A voter in Wisconsin asked Biden to write off student debt. She doesn’t give up.

March 27, 2021

WASHINGTON – Joycelyn Fish walked through several feet of snow that blanketed Wisconsin one night in February so she could walk to a nationally televised town hall and question President Joe Biden about the student debt crash.

The brutal response she received from Biden – that he would not act to eliminate $ 50,000 in debt per student borrower – surprised Fish, made headlines, and once again drew attention to those at the top. grappled with the burden of student loans in the economic downturn. A Wisconsin debt expert says a racial divide is also apparent.

“There’s a lot of talk about student loans,” Racine’s Fish told the Wisconsin Examiner in a recent interview. “It really set a lot of people on fire who are hopefully telling their stories and how student debt affects them overall.”

Biden, as mayor of Milwaukee, said he would be comfortable with Congress approving the $ 10,000 per borrower pardon, and in executive action he continued a hiatus of l administration on student loan payments. The Ministry of Education also announced the complete cancellation of the debt of 72,000 students who attended institutions that have engaged in misconduct, for an amount of $ 1 billion.

The broad pandemic relief plan passed by Congress and signed by Biden makes any loan cancellations tax-exempt.

But the president has so far resisted calls from some other Democrats to take executive action further, including the Democratic leader in the US Senate.

“It is time to act. We will continue to fight,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. mentionned in a joint statement the day after town hall, pleading for Biden to write off up to $ 50,000 in student debt.

Warren made student loans a major issue in her unsuccessful campaign for the 2020 presidential nomination, and since then she has joined with other Democrats like Schumer in pushing to eliminate the debt.

Progressives at home are also urgent.

“The case against the cancellation of student loans seems more and more fragile by the day,” tweeted Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, DN.Y. after Biden’s comments. “We have the * Senate Majority Leader * on board to forgive $ 50,000. Biden is holding back, but many arguments against it just don’t hold water. We can and must do it. Keep pushing!

Student debt exceeds $ 1.7 T

Fish, who works in a non-profit community theater, sees herself as an active participant in democracy. She has voted in every local, state, and federal election since she was 18, so when she heard of a town hall televised by CNN where attendees would have the opportunity to question Biden, the 29-year-old jumped at the chance.

She originally wanted to ask questions about the economic relief of the arts, as well as the recent wave of Republican bills attempting to impose new voting requirements.

But as she thought about her question, she remembered her family and friends struggling under the weight of student loans, as well as her own debt.

The Federal Reserve estimates that the total student loan debt in the country is over $ 1.7 trillion, with an average of $ 32,731 in debt per borrower.

Wisconsin alone, 714,700 people have $ 22.7 billion in student loan debt, or an average of $ 31,706 per borrower, according to the Student Success Through Applied Research Lab, which partners with the Enrollment Management Division of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Some Democrats say loan cancellation is about social justice, among other things. “A sea of ​​student loan debt is holding back 43 million borrowers and disproportionately weighing down black and brown Americans,” Schumer and Warren said in their mayoral statement.

“The cancellation of $ 50,000 in federal student loan debt will help close the racial wealth gap, benefit the 40% of borrowers without a college degree and help stimulate the economy,” said they continued.

Schumer argues that the administration alone can act to cancel the debt, rather than wait for Congressional action – which is likely difficult, given the 50-50 split in the Senate.

“I believe the current administration has the legal power to write off up to $ 50,000 in federal student loan debt – a life-changing policy move that would boost our economy and help close the racial wealth gap Mr. Schumer said in the Senate, while discussing the tax provision in the relief bill.

Questions and answers to the town hall

At the February 16 town hall, Fish asked the president if he would support the elimination of $ 50,000 in student debt.

“We need a cancellation of student loans beyond the potential of $ 10,000 that your administration has proposed,” she told Biden. “We need at least $ 50,000 minimum. What are you going to do to make that happen?”

“I won’t make it,” Biden said.

He went on to explain his response, saying he didn’t want to write off $ 50,000 for those attending Ivy League schools. He said he had proposed free tuition plans for community colleges and that families with household incomes below $ 125,000 should be able to send their children to public universities for free.

Biden also offered government forgiveness programs, such as allowing a student borrower to write off debt after volunteering for several years.

“I’m ready to write off the $ 10,000 debt, but not $ 50,” he said.

Fish said she was surprised by his response.

“Yes, 10,000 dollars would make a dent for a lot of people,” she told the Examiner. “That would probably cover all of some people’s student loans, but really when you look at the statistics for student loans and where people (are) in their payments and how much they have had to withhold or defer, or interest has increased over the years, the $ 50,000 will have a much broader impact. “

Audrey Peek, deputy director of the SSTAR Lab, said that sometimes making general policy decisions, such as eliminating student debt at all levels, cannot be as effective, as student debt can vary based on race, ethnicity and graduation.

“We see in the data that racially neutral policies are not going to correct the deeply unequal racial divide in student loan debt and the racial wealth gap, which is one of the reasons people ‘are interested in canceling student debt, “Peek says.

Launch of the SSTAR Lab Student debt in Wisconsin to research student debt in the state, and also prepares reports for the Governor’s Task Force on Student Debt.

A 2016 report from the Brooking Institution, a left-wing think tank, found that, on average, black students who graduated owed $ 7,400 more than white, Asian and Latino students who graduated at the same time.

Peek also added that it is important to understand why students have to take out loans.

“We have a trend in the United States, not only of rising tuition fees, which has been well covered by the media, but of rising expenses other than tuition, such as housing, car payments. , child care, ”she said. “These are all the expenses that students have to manage while studying at university.”

The cost of living is also higher, she added.

“At the same time, the median family income has not increased, there are limited family budgets across the country which have also led to a growing reliance on student loans, and this is especially true for families from color, ”said Peek. “Another reason students borrow is because scholarships, another source of financial aid that many students rely on, have lost their purchasing power over time.”

Pell Grants

Over the years, federal Pell Grants funding has decreases to a point where grants cover about 29% of average costs for tuition and fees, room and board at public colleges, up from 79% of costs in 1975. Pell scholarships are awarded to students based on family income.

Peek added that there are very few borrowers with more than $ 100,000 in student loans, about 5% of all borrowers.

“The people who tend to have the most difficulty in repaying debt are those who experience discrimination in the labor market, so people of color and people who don’t graduate,” he said. she declared.

“So you have this debt, and no degree of proof for that and therefore paying off the debt becomes really difficult.”

Fish stressed that easing student debt now will help ease the stress on borrowers when student loan repayments start to pick up as the pandemic ends.

“Having to come back right away and start paying off some of these (loans) is going to absolutely destroy a lot of people’s savings, if they still have any savings,” she said.


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