Americans who survive a terrorist attack should get an automatic one-year deferment on their federal student loan payments, according to a bill introduced by Marco Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida.
“We should do everything in our power to help those who survive a terrorist attack to get their life back on track,” Rubio said in a statement. “Giving survivors some time to regroup by delaying their student loan payments is just commonsense.”
The Terrorism Survivors Student Loan Deferment Act would “provide a one-year pause for victims”, allowing them time to “get back on their feet”, or to apply for additional loan deferments, according to Rubio’s office.
Rubio first introduced the legislation in 2016, and said the bill was inspired by his office’s work to help a survivor of Florida’s Pulse Nightclub shooting secure a temporary delay on his student loan payments.
The attack on a gay bar in Orlando five years ago left 49 people dead and more than 50 injured.
While the Pulse survivor’s injuries were serious and life-changing enough that he had considered asking for complete forgiveness of his student loans, Rubio said at the time, the young man changed his mind, and decided to only ask for a delay in his payments, a choice Rubio called “a testament to his resilience and determination”.
Rubio’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how “terrorist attack” is defined in the legislation, and which mass shootings or other violent attacks would count as “terrorist attacks”.
Some of the reactions to Rubio’s bill were strongly negative, with commenters suggesting the policy proposal was an insulting response to America’s sweeping student loan crisis.
More than 40 million Americans have federal student loan debt. They owe an average of $39,406 each, according to EducationData.org.
In recent years, the number of victims killed annually in US domestic terrorism attacks has ranged from 22 to 66 people, according to data assembled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“This is nice, but if Senator Rubio were actually seriously interested in safety and giving relief to survivors, he would back commonsense gun legislation like HR 8,” Christopher Zoeller, 19, the Florida state director for March For Our Lives, a youth gun violence prevention group, said in a statement to the Guardian.
“He didn’t do it after Pulse, he didn’t do it after Parkland, and he still hasn’t done it today. We can see right through this gimmick.”