Tackling student debt may have just gotten easier as 4 more advocates join Biden's ranks

·3 min read
joe biden elizabeth warren
President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. David J. Phillip/AP
  • Four former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau employees joined the Federal Student Aid office.

  • The bureau, which Elizabeth Warren helped create, fights to protect student-loan borrowers.

  • These new hires could help Warren's agenda in canceling student debt for all borrowers.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

President Joe Biden may not have yet canceled student debt for every borrower, but new hires to his administration suggest the crisis could be inching up on his agenda.

On Monday, the Education Department announced five new hires to the Federal Student Aid office, four of whom were former employees at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Sartaj Alag, Bonnie Latreille, Kristen Donoghue, and Stephanie Richo all previously served at the CFPB, which was founded by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the leading lawmaker on canceling student debt.

"We have important work ahead of us on behalf of students, parents, and borrowers, and we are pleased to have these experienced, dedicated public servants here at Federal Student Aid," Richard Cordray, FSA's director and the former CFPB head, said in a statement.

Over the past few months, Biden's administration has continued to hire experts who have fought alongside Warren in protecting borrowers and holding student-loan servicers accountable. Cordray, for example, has been a longtime ally of Warren's and has shared much of her agenda throughout his career.

Last week, Insider reported that Toby Merrill was hired as the Education Department's deputy general counsel. Merrill, along with Eileen Connor and Deanne Loonin from the Project on Predatory Student Lending, wrote a letter to Warren in 2020 affirming her legal ability to cancel student debt using executive action - something Warren is now pushing Biden to do.

The new hires announced on Monday could help further Warren's agenda. Alag, who's expected to serve as principal deputy chief operating officer at FSA, served as the CFPB's chief operating officer in 2018. When he stepped down, Warren told Morning Consult in an email that his "vision and leadership" helped CFPB establish its consumer hotline, which helped process millions of complaints.

"He helped build a strong consumer agency that stands up for millions of American families," Warren said.

And Latreille, who was formerly CFPB's student-loans ombudsman and later joined the Student Borrower Protection Center, which was founded by CFPB members to protect student-loan borrowers, is now serving as the third ombudsman in FSA's history.

After President Donald Trump selected Mick Mulvaney to lead the CFPB, Latreille joined a few others in leaving the agency to form the Student Borrower Protection Center because its director, Seth Frotman, said at the time that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Mulvaney had turned their backs on "millions of borrowers drowning in student-loan debt."

Donoghue's ties to the CFPB go all the way back to its founding in 2013. She was one of the bureau's original employees and worked alongside Warren during its creation.

Also included in Monday's new hires is Colleen McGinnis, who has worked in public service for over 20 years and is set to serve as FSA's chief of staff.

While the new hires haven't commented on large-scale student-debt cancellation, Warren continues to push for Biden to cancel $50,000 in debt per borrower and extend the pandemic freeze on student-loan payments in the meantime.

"About 40% of people with student loan debt weren't able to finish their degrees-so now they're stuck trying to pay college-graduate-sized bills on high-school-diploma-sized salaries," Warren tweeted. "We're fighting to #CancelStudentDebt because people need relief."

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