Mon. Apr 15th, 2024

Photo: News_Biden_Harris_1: President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris via whitehouse.gov

President Biden is slowly fulfilling a key 2020 campaign promise to cancel student debt. After the Supreme Court dealt a blow to his original broad-based forgiveness plan, ruling against it in a 6-3 vote (Biden v. Nebraska) on June 30, 2023, the president vowed to fulfill his promise by finding an alternative way, as reported by The New York Times. According to whitehouse.gov, President Biden reacted to the Court’s decision in a press conference in the Roosevelt Room on June 30, 2023 by reaffirming his commitment to borrowers, one of his main constituencies. “Today’s decision has closed one path. Now we’re going to pursue another. I’m never going to stop fighting for you. We’ll use every tool at our disposal to get you the student debt relief you need to reach your dreams.”

What was the old plan?

The overruled plan would have erased $10,000 in federal student debt for individuals earning $125,000 or less or households earning $250,000 or less, and an additional $10,000 in student debt forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients, as outlined in an article by The Associated Press. Under this plan, 43 million borrowers would have been eligible for up to $20,000 in debt relief. It would cost between $400-$600 billion dollars, according to the Committee for Responsible Federal Budget, which disapproved of the plan and reprimanded the president for pursuing “more of a political stunt than anything close to good policy” in a press release dated Aug. 24, 2022.  

In a Congressional Research Service report, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona attempted to effectuate the old plan by invoking the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act of 2003 (HEROES Act), which would enable the Secretary of Education to waive or modify debt for borrowers affected by military operations or national emergencies. The Supreme Court rejected it in a 6-3 vote. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said in their decision that Secretary Cardona was overestimating the authority vested to him by the HEROES Act: “The authority to ‘modify’ statues and regulations allows the Secretary to make modest adjustments and additions to existing provisions, not transform them.”

What is the new plan and who qualifies?

The new plan involves cancelling student debt through a piecemeal approach instead of one broad cancellation. To qualify under the new plan, as outlined by the U.S. Department of Education, borrowers must be enrolled in the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan, have at least 10 years of repayment history and have originally borrowed $12,000 or less in federal student loans. At the moment, 7.5 million borrowers are enrolled in SAVE and debt relief has been approved for 3.9 million of them, bringing the total to $138 billion, as reported by whitehouse.gov. The most recent round of student debt relief waived $1.2 billion dollars for 153,000 borrowers. 

What is SAVE?

SAVE was put into effect in the summer of 2023 as an income-driven repayment plan, meaning that the monthly student loan payments a borrower makes depend on their family size and income. SAVE also guarantees that borrowers who make their monthly payments on time will not see their balance grow due to unpaid interest. Under SAVE, borrowers making less than $32,800 per year will pay $0 per month, according to studentaid.gov. More benefits for SAVE enrollees are expected to go into effect Feb. 2024 and July 2024. Borrowers may apply for this plan at http://studentaid.gov/save.

What do WCU faculty and students think about student debt relief?

Carly Spence, a WCU student majoring in exercise science with a minor in psychology, expressed her approval of Biden’s loan forgiveness plan and how it helps borrowers achieve their dreams, stating, “I definitely support Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan. Because college is so expensive these days, people are forced to pay off their education for decades after graduation. This is extremely unfair, especially considering many jobs require a college degree. Since many college graduates are putting so much of their incomes into these loans, they aren’t able to save as much, start families, buy houses, etc. as early as past generations. With Biden’s plan, at least some of this debt could be forgiven, helping people to begin their lives and be relieved of the stress that comes with having loans.”

Amy Pajewski is an associate professor and student success librarian at West Chester University who supports student debt cancellation and explained its importance in creating equity: “I wholeheartedly support complete student loan forgiveness and free college for all. As a first-generation college student who attended PASSHE institutions, financial burdens on students is a huge barrier to degree completion. When students are feeling that financial stress, it leads to students being unable to have their basic needs met and in turn aren’t able to focus on learning. Education is a human right and a public good and should be funded by our government. Capitalist principles that drive competition, profit, and efficiency [are] not community-oriented or equitable, and it certainly doesn’t provide access to all.” She also mentioned Debtcollective.org, a union focused on providing debt relief for millions of households.

 


Sameh Sharoud is a third-year Psychology major with a minor in Biology. SS1015422@wcupa.edu

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