21 States Will Take Away Your Driver’s License if You Can’t Pay Your College Loans, but Activists Are Fighting Back
Thanks to the work of local organizers pressuring lawmakers, Montana residents will no longer have their drivers licenses suspended if they fall behind on their student loan payments. This April, a Montana law that allowed the state to revoke licenses for that infraction was scrapped. However, in at least 21 states, similar laws remain on the books.
The criminalization of low-income Americans’ everyday life has experienced a fair amount of coverage lately in the wake of the Department of Justice’s report on Ferguson. That report detailed how steep fees and fines for nonviolent offenses inevitably strapped residents of Ferguson with ridiculous debts. Those debts are then criminalized in a process the report called “illegal and harmful.” If poor people fall behind on their payments, they could even face jail time. Although student debt is not generally interpreted in quite the same way, portions of it have certainly been criminalized. Perhaps nothing showcases this fact more than states’ ability to suspend people’s licenses if they default on their loans. Nearly 30% of US workers now need a license in order to perform their jobs, which means that defaulting on a student loan could effectively mean losing a job.