Progressives are praising President Biden’s plan on student loans, arguing the move to provide $20,000 in relief to Pell Grant recipients in particular is a real step toward helping the most needy deal with crippling college debt.
Biden is canceling up to $10,000 in debt for single people making less than $125,000 annually in addition to the $20,000 in relief for those who received the need-based program.
The extra relief for the Pell Grant group was somewhat of a surprise that sweetened the pot for liberals, who had been calling for as much as $50,000 in debt forgiveness per borrower.
“Today’s announcement marks a historic moment in the long fight to end the student debt crisis,” said Natalia Abrams, president of the Student Debt Crisis Center. “Broad-based student debt cancellation will free millions of Americans to invest in their futures, support their families, and contribute to their communities and the economy.”
“Today is a day of joy and relief,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted after the announcement.
She had introduced the idea of loan forgiveness during the 2020 presidential campaign and got Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on her side to convince administration officials to take the issue seriously. Schumer was on the phone discussing details with the White House up until the final decision.
Left-wing lawmakers and activists see the move as a positive, necessary step of action before the midterms. By forgiving large portions of Americans’ loans, Biden moved closer to becoming the progressive leader that he promised to voters, they said, following through on a campaign pledge.
Biden’s sweeping plan unveiled officially on Wednesday is the largest forgiveness of federal student loans per person yet. Heeding calls from progressives, he also extended the ongoing federal loan payment freeze and interest accrual until the last day of the year.
The White House announced that borrowers with existing undergraduate loans can cap repayment at 5 percent of their monthly income. Under his policy, current students with loans are eligible for this debt relief and dependent students will be allowed relief based on their parents’ income.
Biden still didn’t go as far as some wished, but the complaints were relatively muted just before the official rollout.
“While this isn’t everything that advocates have called for, I think that many of them will recognize the immense difference that this is going to make in the lives of millions,” said one Democratic aide close to the issue.
If all eligible borrowers take advantage of the policy, 43 million people will benefit. Of those, 20 million will have their debt completely wiped out, according to an estimate released by the White House.
The Department of Education also announced forthcoming changes to its existing Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which allows certain public servants to receive additional assistance, on top of other smaller-scale measures.
Some did lament that Biden did not go further than $10,000.
“It’s a small, small addition,” said Angelo Greco, a progressive campaign strategist. “I just don’t see how anyone who has been pushing for at least $50,000 and citing all the racial equity stats as motivation to do it can be thrilled about something that scratches the surface of a systemic crisis.”
Abrams, of the Student Debt Crisis Center, said that while the announcement is “a major win for many,” the ceiling will leave others still “crushed by debt.”
“We think roughly 20 million people will be debt free,” said Thomas Gokey, an organizer with the Debt Collective. “For many others this will do very little. We have more work to do.”
The NAACP, which had been pressing for more relief than $10,000, said the proposal took the nation closer to alleviating the burden of student debt.
“We’ve got a ways to go, but the NAACP is proud that we were able to push President Biden to exceed $10,000, bringing us closer to $50,000 and beyond,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said. “Monthly payments won’t resume until 2023 and will be more manageable for many borrowers.”
Republicans are attacking the move as adding to inflation, and some centrist Democrats have shared those concerns.
Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), who is up for reelection in the fall, bashed the president, saying the plan bypassed lawmakers. He also aired concerns that it will add to the deficit, a talking point echoed by some moderates in recent days.
“This announcement by President Biden is no way to make policy and sidesteps Congress and our oversight and fiscal responsibilities,” Pappas said. “Any plan to address student debt should go through the legislative process, and it should be more targeted and paid for so it doesn’t add to the deficit.”
Still, on the left, even those who previously quibbled with certain elements considered the announcement a big deal.
Melissa Byrne, a prominent loan forgiveness activist and executive director of We the 45 Million, said Biden made use of his full executive authority.
“President Biden indeed made hope and history rhyme by using the power of his pen to cancel student loan debt,” said Byrne.
The National Education Association, a labor union, noted that including even more relief for Pell Grant recipients will go a long way.
“The additional relief for Pell Grant recipients ensures equity, and that the borrowers with the greatest need are not left behind,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “This will have a positive impact on America’s educators and the students they serve. This is an encouraging step toward achieving the goal of broad student loan cancellation of at least $50,000 per borrower without means testing.”
For all the enthusiasm among many Democrats, recent polling indicates the issue is decisive. Thirty-four percent of respondents to a new CNBC poll say only those in need should have debt forgiven, while 32 percent say all of those with student loan debt should have it forgiven. Thirty percent say no debt should be forgiven.
The move also adds to a run of policy success for liberals, who had rallied around the recent climate, tax and health care bill signed into law by Biden. While it did not come close to meeting their initial goals, it still represented the biggest step even taken legislatively in the fight against climate change.
Progressives now want to make gains on other issues — notably voting rights.
“I think student forgiveness is great. Good folks will save money. It will sow the idea that government is a place where things can get done,” said Michael Ceraso, a Democratic strategist and campaign veteran.
“But if you want to expand the electorate, you fight for voting rights. Period,” he said. “Student loan forgiveness doesn’t elicit the same response. It’s a static move that won’t make any ripples. But combine it with voting rights? And Biden becomes the president everyone wanted in 2020.”
Source: The Hill