By Andrew Trunsky
Though President-elect Joe Biden has not pledged to forgive all student debt, he has supported broad changes that could affect millions of Americans.
While most of his favored policies adopt fragments of progressive plans, most differ slightly from the Democratic Party’s liberal wing. In addition to targeted debt relief, Biden’s plan for student debt relief also supports both expanding federal aid and cutting tuition for certain Americans.
During the campaign, Biden released “The Biden Plan For Education Beyond High School,” a comprehensive plan with numerous proposals for student debt relief. Among the proposals is a program that offers workers in public schools, government, and nonprofit workers $10,000 of debt relief per year for up to five years.
Under Biden’s plan workers earning $25,000 or less will also be exempt from federal student loan payments and the interest that they would have collected. Those making above $25,000 will have to pay 5% of their discretionary income, which excludes taxes and income spent on food, housing and other essential items.
“After 20 years, the remainder of the loans for people who have responsibly made payments through the program will be 100% forgiven,” his website adds.
His plan stands in contrast to what was initially proposed by Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer, who have lobbied Biden to adopt a plan that would cancel up to $50,000 of student debt per person.
The plan would also double the value of Pell grants and make all public colleges and universities tuition free for families whose collective incomes are less than $125,000.
“Doubling the maximum value of Pell grants will increase the grant value for individuals already eligible for Pell and, given the program’s formula for determining eligibility, expand the benefits of Pell to more middle class Americans,” his website says.
It is unknown, however, how much Biden will be able to do without congressional approval. Republicans have opposed broad student debt relief programs in past years, and Democrats’ hopes of unified government control rest on flipping two Georgia senate seats in a January runoff.
Though Biden did endorse canceling $10,000 of student debt relief per person in March to partially alleviate burdens imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, he only called on Congress to pass the measure, which it has not done.
No bill should pass without immediate, generous relief for workers who are losing jobs and hours, small businesses losing revenue, and communities facing emergency needs.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) March 22, 2020
Even if Democrats fail to win a Senate majority, Biden could still take some executive action on student debt. In March, President Donald Trump issued an executive order which waived interest on student loans through the end of 2020, which Biden could further extend once he takes office.
Warren has advocated that Biden can adopt systemic changes without congressional approval, writing that “Biden-Harris can cancel billions of dollars in student loan debt” via executive order on day one.
1. Biden-Harris can cancel billions of dollars in student loan debt, giving tens of millions of Americans an immediate financial boost and helping to close the racial wealth gap. This is the single most effective executive action available for a massive economic stimulus.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) November 12, 2020
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