Biden campaigned on cancelling and reforming student debt. A year into his presidency, here's where those promises stand.
- Biden campaigned on fixing loan forgiveness programs and reducing the $1.7 trillion student-debt load.
- A year into his presidency, he has reformed some programs, but borrowers are still waiting for $10,000 in loan forgiveness.
- Advocates and lawmakers say borrowers need more certainty from the Education Department.
President Joe Biden promised to lessen the $1.7 trillion student-debt crisis during his campaign, promising debt cancellation and reforms of key student-loan programs.
A year into his presidency, Biden has begun to fulfill some of those promises — but when it comes to broad loan forgiveness, 43 million federal borrowers are still waiting.
One of the president's first actions in office was an extension of the student-loan payment pause during the pandemic, providing relief to the 43 million borrowers. Since then, he has extended the pause two additional times, but payments are now set to resume on May 1 and borrowers, experts, and lawmakers worry the Biden administration is not doing enough to protect borrowers when that happens.
On Wednesday, during his first solo press conference of 2022, Biden ignored a question on whether he will fulfill his campaign promise to cancel $10,000 in student debt per borrower, and it had advocates alarmed.
"The president's ignoring of a valid question on student debt and his failure to keep a campaign promise is unfortunately reflective of this administration's failure — whether through incompetence or malice — to address the costly burden of student loans," Braxton Brewington, press secretary of the Debt Collective, told Insider. "$1.8 trillion of crushing student debt is a major policy failure that Biden can fix with the stroke of a pen."
The president has canceled student debt for targeted groups of borrowers, like those defrauded by for-profit schools. Here's what Biden promised on student debt during his campaign, and where those promises currently stand:
Canceling $10,000 in student debt per borrower
In a speech on November 16, Biden said student loans were holding borrowers up, and forgiving $10,000 "should be done immediately." His campaign website also said he'd work with Democrats to "authorize up to $10,000 in student debt relief per borrower" as part of COVID-19 relief, but the $1.9 trillion stimulus package he signed in March didn't include that.
—Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) March 22, 2020
Once he took office, he said at a CNN town hall in February that he was "prepared to write off the $10,000 debt but not $50 [thousand], because I don't think I have the authority to do it." That's why he asked the Justice and Education Departments to prepare a memo on Biden's executive authority to cancel $50,000 in debt — the amount many progressive lawmakers are pushing for — but he has yet to cancel even $10,000.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also told reporters during a December briefing that if Congress passes legislation to cancel student debt, the president is "happy to sign it."
"They haven't sent him a bill on that yet," Psaki said.
And, as Insider reported in October, Biden's administration actually received the Education Department memo in February and is choosing not to release it, adding to the mounting frustration among those waiting for student-loan relief.
Canceling debt for students at public colleges and HBCUs
Biden also campaigned on forgiving all undergraduate tuition-related federal student loan debt for borrowers from public colleges and universities earning up to $125,000 per year, and from private Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and minority-serving institutions.
Biden dedicated funding to HBCUs in both his stimulus and infrastructure proposals, but didn't fund the wider forgiveness.
Some HBCUs have used Biden's stimulus money to cancel debt for their own students. But given student debt's disproportionate burden on Black borrowers, organizations continue to call for the president to cancel their debt.
Reforming student-loan programs
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program is supposed to forgive student debt for public service workers after ten years of qualifying monthly payments, but it is notoriously flawed and rejected 98% of applications leading up to Biden's presidency. Biden promised to fix the program, and those fixes are currently in the works.
Biden's regulatory agenda, released in June, included plans to reform PSLF, along with amending the "borrower defense to repayment," which forgives loans for students who were defrauded by for-profit schools.
And since then, Biden's Education Department has acted on those plans. In October, the department announced reforms to PSLF, one of which included a a limited-time waiver through October 31, 2022, that will allow borrowers to count payments from any federal-loan programs or repayment plans toward loan forgiveness through PSLF, including programs and plans that were not previously eligible.
Another temporary reform pertains to the income-driven repayment plans, which allow borrowers to pay back their debt based on family income. The Federal Student Aid office said borrowers on those plans can self-report their incomes through July 31, easing the paperwork process.
Do you have a story about student debt cancellation? Reach out to Ayelet Sheffey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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