ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Twenty-three Democratic senators want the nation's most powerful consumer protection agency to launch an investigation. In a letter, they asked the agency's director to immediately look into mismanagement at a loan servicer that handles student debt.
NPR's Chris Arnold has obtained the letter and joins us now. Hi, Chris.
CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: What is in the letter?
ARNOLD: Well, at the heart of all this stuff that's in the letter is a federal program to forgive student loan debt for public service workers. And this program, by any measure, is not working. And the way it's supposed to work - it's pretty simple. If you're a police officer, you're in the military, you work for a nonprofit - if you make payments for 10 years, the remainder of your student loan debt is supposed to be forgiven. The problem is the devil's in the details. It's more complicated than it sounds. And a lot of people think they did this the right way, and then they get rejected. Here's Senator Sherrod Brown, who spoke to NPR today after he sent this letter with 22 other senators.
SHERROD BROWN: There are far too many people who expected to have - to be part of this loan forgiveness and they find out in their eighth or ninth year that they're not eligible, and that's just outrageous.
ARNOLD: We should say, too, various government watchdog outfits have filed scathing reports about this. One number to keep in your head - only 1% of people are getting approved.
SHAPIRO: What does this have to do with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the loan servicer that is mentioned in the letter?
ARNOLD: Well, we did a story recently and found out that the Consumer Protection Bureau had sent examiners into multiple outfits like this - some of them were companies - and trying to figure out what's going on with this troubled loan program. I mean, that's the Consumer Bureau's job - right? - to protect consumers in these - in this case, student loan borrowers. But it turns out that there's a turf war going on between the bureau and the Department of Education - the department makes the vast majority of student loans - and this turf war got in the way of those examiners from the Consumer Protection Bureau finding much of anything out.
And the message from the senators is, hey, look, Consumer Protection Bureau, you're a law enforcement agency. The courts are on your side. Just push ahead and get to the bottom of this. So Sherrod Brown says the bureau's Trump-appointed director is not doing that. And that's, in effect, choosing sides, choosing the Ed department and these loan servicers over student loan borrowers.
BROWN: Over our military families, over public servants who thought their debt would be forgiven. They feel betrayed, and they should feel betrayed for what's happened.
SHAPIRO: So, Chris, explain why senators are targeting this one servicer.
ARNOLD: Well, a lot of experts think the problem is much broader than any one organization. But the letter names the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. It's a mouthful. Because it's a mouthful, it's called FedLoan for short. It's the main so-called loan servicer, like you're saying, that helps manage this particular loan forgiveness program. So the letter appears to be singling out FedLoan in part for that reason.
SHAPIRO: Just briefly, what has the response been from FedLoan and the CFPB and the Department of Education?
ARNOLD: FedLoan says basically, look, we'll cooperate with the bureau. We always do, to the fullest extent permitted by law. We're waiting to hear back from the Consumer Protection Bureau. The Ed Department actually kind of doubled down on the turf war, saying it has jurisdiction here, it has oversight of these loans, not the CFPB. And meanwhile, there's a lot of police officers and nurses and other public service workers who really need this program to get fixed.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Chris Arnold, thank you.
ARNOLD: Thanks, Ari.
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