Following a two-year pause in federal student loan payments begun under then-President Donald Trump and cancellation of specific types of student debt, such as loans from “predatory” private college lenders, the Biden Administration announced a plan on Aug. 24 to forgive up to $20,000 in federally-backed loans to Pell Grant recipients, and up to $10,000 for those who didn’t receive Pell Grants.
“Borrowers are eligible for this relief if their individual income is less than $125,000 ($250,000 for married couples),” according to the White House. “No high-income individual or high-income household – in the top 5% of incomes – will benefit from this action.”
An analysis by the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania found that 99% of the plan’s benefits would go to the lower 90% of household earners, with about 75% going to those households making $82,400 or less per year.
The debt relief is expected to affect millions of borrowers, but how many is unclear because detailed eligibility criteria haven’t been set. About 43 million people hold loans backed by the U.S. Department of Education. That’s roughly 93% of all student loans, and the rest came from private lenders.
Biden’s proposal also includes cutting maximum monthly payments for undergraduate loans from 10% of borrowers’ discretionary income to 5%; offering credit toward loan forgiveness for those who have worked for a nonprofit, served in the military, or worked for any level of government; and continuing the pause on loan repayment through the end of 2022.
Republican officials in several states have announced they will challenge the debt-forgiveness plan in court.
In December 2020, Whaley and 15 other mayors signed a letter urging President-Elect Biden and Vice President-Elect Harris to respond to COVID-19 by implementing public health measures, assistance to schools, protections for workers, and “student loan forgiveness.”
“Students (sic) loan debt is the second-highest form of household debt in the country, exacerbating the racial wealth gap and disproportionately impacting women,” the letter said. “Extending loan forgiveness to more low-wage earners will provide needed relief to the workforce and boost the economy.”
Now, however, Whaley has spoken out against Biden’s plan.
“I was the first in my family to graduate from college – and I graduated with loans,” she said. “For too many working families, the cost of higher education has now become unattainable. But this policy is not fair to the thousands of Ohioans who made the decision to not attend college because of the cost or for those who have already paid off their loans.
“We need to help students afford the education they want, whether that’s a college degree, an apprenticeship, or something else. That’s why we should be focusing on lowering interest rates and making sure banks can’t charge exorbitant rates that make the cost of paying loans back astronomical.”
Courtney Rice, communications director for Whaley’s campaign, said Whaley disagreed with forgiving student loans when she signed the letter but did so because most of its requests were for other economic relief which she did support.
In a late-August forum for Ohio planning officials, DeWine said he was concerned student loan forgiveness would somehow increase inflation. Instead he urged making college more affordable.
DeWine has made some moves toward improving college affordability, such as requiring Ohio public universities to keep tuition steady for incoming freshmen through their senior years and increasing state grant funding for students with the greatest financial need.
Asked for details on DeWine’s position, his campaign communications director Tricia McLaughlin sent a news interview clip in which DeWine said, “I’m very sympathetic for anyone who has a student debt. I get it. But I’ve also heard from people who paid off their debt and they said ‘Well, what about me?’ Where’s the equity, where’s the fairness for that?”
McLaughlin also took the opportunity to assail Whaley.
“Gov. DeWine has been consistent on this issue. On the other hand, Mayor Whaley has long called for President Biden’s plan to redistribute wealth from the working class to high-earning Americans,” she said. “Now that Mayor Whaley realizes taxpayers footing the bill for blanket student loan relief isn’t popular with Ohio voters, she is flip-flopping and purporting to support those who work hard and save.”
Vance has characterized the relief as going to those “least in need,” with “six figure incomes” or couples making nearly $250,000 a year, contrary to the White House’s announcement. In a statement via his campaign, Vance criticized college administrators as well as Biden.
“Biden’s plan is wrong on two major fronts. First, it lets the university cabal off of the hook for what they’ve done to radically increase the cost of college, all while they sit comfortably on hundreds of billions of dollars in endowment funds,” he said. “Second, at a time when low-income Americans are really hurting, Biden’s delivering aid to those who have significantly higher earning potential, while he makes people like Ohio’s plumbers, electricians, and factory workers foot the bill.”
In October 2018 Ryan tweeted “Student debt is out of control. If we can bail out the banks who did everything wrong, we can help out the students who did everything right.”
Four days after Biden’s announcement, Ryan appeared on CNN and said loan forgiveness “prioritized the wrong people.” Instead he promoted cutting taxes or reducing medical debt.
“Tim believes using executive action to wipe away six-figure earners’ debt goes too far without actually addressing the skyrocketing costs of higher education that have caused this crisis,” Ryan campaign spokesperson Izzi Levy said. “Meanwhile, inflation remains high for all Ohioans, regardless of education level.
“Tim supports more targeted relief, as well as a host of proposals to rein in up-front educational costs, and believes the Administration would have been better served by prioritizing across-the-board economic relief that benefits all working- and middle-class Ohioans, whether or not they attended college.”
Ryan has cosponsored legislation in Congress to provide $25,000 in either student loan debt relief or education benefits to essential workers and their family members. The “Opportunities for Heroes Act” identifies “firefighters and first responders, health care providers, grocery store employees, transportation workers and more” as eligible. The resolution was introduced in May 2020 and referred to three House committees but has not budged in any of them, according to the congressional bill tracker.