- Biden’s regulatory agenda, released on Friday, includes student-loan forgiveness proposals.
- The Education Dept. plans to improve loan forgiveness programs by 2022, but details are vague.
- Democrats and borrowers continue to push for immediate debt relief while Biden is reluctant.
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From fighting the climate crisis to strengthening protections against racial discrimination, President Joe Biden’s regulatory agenda released on Friday covers a lot of ground. Significantly, unlike his budget, it even mentions student-loan forgiveness. But for borrowers waiting for clarity on what will happen to their debt loads, the details are scanty.
The list of regulatory actions, typically released twice a year, outlines how Biden plans to advance his agenda through each federal agency.
According to the Education Department’s page, Biden’s agenda includes “improving student loan cancellation authorities” in which Education Secretary Miguel Cardona will “amend regulations to improve borrower eligibility, application requirements and processes” for borrowers who meet loan cancellation criteria like being totally and permanently disabled, or attending a recently closed school.
The department also said it would review the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program and “plans to look at these regulations for improvements,” along with amending the “borrower defense to repayment,” which forgives loans for students who were defrauded by for-profit schools.
The department plans to finalize the rules by April 2022.
“The last four years offered a clear lesson on what happens when the executive branch fails to uphold its responsibility to protect the American people,” Sharon Block, acting administrator of the White House regulations office, said in a statement. “Our first regulatory agenda demonstrates our commitment to reversing this trend.”
At the end of May, the Education Department announced it was beginning the process of issuing new higher-education regulations, and the Friday list affirmed those plans. But no further detail was provided on what the mentioned improvements would look like.
When reached for further clarification on these regulatory actions, a department spokesperson told Insider that the agency is currently seeking stakeholder feedback on both its initial list of topics and other matters. After it conducts public hearings, it will determine a path forward on rulemaking. It did not disclose a timeline for that rulemaking, or what the additional topics entailed.
“The Administration is committed to ensuring borrowers are able to access the loan relief to which they are entitled, and we look forward to working with the field to design and implement much-needed improvements,” the spokesperson said.
But borrowers and lawmakers are growing frustrated with the timeline for giving eligible borrowers student-loan forgiveness.
Biden campaigned on reforming PSLF, which allows government and nonprofit employees with federally backed student loans to apply for loan forgiveness after proof of 120 monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan.
However, flaws in the program have been ongoing for years. 98% of borrowers have been rejected from the program, prompting 56 Democrats to urge Cardona to fix the program in early May, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was sued multiple times over the program’s high denial rate.
Borrowers had similar issues with the borrower defense to repayment. Over the past decade, several for-profit schools have shut down over investigations claiming the schools engaged in fraudulent behavior related to federal loans, leading President Barack Obama to establish the program to forgive student debt for eligible defrauded borrowers.
Under Obama, the program had a 99.2% approval rate, but when DeVos took over, 99.4% of eligible borrowers were denied from the program, and she will soon testify over why that happened.
So while the department’s plans to review those programs are promising for borrowers, specific details are unclear. That’s why Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other Democrats are calling on Biden to cancel $50,000 in student debt per borrower to provide immediate relief.
“The time is now,” Warren told Insider on Tuesday. “We know what the problem is: student loan debt is holding back tens of millions of people across this country. People who can’t buy homes, people who can’t buy cars, people who can’t start small businesses. We need to cancel that student loan debt, not only for those people individually, but for our whole economy.”