Senators look to close student debt collection robocall loophole

By Amy R. Connolly  |  Updated Nov. 5, 2015 at 4:06 PM
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 5 (UPI) -- Federal lawmakers are looking to repeal a provision in the recently passed U.S. budget that allows the government to robocall and text cellphones to collect debts, including student loans.

Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., is among a group of 11 lawmakers who unveiled legislation to revoke a section buried in the bipartisan budget bill that now allows the government to make automated and prerecorded calls and texts to cellphones to collect government debts. Before the budget bill was passed, the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act prohibited most non-emergency automated calls unless callers had express prior consent.

Some 43 million people owe an estimated $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt with about $103 billion in default. Markey, House sponsor of the telephone consumer act, said the robocall provision makes it "easier to harass students, consumers, veterans -- anyone with a debt backed by the federal government -- on their mobile phone."

"Congress passed the TCPA with this key goal in mind: consumers should not be subject to intrusive and unsolicited calls on their mobile phones," he said. "Yet, despite the overwhelming popularity of the TCPA, the Budget Act passed last week rolls back a key provision protecting consumers from unwanted robocalls and texts."

For more than a year, student loan servicers have been lobbying the Federal Communications Commission to exempt federal student loans from the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, arguing borrowers could get "valuable information about their loans, payment options, and forbearance options." Companies that include Nelnet, American Education Services and Navient are paid millions by the federal government to collect student loan payments, handle questions and help borrowers avoid default.

Demo­crat­ic Sens. Eliza­beth War­ren, Claire Mc­Caskill, Ron Wyden, Robert Men­en­dez, Richard Blu­menth­al, Patrick Leahy, Al Franken, Amy Klobuchar, Tammy Bald­win and Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders cosponsored the bill.

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