvaney said after his first day as acting director: “Elections have consequences at every agency.”

[Politico]

Trump changes Consumer Protection Bureau to Deregulation Bureau

Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney, a month into his job moonlighting as head the CFPB, has rewritten the consumer watchdog’s mission statement. In a nutshell, the regulatory agency is now a deregulatory agency. Here’s the before and after:

Then: “The CFPB is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives.”

Now: “The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by regularly identifying and addressing outdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome regulations, by making rules more effective, by consistently enforcing federal consumer financial law, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives.”

[Politico]

Mulvaney installs 6 Trump loyalists at CFPB after revelations of anti-administration ‘Dumbledore’s Army’ uprising

Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has installed six Trump loyalists in the agency. The news comes in the wake of revelations about a cadre of anti-Trump CFPB employees who called themselves “Dumbledore’s Army,” a reference to an anti-fascist underground group of students in the Harry Potter books.

As The Intercept’s Ryan Grim reports, Mulvaney announced in a Thursday memo his intention to bring those administration loyalists into the bureau that “by statute, is supposed to be an independent agency that was created in the aftermath of the 2007-08 financial crisis.”

Mulvaney’s short tenure at the helm of the CFPB has already been rife with controversy. In late November, President Donald Trump named him acting director of the agency when the former director stepped down. The move immediately caused scandal because Mulvaney also leads the White House’s Office of Management and Budget — and because the outgoing director had already named his former chief of staff, Leandra English, as his interim successor. Soon after, news that Mulvaney was directing staff to “disregard” English appeared — hence the cabal of resisters within the agency.

As The Washington Post reported shortly after it became clear Mulvaney was taking the reigns of the agency despite mounting legal challenges, the job makes him one of the most powerful men in the country.

The director of the CFPB, a federal judge quoted by the Post once noted, “enjoys more unilateral authority than any other officer in any of the three branches of the U.S. Government, other than the President.”

Of his six new hires, Grim noted Thursday, only three will work full-time for the agency — the other three, like the director himself, will split their time between the supposedly-independent bureau and their other jobs within the Trump administration.

[Raw Story]

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