3 things Biden’s Department of Education has done so far to tackle the $1.7 trillion student-debt crisis

Kingston University graduation
Kingston University students prepare to graduate.

  • Progressives want Biden to cancel up to $50,000 of student debt per person, and he’s resisting.
  • But his DOE has already canceled billions in debt for defrauded borrowers and those with disabilities.
  • The DOE also expanded the pause on debt collection to those with privately held loans under the FFEL Program.
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President Joe Biden has started to act on the $1.7 trillion student debt crisis in the country.

His Department of Education has already canceled student debt for about 72,000 defrauded borrowers, and for over 41,000 borrowers with disabilities. That means more than 113,000 people in the country are getting $2.3 billion of debt relief.

Another 44 million Americans still have student-loan debt and wonder if their turn will ever come.

During his presidential campaign, Biden said he was willing to cancel $10,000 in student debt per person, but he did not believe he had the authority to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt per person, a key progressive lawmaker’s agenda item.

While White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a press briefing that the Justice Department will review Biden’s ability to cancel student debt through executive action, and while Biden asked the Education Department to compile a memo on the subject, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said there’s no reason it cannot be done.

“If it’s OK legally to do a small amount, it’s OK legally to do a larger amount,” Schumer said in a press call following Psaki’s remarks.

Here’s what the Biden administration has done so far to help Americans with student debt:

(1) Canceled debt for defrauded borrowers

On March 18, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona canceled student debt for about 72,000 borrowers who were defrauded by for-profit schools, such as Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institutes.

Under the new regulations, borrowers eligible for relief would receive a 100% discharge of federal student loans, a reimbursement of any amounts paid on loans, requests to remove any negative credit report, and if applicable, a reinstatement of federal student aid eligibility.

Insider previously reported on five of the biggest colleges that were accused of defrauding their students through deceptive advertising and persuading students to take out loans knowing they would likely default. Of those, the University of Phoenix is the only one still open and which hasn’t admitted to any wrongdoing. Last week, the Federal Trade Commission sent $50 million in refunds to more than 147,000 former Phoenix students “who may have been lured by allegedly deceptive advertisements.”

(2) Canceled debt for borrowers with disabilities

In his second move on student-debt cancelation, Cardona on Monday canceled student debt for over 41,000 borrowers with permanent and total disabilities, and removed a requirement to submit income documentation for over 230,000 eligible borrowers.

A previous rule established under President Barack Obama required borrowers with disabilities who wished to receive debt cancelation to submit documentation verifying that their incomes did not exceed the poverty line, but Cardona waived that requirement, given that 98% of reinstated disability discharges occurred because borrowers did not submit the required paperwork.

(3) Expanded the scope of the debt payment pause

On Tuesday, Cardona expanded the pause on student-debt collections to 1.14 million borrowers with private loans. In January, Biden had extended a pause on student loan payments through September, but that didn’t apply to borrowers under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, whose loans were held by private lenders. Cardona’s new rule also applies a 0% interest rate on borrowers’ student debts.

The FFEL Program ended in 2010, but recent data from the Education Department showed that 11.2 million borrowers still have outstanding FFEL loans totaling over $248 billion, and while the department acquired some of the outstanding FFEL loans, many are still privately owned and were not affected by the pause on federal student loan payments.

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Outgoing Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos urged against student loan forgiveness in letter to Congress

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos speaks during a White House coronavirus disease (COVID-19) task force briefing at the U.S. Education Department in Washington, U.S., July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos speaks at White House coronavirus task force briefing at the Education Department in Washington

  • Outgoing Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos advised Congress to vote against student loan forgiveness, according to a letter obtained by CBS News and Politico.
  • “Across-the-board forgiveness of college debts is not only unfair to most Americans, it is also the most regressive of policy proposals – rewarding the wealthiest sector of our labor force at the expense of the poorest,” she wrote.
  • In the apparent farewell letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, DeVos outlined a number of education policies, including allocating direct federal funding to students
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Outgoing Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos advised against student loan forgiveness in a letter sent to Congress Monday, which was obtained by CBS News and Politico.

In what appeared to be a farewell letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, DeVos reflected “on the past four years and the conversations we have had together” and shared some “closing thoughts” with the Kentucky senator.

DeVos outlined a number of talking points in the letter, including considering allocating direct federal funding to students.

“Let me urge you instead to provide for students the opportunity to pursue meaningful, challenging, and rewarding learning opportunities,” DeVos wrote. “Let me encourage you to fund education – that is, learning – not a Department of Education. Let me urge you to fund students, not school buildings.”

She also dismissed student loan forgiveness in the letter – a policy in which President-elect Joe Biden has expressed support during his upcoming term. Biden has previously proposed making undergraduate education free in some cases and expanding college federal loan programs. He also suggested giving student loan borrowers $10,000 in loan forgiveness as part of coronavirus relief.

Read more: What a Biden presidency could mean for America’s student-loan debt crisis

DeVos, in contrast, urged Congress to reject such a proposal.

“Importantly, I hope you also reject misguided calls to make college ‘free’ and require the two-thirds of Americans who didn’t take on student debt or who responsibly paid off their student loans to pay for the loans of those who have not done the same,” she wrote in the letter.

“Across-the-board forgiveness of college debts is not only unfair to most Americans, it is also the most regressive of policy proposals – rewarding the wealthiest sector of our labor force at the expense of the poorest,” she continued.

In December, DeVos extended student loan forbearance through the end of January. Previously, more than 40 million student loan borrowers in the US weren’t expected to make payments again until the end of 2020, setting up a complicated situation for both borrowers and the incoming Biden administration.

Though student loan forbearance is set to expire at the end of the month, the bipartisan $908 billion coronavirus relief package signed by President Donald Trump does not include additional forbearance. It is not immediately clear what the incoming Biden administration will do with regards to the policy from the time he is inaugurated on January 20 to its expiration date on January 31.

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