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With student loan forgiveness stuck in courts, here’s how Feds are still erasing debt

oes debt relief mean to borrowers? Debt forgiveness will change the lives of some borrowers, but fall short for others

These changes don’t necessarily come with the multibillion dollar price tag of the wider debt relief plan – though they could be expensive – and they won’t touch every borrower. However, put together, they have the potential to ease paying student loans for hundreds of thousands of Americans in the years to come.

That is, if a friendly president remains in office.

Many of these changes rely on the federal government using the expanded authority that comes with a national emergency. Others have navigated a complicated and esoteric rule-making process that is heavily subject to the whims of the current administration.

“They have not wasted any time or opportunity to make changes that are really beneficial to student loan borrowers,” said Betsy Mayotte, the head of the Institute of Student Loan Advisors, a group that offers free advice in repaying student loans. “They’ve taken advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A lot of consumers don’t understand that.”

The one-time debt relief plan makes borrowers earning less than $125,000 annually – or $250,000 for couples, eligible for up to $20,000 in student loan forgiveness. It’s widely expected to benefit roughly 40 million borrowers. As of November 3, about 26 million people had applied for relief.

What will student loan forgiveness cost? Biden’s student loan relief plan will cost US about $400 billion, CBO estimates

The federal government has frozen student loan payments since March 2020. As part of that, the feds also set interest rates at zero percent and told collection agencies to stop trying to recoup overdue debts. The administration previously encouraged borrowers to apply for relief by mid-November to receive the debt relief before the payment pause ends.

To that end, the administration continues to urge borrowers to apply and has said the Education Department will “process discharges when we are able to do so and you will not need to reapply.”

How is the administration forgiving student loans in 2022?

The recent changes don’t face the legal scrutiny of wide-ranging debt relief, yet. Starting July 1st, 2023, borrowers who are disabled won’t have to have their earnings reviewed for three years after they claim relief. Those who attended a school that closed suddenly will have their debt forgiven automatically after a year. The Education Department also streamlined a debt forgiveness program geared toward public service workers and simplified the process for qualifying for relief through income-driven repayment plans.

In addition, the administration has said it will discharge the debts of tens of thousands of students who attended predatory institutions like Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute. And the new rules will make it easier for borrowers to sue universities that defrauded them.

Some $5.8 billion in student loan debt was canceled years after the collapse of Corinthian Colleges, which now Vice President Kamala Harris sued as attorney general of California.

Previously, borrowers generally had to apply for relief individually through the so-called borrower defense rule. The time-intensive and bureaucratic process has left many behind. As of September more than 392,000 applications were awaiting review by the Education Department. The new rule bars institutions from requiring students to sign non-arbitration clauses and allows legal services groups to take on their cases in class-action suits.

Advocates for students ripped off by predatory institutions, including the National Student Legal Defense Network, have long been pushing for the administration to adopt this practice.

ITT Tech students to receive debt relief:Former students to get $4 billion in federal loan forgiveness

These changes mean “students will now have an opportunity to hold predatory schools accountable,” said Aaron Ament, president of the National Student Legal Defense Network.

At the same time, the Education Department is set to forgive an additional $6 billion in student loan debt for borrowers who already applied for debt relief under the borrower defense program. That relief will depend on a judge’s approval of a settlement agreement between a group of student borrower advocates representing nearly 200,000 students and the Education Department. The final hearing was Wednesday, and the judge will issue a written decision on that case within a week.

The borrower advocates sued the administration under former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos because of the department’s delay in processing tens of thousands of applications for relief. The final agreement will grant debt relief to students who attended one of dozens of universities – including the University of Phoenix, Grand Canyon University and DeVry University – and had applied for debt relief via the borrower defense rule before June 20, 2022.

The federal government still has to decide how to handle borrower defense applications for students who attended a university not included in the settlement list.

Do income-driven repayment plans qualify for student loan forgiveness?

Along with the mass debt relief plan, Biden recently unveiled its plans for a new income-driven repayment program. It will reduce borrowers’ payments to 5% of their discretionary income. The lowest rate offered now is 10%, though it can vary depending on a borrower’s specific plan.

the federal government lowers the borrowers’ expected payment to match their wages, though doing so extends the life of the loan, often to 20 or 25 years from the standard 10-year repayment period. Nothing prevents them from paying off their debt more quickly, however.

What is discretionary income?:And why it matters in student loan repayment

Borrowers who make 10 years of payments will have their debts erased so long as their balance is below $12,000. The proposed changes would also cover borrowers’ unpaid interest so long as they make their monthly payments. The exact details of that plan are still being developed, and the administration is expected to release them in the coming weeks.

Republicans including Rep. Virginia Foxx, the ranking member on the House’s committee on education, question the proposal and have requested a full cost of what the income-driven plan would cost.

Ella Azoulay of the Student Borrower Protection Center helps Giselle Morton of East Bridgewater, Massachusetts, with her student debt loan at Massasoit Community College in October.

At the same time, the Education Department plans to conduct a review of payments under income-driven repayment programs that could mean the erasure of some borrowers’ balances. Those who have been paying on their loans for 20 to 25 years through these plans at some point will receive automatic forgiveness, even if they’re not enrolled in such a plan now.

This review hasn’t attracted nearly the same level of attention as the president’s attempt at broad forgiveness, but of all the regulatory changes, Mayotte said, the income-driven waiver has the potential to affect the most borrowers.

It depends, she said, on how far back the department goes back when reviewing payments. The feds could start in 1994, when the first income-driven plan was introduced. But Mayotte said the agency hadn’t specified a date, which could mean they’re considering all borrowers for the review.

As of the third quarter of 2022, there were roughly 9 million federal borrowers who are 50 years or older, and about 1.5 million of them were enrolled in an income-driven repayment plan. It’s unclear how many have been making payments for more than 25 years.

What has changed and who qualifies for Public Service Loan Forgiveness

One of the department’s most touted accomplishments is the revamp of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Top department officials have repeatedly described previous versions of the program as broken. But the agency has said more than 236,000 borrowers with $14 billion in debt have been approved for forgiveness thanks to the changes announced in October 2021.

The program promises debt relief to borrowers who work in the public service sector for 10 years while making payments on their student loans. The Education Department is supposed to discharge the debt after a decade, but many borrowers found it was nearly impossible to access relief. When Biden took office, only a few thousand had ever had their debt forgiven through the program, according to the Education Department.

Want student loan forgiveness? Millions of jobs qualify for updated program — and yours might be one of them.

The increase in borrowers qualifying comes thanks to loosening some of the strict eligibility requirements that had been associated with that plan. For example, borrowers had to ensure they had the right type of loan and that they were enrolled in a qualifying income-driven repayment plan.

Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has said he wants the Education Department to prevent students from being taken advantage of by for-profit colleges. The federal agency is revisiting rules around for-profit colleges and how effectively they help students get jobs.

The waiver, which expired Oct. 31, 2022, allowed for all kinds of past payments to count toward a borrowers’ eventual forgiveness.

However, the Education Department says borrowers still have time to take advantage of some of the waiver’s flexibility. The agency will count past payments toward a borrowers’ eligibility for forgiveness through the same one-time review for income-driven repayment plans.

Borrowers with commercially held FFEL loans looking to benefit from the relief will need to consolidate their debts into a federal Direct Loan by May 1.

Another key change: Borrowers will have to show they currently work in a qualifying public service job to qualify for the debt relief. Those jobs include public school teachers and firefighters, but also government employees and attorneys for nonprofits. (Under the waiver, loan holders only had to prove they had worked in a qualifying job at some point in the past.)

Is that student loan phone call a scam? How to avoid scammers and get debt relief safely

And starting July 1, 2023 the government will permanently loosen many of the program’s most restrictive requirements. Payments later than 15 days, for example, will now count toward the total required for forgiveness. Borrowers who pause their payment obligations due to cancer treatment, military service or economic hardship will receive credit for the months they miss. Previously, borrowers who consolidated their Direct Loans would lose all progress they had made toward debt relief.

How will the Education Department handle student loans?

All told, the changes made to the department’s current student loan relief programs has meant tens of billions in discharged debt, though that is only a fraction of the hundreds of billions that could be canceled as part of the president’s broad one-time loan forgiveness plan. The regulatory changes are likely to last longer and be available to borrowers who may not benefit from one-time debt relief, including future students.

Some changes, like the Public Service waiver, are possible thanks to the 2003 Heroes Act, which allows the Education Secretary to modify student loan payment requirements during national emergencies.

But the forward-looking policy changes emerged via a complicated process known as negotiated rulemaking. It’s a lengthy ordeal that requires months of public comments and discussions from groups that may be affected by the rules. And the Education Department is required to craft its rules around student loans via this approach.

A person holds a sign thanking President Joe Biden for canceling student debt during a rally in front of the White House in Washington, in August.

Sattelmeyer said when Congress passes laws, it can’t account for every permutation of what that law looks like. Negotiated rulemaking, though, allows federal agencies to interpret the intentions of lawmakers.

Who’s saying what about Title IX? How schools will treat sexual misconduct is changing.

The next administration has the ability to undo the rules. The DeVos administration, for example, altered the criteria associated with the borrower defense from the Obama-era and some of the protections tied to the anti gender-discrimination law, Title IX. It’s also the process through which the Biden administration will have to go through to get its new income-driven repayment plan approved.

A more permanent change to how borrowers repay their student loans would require an act of Congress, but with Republicans poised to win the House, and possibly the Senate, that day is likely years away.

Should transgender youths have access to gender-affirming care? Why bans are ‘cruel’ and ‘dangerous’

“I just don’t understand why they are so mean.”

Those were the words Lizette Trujillo heard from her son Daniel, who came home from school one day when he was 8, unsettled that a young classmate was being bullied.

Trujillo seized on the chance for a life lesson on empathy versus sympathy.

But Daniel, who is transgender, responded like a wise soul: “Mom, I think God made me this way on purpose: So I can be empathetic and teach empathy.”

Seven years later, Trujillo still carries that moment close at a time of raging noise from conservative corners over rights of transgender and non-binary youths – even for something as basic as health care.

“What we are missing in this world,” Trujillo said, “is empathy.”

Transgender Awareness Week puts spotlight on health care

For the 1.6 million transgender people in the U.S., Transgender Awareness Week that began Sunday raises the visibility of the community – and focuses on issues trans people face. Gender-affirming care for youths has been at the top of that list.

In 2022, at least 15 states have restricted access to gender-affirming care or considered laws that would do so, according to the Williams Institute. Some of the bills carry penalties for health care providers and even families.

A rule approved this month by Florida’s medical boards, at the urging of GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, would bar transgender people under 18 from receiving hormones or undergoing surgeries as treatment for gender dysphoria.

Last spring, Trujillo’s home state of Arizona restricted access to gender-affirming care for minors. The bias that Daniel, now 15, faces “is through his state lawmakers trying to legislate him out of the state and out of existence through their policies,” she said.

“So many stories are being told around” gender-affirming health care, she said. ”What’s not being told is why this is up for debate at this large scale.”

HORMONE THERAPY HELPS:Transgender children who get hormone therapy enjoy better mental health, study says

‘How do you debate the lives of kids who are happy?’

Lawmakers pushing bills that target young people do not represent the majority of the country, said Jen Grosshandler, co-founder and executive director of the GenderCool Project, a youth-led group that works to replace misinformed opinions with real experiences of transgender and nonbinary youths. Most people have no desire to interfere with parenting of others, particularly when it comes to a child’s physical and mental well-being, she said.

“Should trans kids be able to have care or not have care? Most people in the U.S. don’t care about this conversation,” Grosshandler said. “So why in the world is this conversation even happening?”

Lawmakers are using their political power to “whip up nonsense about families raising good, solid kids,” she said. “It’s not a debate. How do you debate the lives of kids who are happy, doing well in school, volunteering in their community, learning multiple musical instruments, going to college and building amazing lives?”

Trujillo says some legislators “don’t care about the health care of our children. They are trying to make this a wedge issue to win elections.”

TRIAL OVER ARKANSAS BAN:Landmark trial over Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youths begins

What does gender-affirming care look like?

Gender-affirming care is a term for medical care that is “highly individualized,” said Dr. Kellan Baker, executive director of the Whitman-Walker Institute. “There is no set way to go through gender affirmation. Everyone’s needs are different.”

There can be social transitions such as changing a haircut, using different pronouns or wearing different clothes, he said. Medical care, which can include hormone therapy, can be crucial, he said. Puberty delaying medications, which are reversible, Baker said, allow youths time to explore their identity “free of a ticking clock.”

Backers of bills to restrict care often say they are saving young people from regret later in life. Says Baker: “The entire point is to prevent regret by giving them time. Not doing that is particularly cruel.”

NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a – What We Know So Far

2B with a blindfold

“NieR: Automata’s” famed secret room is cool enough, but its finely crafted, layered story that evolves with each playthrough is what truly sets the game apart. The complex battle between alien machines and human-made battle robots has been getting rave reviews (via Metacritic) since it came out in 2017, and carved its name in the annals of gaming. The game combines awesome action with one of the more captivating storylines out there, so in this age of video game-inspired shows like Netflix’s “The Witcher” and HBO’s upcoming “The Last of Us” adaptation, it was perhaps just a matter of time before “NieR: Automata” would receive an anime adaptation.

The first hints of a “NieR: Automata” anime have been in the air since February 23, when a YouTube teaser announced a “NieR: Automata TV animation project.” Fortunately, the “NieR: Automata” faithful now have far more information about the upcoming anime adaptation by A-1 Pictures, which will be called “NieR: Automata Ver 1.1a.” Let’s take a look at what we know about the project so far.

Nolan North as Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series

Nolan North, Nathan Drake

Over twenty years ago, North started his run on the late-’90s/early-2000s soap opera Port Charles. It was right around that time he started to dabble in video game work, providing voices in Interstate ’82 and EverQuest II. His voice work in games continued, even as he kept showing up on various TV programs. While he was recording lines for games like Call of Duty 2 and Final Fantasy XII, he still managed to fit in appearances on Malcolm in the Middle, NCIS, and Modern Family.

His biggest role by far, though, has to be that of Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series. A video game.

In Uncharted, which has spanned four games over the course of nine years, North both provided the voice acting for Nathan Drake, as well as the motion capture work. In an interview with Tech Radar, North spoke about how similar acting in Uncharted was to his past work: “For a lot of games, you’re in a booth. You’re alone,” he said. “Uncharted is more like doing live action than it is doing any of the other games.”

And North, somehow, someway, has found more time to do it all. He recently wrapped up seven seasons of the TV series Pretty Little Liars. And he’ll soon play the part of Edward Richtofen in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4.

James McCaffery as Max Payne in Max Payne 3

James McCaffery, Max Payne

James McCaffery’s relationship with the Max Payne franchise is an interesting one. He’s always voiced the character, starting with the original Max Payne in 2001. And he’s done so despite the fact that the character model has changed three different times. Max was first based on Remedy co-founder Sam Lake, but for Max Payne 2, the team behind the game used actor Timothy Gibbs. Finally, in Max Payne 3, McCaffery was able to finally able to be the face as well as the voice.

And that’s not all he did. McCaffery worked with Rockstar Games to provide the motion capture work for Max, suiting up in the appropriate gear to act out scenes and — in some cases — perform many of the game’s stunts. According to Rockstar, he did not do any of the “Shootdodging” stunts — those were left to professional stuntmen. Otherwise, much of what you see Max doing in action-related sequences is actually James McCaffery’s movement, captured and recreated in the game.

So what’s McCaffery been up to since Max Payne 3? He appeared in a few episodes of TV’s Revenge, and also showed up in two episodes of the Netflix series Jessica Jones. And he’s acted in a few movies, as well, including Compliance and Blind.

But will we ever see him act as Max Payne again? The odds aren’t good. But there’s always a chance.

Ashly Burch as Aloy in Horizon: Zero Dawn

Ashly Burch, Aloy

Prior to becoming Aloy in Horizon: Zero Dawn, Burch had already made her mark in video games by playing Tiny Tina in Borderlands 2, as well as Chloe in Life is Strange. But what made her turn as Aloy so different was the massive scale of the role, and the game itself: it’s a 30-plus hour jaunt, and Burch was there to record every single line, every step of the way.

She took particular pride in making Aloy feel like a fully realized character.

“When we create female characters, I think often there is a tendency to kind of make female characters emotionally bulletproof,” Burch told Engadget in an interview. “You’ve heard people talk about the ‘capital-S Strong Female Character’ who’s sort of humorless and doesn’t really have a spark and is sort of flawless in their execution. They just don’t feel like fully fleshed out, real characters. And I really didn’t want Aloy to feel that way.”

Burch’s work in Horizon helped cement what would become an all-around great video game experience. And Burch hasn’t let up since then, either, helping write an episode of the cartoon Adventure Time that earned her an Emmy, and continuing to voice characters in games like Fortnite, Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, and Life is Strange: Before the Storm.

Based on the reception Horizon received, there’s a good chance we’ll see her as Aloy again in the future.

Stefanie Joosten as Quiet in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Stefanie Joosten, Quiet

A few years ago, Stefanie Joosten was a Dutch girl who found herself fascinated with Japanese culture and gaming. So much so, in fact, that she studied Japanese at the University of Leiden and received her master’s degree in Tokyo. It was there that she was approached by a modeling agency that specialized in finding Western models, and it led to her becoming one of the most recognizable characters in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

According to Joosten, she received a call one day about a video game audition. The name of the game was a secret, but once she arrived to try out and saw Hideo Kojima, she knew something was up.

She talked about the audition with Dutch newspaper Het Parool: “There was a crate with gun replicas. ‘Take one, and pretend like you’re infiltrating an army base,’ they said. Kind of awkward, because I had no idea how to hold this thing. Fortunately, I could draw inspiration from the games I play, the other girls didn’t have a clue at all.”

Since her appearance in The Phantom Pain, Joosten has worked on several films and television shows, as well as another game called ICEY.

Melina Juergens as Senua in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Melina Juergens, Senua

Melina Juergens turned the gaming world on its ear with her stunning performance in Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, so much so that she ended up taking home an award for it at the 2017 Game Awards. But even more surprising than her powerful portrayal of the game’s lead character, Senua, was the fact that Melina hadn’t had any acting experience prior to playing the part. In fact, she didn’t even audition for it. She worked with the Hellblade team at Ninja Theory as its video editor, and she only donned a motion capture helmet to help the studio test out some tech.

As soon as the team saw her in action, they knew they had the right woman for the role.

“I think there’s a lot of myself in Senua, because I’ve never acted before, and I don’t know how to act,” Juergens said in an interview with PCGamesN. “I basically just used method acting — I used experiences from my own life, like traumas or my anxiety, and connected that with the scenes from Hellblade.”

Juergens still works at Ninja Theory, though she says she’s now more comfortable with the idea of taking other acting jobs. And she’d love to follow up her performance as Senua if the opportunity presents itself.

Let’s hope it does.

 

WHAT THESE VIDEO GAME CHARACTERS LOOK LIKE IN REAL LIFE

If you’re someone who watches TV shows or movies on the regular, you likely have a favorite actor or actress. They’re responsible for bringing your favorite characters to life, and helping you become even more immersed in the universe that character resides in. And when they show up in something, you can’t miss it — because you know they’re going to knock it out of the park.

Video game actors and actresses can have that same effect.

What’s unfortunate, though, is that a lot of the people who voice — and even provide the motion work for — your favorite game characters aren’t as well known. They’re just as good at drawing you in and making you feel something for a character comprised of polygons and textures, but they don’t always find the spotlight the same way.

That ends today. For every Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep in Hollywood, there’s a Nolan North or Ashly Burch in video games working tirelessly to tell incredible stories. And it’s time you meet them.

These are some of gaming’s most well-known characters — and what the people who play them look like.

Valkyrae accidentally showed off her YouTube earnings

Valkyrae selfie with curly hair

While most big-name streamers had their earnings leaked on Twitch in 2021, YouTube streamers were mostly safe. However, Valkyrae didn’t hackers to reveal her income to the world — the YouTube streamer accidentally did it herself.

In one of her livestreams back in 2020, Valkyrae ended up clicking over to her YouTube analytics tab. This was captured by Twitter user TheLolHounds, who also pointed out several bits of information.

The page showed off a few interesting metrics, such as her video averages, but the section that stood out most was where it discussed her past 26 days of activity. With 2.6 million subscribers, 36.4 million views, and 8.4 million hours being watched, the YouTube megastar made $172k. Not only that, but it was down by 6% — a $10k difference. And keep in mind, she still had five days to go (and earn) in the month.