WASHINGTON — A class action suit has been filed against U.S. Secretary of Education and Holland native Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education over student borrower paycheck seizure, which has been prohibited through the end of September in light of the coronavirus pandemic.


The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Elizabeth Barber and others by the National Student Legal Defense Network in the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C. It alleges DeVos and DOE have continued to garnish portions of paychecks from student borrowers.


The CARES Act passed by Congress in late March ordered the DOE to stop all wage seizure until Sept. 30. But Barber, a New York health aid who makes less than $13 per hour, said she’s had paychecks docked by 12 percent by the DOE since the pandemic began.


“I am so worried about how I will get through this,” Barber said in a statement. “I have no money in the bank. I need every dollar I earn at work to survive each day, but my hours have been cut because of the virus.


“I don’t understand why the government keeps taking my money away after it passed a law that says they will stop.”


Angela Morabito, a DOE spokesperson, told The Associated Press in a statement that the department was working to process refunds for the garnished wages.


“Payments we receive via garnished wages will be immediately processed for refund, and the employer will be contacted again to ensure the guidance to stop garnishing wages is understood,” Morabito told the AP.


DeVos and the DOE have faced legal action over garnishing wages from student loan borrowers in the past year.


In October, a federal judge threatened to hold DeVos in contempt after the DOE failed to stop seizing wages and federal tax returns from students who borrowed from colleges who were found to be guilty of fraud, despite being ordered to as a result of a 2018 class-action lawsuit.


The judge levied a $100,000 fine against the DOE.


In February, another group sued the department over its reversal of an Obama-era ruling on borrower defense.


“With the President at her side, Secretary DeVos promised in March that she had stopped federal wage garnishments altogether, which is what the CARES Act requires,” said Alex Elson, senior counsel at the NSLDN in a statement.


“The truth is, she keeps on taking wages from the paychecks of Americans struggling to make ends meet. We are suing to make her stop.”


— Contact reporter Arpan Lobo at alobo@hollandsentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @arpanlobo.