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On September 15, President Joe Biden announced his intention to nominate Jennifer L. Fain as Inspector General of the FDIC. Fain brings over 22 years of experience in the inspector general community, most recently serving as Deputy Inspector General for the Export-Import Bank of the United States (EXIM). She has extensive oversight experience in financial services and consumer protection and has held leadership positions in various audit, inspection, and evaluation offices within federal agencies. Fain holds an M.S. in Finance from Johns Hopkins University and a B.S.B.A. in Accounting from the University of Colorado.
On August 22, the White House announced the SAVE Plan, an income-driven repayment plan, intended to calculate payments based on a borrower’s income and family size rather than the loan balance and provide forgiveness for balances after a certain number of years since repayment. It is estimated that over 20 million borrowers could benefit from this plan and that it will have particular critical benefits for low- and middle-income borrowers, community college students, and borrowers who work in public service. In order to encourage participation by borrowers, the Department of Education is partnering with grassroots organizations on an outreach campaign. This plan builds on broader actions taken by the current administration to deliver relief to borrowers and make college more affordable.
On August 14, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan dismissed without prejudice a lawsuit filed against the federal government aimed at blocking the Biden administration’s effort to provide debt relief to student borrowers (covered by InfoBytes here). U.S. District Judge Thomas L. Ludington held that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they failed to plausibly demonstrate how the government’s plans would impact their efforts to recruit participants as qualified employers under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. The court detailed that “[Plaintiffs] merely make vague and conclusory statements that some ‘undisclosed’ number of borrowers will receive credit toward loan forgiveness for some periods of forbearance” but “do not allege that any current employee received Adjustment credit.” Furthermore, any such “hypothetical injur[y]” would be traceable to “Plaintiffs’ own employees or prospective employees, not the Adjustment.” Because there was no standing, the court dismissed the complaint without prejudice and denied the plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction as moot.
On August 4, two nonprofit entities filed a lawsuit against the federal government aimed at blocking the Biden administration’s recent effort to provide debt relief to student borrowers. The administration’s efforts were implemented in response to the Supreme Court’s June 30 decision striking down the DOE’s student loan debt relief program that would have canceled between $10,000 and $20,000 in debt for certain student borrowers (covered by InfoBytes here). The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, targets the administration’s efforts to credit borrowers participating in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) plan and Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) plan by providing credit for periods when loans were in forbearance or deferment, which would affect more than 804,000 borrowers, forgiving approximately $39 billion in loan payments, according to the DOE.
As an initial matter, plaintiffs assert that they are injured by the administration’s actions because, as 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, they benefit from the PSLF program by allowing them to “attract and retain borrower-employees who might otherwise choose higher-paying employment with non-qualifying employers in the private sector.” Thus, according to plaintiffs, cancellation of PSLF loans would reduce the incentive for borrowers to work at public service employers and the decision “unlawfully deprives [PSLF] employers of the full statutory benefit to which they are entitled under PSLF.”
Plaintiffs accuse the administration of putting the plan on an “accelerated schedule apparently designed to evade judicial review.” The plaintiffs assert that the DOE lacks authority to classify “non-payments as payments,” and that the statutes for the PSLF and IDR programs require actual payments to qualify for forgiveness under each plan. The suit brings four claims against the administration: (i) violation of the Appropriation Clause of the U.S. Constitution by canceling debt that Congress did not authorize; (ii) violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) by issuing a final agency decision without appropriate statutory authority; (iii) violation of the APA by taking an arbitrary and capricious agency action by failing to “explain why [DOE] has changed its policy from not crediting non-payments during periods of loan forbearance to crediting such payments for purposes of PSLF and IDR forgiveness” and “entirely fail[ing] to consider the cost to taxpayers of crediting periods of forbearance toward PSLF and IDR forgiveness,” among other reasons; and (iv) violation of the APA by failing to undertake notice-and-comment procedures in implementing the changes.
On August 9, the White House announced that President Biden signed an Executive Order on Addressing United States Investments In Certain National Security Technologies and Products In Countries of Concern (E.O.). The President explained his view that some countries create national security risks by using particular technologies to advance their “military and defense industrial sectors” rather than civilian and commercial sectors. Biden stated that although open global capital flows substantially benefit the U.S., the E.O. stated that certain investments may “accelerate and increase the success of the development of sensitive technologies and products in countries that develop them to counter United States and allied capabilities.” The E.O. directs the Secretary of the Treasury to issue regulations that (i) prohibit U.S. persons from participating in specific transactions associated with particular technologies and products that present a significant and urgent risk to national security; and (ii) mandate U.S. persons to notify the Treasury about different transactions related to specific technologies and products that may contribute to the national security threat. The annex to the E.O. identifies China, including Hong Kong and Macau, as the sole nation warranting concern. The E.O. also requires the Secretary to communicate with Congress and the public regarding the E.O., consult with other agency leaders, assess whether to amend the regulations within one year, and provide reports to the President and Congress.
The Treasury simultaneously issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, requesting public comment on the implementation of the E.O., along with proposed definitions of key terms, before the program goes into effect. Written comments may be submitted within 45 days here.
On July 26, the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing regarding “fees and tactics impacting Americans’ wallets” in relation to financial services and the role of the CFPB in addressing harmful fees. Leading the hearing, Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA), chairman of the committee, explained that some “excessively high” and unclear fees do not serve an economic value, referring to these as “junk fees.” Senator Warnock shared that 1/3 of households that do not use banks cite high fees as their reason for continuing without a bank account. Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) criticized the CFPB’s attempts at avoiding the oversight of the Administrative Procedures Act in the rule-making process by mislabeling its actions. Tillis added that after the 2008 financial crisis, regulators emphasized the importance of overdraft revenue as, “an appropriate tool for ensuring the stability of the bank’s balance sheets.” He then criticized the shift in guidance, as the CFPB looks to reprimand banks who follow “the established prudential standards for the crime of listening to their previous federal regulators.” He also claimed that the Bureau does not have proper jurisdiction, resources, or staff to make such decisions.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry testified about recent enforcement actions she has taken, including a recently filed suit against a Wall Street private equity-owned installment lender, who allegedly charged consumers “junk fees” for low-value or valueless add-on products. Henry also mentioned entering into a settlement relating to a bank charging “junk fees” in connection with auto finance products. Brian Johnson, a financial regulatory compliance specialist and former deputy director of the CFPB, claimed that the agencies and the White House have failed to provide a consistent definition for the “junk fees” that could subject institutions to scrutiny, and criticized the CFPB, saying that it does not follow its own regulations and laws governing how agencies make rules by publishing interpretive rules as policy statements in bulletins. A final topic raised by Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) regarded land contracts and lease-to-purchase or rent-to-own agreements that she claimed can be exploitative towards underserved communities. Smith noted that such contacts are “designed to fail,” noting that more than 80 percent of the time, people lose all their equity because they do not make it to the last payment of the contract.
On August 1, the SBA announced implementation of additional policies aimed at expanding small business’ access to capital by modernizing SBA’s signature 7(a) and 504 Loan Programs. The new simplified guidelines for lenders include updated origination policies and procedures, lender participation requirements, and 7(a) loan servicing and liquidation requirements. SBA has also clarified affiliation standards to effectively communicate who qualifies for SBA loans, will use technology updates to bring eligibility determinations in-house, and will also use advanced data analytics and third-party data checks for fraud review on all loan programs before approval.
The following three SBA SOPs took effect on August 1, bringing many of the new policies into practice:
- SOP 50 10 7: Lender and Development Company Loan Programs: Contains SBA’s policies and procedures governing the 7(a) and 504 loan programs.
- SOP 50 56: Lender participation requirements: Contains the criteria for becoming an SBA Lender.
- SOP 50 57: 7(a) Loan Servicing and Liquidation: Contains the policies and procedures for 7(a) loan servicing and liquidation.
Finally, the SBA will begin accepting the Universal Purchase Package, a new feature that is expected to streamline the process for lenders to request SBA honor its loan guaranty. SBA will also introduce new features in E-TRAN, SBA’s online platform used by lenders to upload loan applications.
On July 27, the Biden administration released a fact sheet detailing new actions to develop the Blueprint for a Renters Bill of Rights, which was rolled out early this year (covered by InfoBytes here). The three new actions aim to support renters by (i) “ensuring all renters have an opportunity to address incorrect tenant screening reports”; (ii) “providing new funding to support tenant organizing efforts”; and (iii) “ensuring that renters are given fair notice in advance of eviction.” Additionally, the CFPB, USDA, FHFA, and HUD concurrently released statements aimed at landlords, reminding them of “best practices” and their obligation to inform tenants of their rights.
FHFA published Director Sandra L. Thompson’s statement on “best practices” for the delivery of adverse action notices to renters by GSE-backed multifamily housing borrowers. Referencing research showing that tenant screening reports often contain imprecise or inaccurate information, Director Thompson “strongly encouraged” borrowers who deny a rental application to provide written adverse action notices to the applicants and a copy of any consumer screening report that was relied upon. FHFA’s guidance is based on the FCRA’s requirement that landlords and property managers inform rental applicants of negative information from a consumer screening report that resulted in their rental application being rejected or another unfavorable outcome.
The CFPB posted a blog entry that emphasized landlords’ obligation under the FCRA adverse action notice requirement, which mandates that landlords who take any action against a current or prospective tenant based on a consumer report notify the tenant of the decision and how they can contact the company that created the report. The Bureau advised that renters have the right to review their rental background check report and to dispute information they believe to be inaccurate and encouraged tenants to obtain a free copy of the report from the company that compiled it and dispute any errors (covered by InfoBytes here).
In conjunction with the White House press release, HUD announced it is taking multiple actions to improve rental screening transparency and support renters. It is sending reminders to public housing agencies and property owners about their obligation to inform rejected applicants about reasons for their denial, which provides renters with the opportunity to correct any errors. Additionally, HUD is providing $10 million for tenant education and outreach in Section 8 program properties to assist tenants with “capacity building efforts” for engagement with property management. Furthermore, HUD will issue a proposed rule requiring a 30-day written notification for evictions due to nonpayment of rent in certain subsidized housing.
Also mentioned was the recent White House announcement of actions it is taking to combat “unfair and hidden fees” concerning rental housing (covered by InfoBytes here).
On July 19, the White House released a Fact Sheet announcing that the Biden-Harris administration is cracking down on junk fees in rental housing to lower costs for renters. The administration explained how rental housing fees can be burdensome for renters, with application fees often exceeding the actual cost of background checks, accumulating to hundreds of dollars as prospective renters apply for multiple units. Additionally, mandatory fees, such as convenience fees for online rent payment, mail sorting, trash collection, and obscure charges like "January fees," further strain renters' finances and hinder comparison shopping, as the true cost of renting may be higher than expected or affordable, the announcement states. The Fact Sheet outlines the president’s steps for taking action: (i) major rental housing platforms will disclose total upfront costs in addition to the advertised rent; (ii) legislative efforts to regulate rental housing fees and safeguard consumer interests are underway in several states; and (iii) HUD presented new research outlining a blueprint for a nationwide initiative to tackle rental housing fees. HUD’s new research presents an extensive review of rental fees, emphasizing strategies adopted by state, local, and private sectors to promote transparency and equity in the rental market. These strategies encompass measures like capping or abolishing rental application fees, enabling renters to submit their own screening reports, utilizing a single application fee for multiple applications, and ensuring clear disclosure of total move-in and monthly rent costs. HUD's research serves as a guide for local authorities and landlords alike to enhance conditions for renters.
On July 13, the Biden administration published the National Cybersecurity Strategy Implementation Plan (NCSIP), outlining a roadmap for carrying out the administration’s National Cybersecurity Strategy. The strategy was released earlier this year to introduce several key pillars for countering threats to the digital ecosystem and improving the nation’s digital security (covered by InfoBytes here). Designed to build and enhance collaboration, the NCSIP identifies 65 federal initiatives assigned to various agencies with timelines for completion. According to the announcement, 18 agencies are spearheading initiatives in this “whole-of-government” plan, which also factors in “continued collaboration with the private sector, civil society, international partners, Congress, and state, local, Tribal, and territorial governments.”
Pillars include measures to:
- Defend critical infrastructure (the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency will implement measures to update the National Cyber Incident Response Plan to, among other things, provide clear guidance to external partners on the roles and capabilities of federal agencies in incident response and recovery);
- Disrupt and dismantle threat actors (including focusing on virtual asset providers that enable the laundering of ransomware proceeds);
- Shape market forces and drive security and resilience;
- Invest in a resilient future (the National Institute of Standards and Technology will convene an interagency working group to coordinate major issues in international cybersecurity standardization); and
- Forge international partnerships to facilitate coordination with partner nations. The administration expects to update the plan annually.