A new bill from six Democratic lawmakers would give some survivors of sexual assault more time to pay back their student loan debt.
The legislation was introduced on Wednesday by Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, four of his Senate colleagues and U.S. Representative Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania. It would establish an option to defer loan payments by three years for survivors of sexual violence who took time away from their education to seek treatment.
The plan was announced shortly before a years-long pause on student loan payments is set to expire in October. If the bill successfully passes through Congress and is signed into law by President Joe Biden, it could provide a new option for limited debt relief months after Biden’s plan to more broadly cancel up to $20,000 of debt per borrower was scuttled by the Supreme Court.
Fetterman recalled his experience of successfully undergoing in-patient treatment for severe depression earlier this year while suggesting that the new bill would allow students who are survivors of sexual violence to take time out and focus on their own well-being.
“In February, I spent six weeks at Walter Reed Medical Center being treated for depression,” Fetterman said in a press release. “Getting help allowed me to be the father and husband I want to be, and the Senator that Pennsylvania deserves.”
“I strongly encourage anyone who is struggling or in crisis to get help and extending that opportunity to our students is absolutely the right thing to do,” he continued. “This bill will make it possible for students to focus on their mental health without the burden of student loan payments.”
While the bill is supported by more than a dozen advocacy groups, the likelihood of it becoming law is unclear given its introduction by Democrats and the current partisan divide in Congress, with the House being controlled by Republicans. Biden’s position on the bill is also unclear.
Newsweek reached out to the White House for comment via email on Wednesday.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), 13 percent of undergraduate and graduate college students have experienced rape or sexual assault, often resulting in emotional and physical trauma that forces the students to take time away from their education.
The legislation introduced on Wednesday also seeks to widen the definition of “sexual violence” to include “sex-based harassment,” which could potentially make the deferment option available to a large number of borrowers who might not be covered under the current definition.
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