- Biden campaigned on cancelling $10,000 in student debt per person and reforming loan programs.
- He has yet to deliver on those promises, but the government has begun work on reforming student debt.
- Advocates and lawmakers say borrowers need more certainty from the Education Department.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
President Joe Biden promised to lessen the $1.7 trillion student-debt crisis during his campaign, promising debt cancellation and reforms of key student-loan programs.
While it’s admittedly early, Biden hasn’t fulfilled any of those promises yet. The most that can be said is that his is starting to consider working on them, and it’s going to take a while to see progress.
One of the president’s first actions in office was an extension of the student-loan payment pause during the pandemic, providing relief to the 43 million borrowers. But the pause is lifting come October, and borrowers, experts, and lawmakers worry the Biden administration is not doing enough to protect borrowers when that happens.
On Thursday, the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC), which advocates for borrowers’ rights, led 128 organizations in calling for the pause to be extended until Biden follows through on reforming loan forgiveness programs and cancelling student debt.
“There is a very long way to go to deliver on the promises for student loan borrowers, between what was promised and where we are,” Seth Frotman, executive director of the SBPC, told Insider. “A lot of that is obviously because of how broken the system is and how many of the problems we’re facing are decades in the making.”
Here’s what Biden promised on student debt during his campaign, and where those promises currently stand:
Cancelling $10,000 in student debt per borrower
Biden promised to cancel $10,000 in student debt per person. In a speech on November 16, he said student loans are holding borrowers up, and forgiving $10,000 “should be done immediately.”
His campaign website said he’d work with Democrats to “authorize up to $10,000 in student debt relief per borrower” as part of COVID-19 relief, but the $1.9 trillion stimulus package he signed in March didn’t include that.
Once he took office, he said at a CNN town hall in February that he was “prepared to write off the $10,000 debt but not $50 [thousand], because I don’t think I have the authority to do it.”
The Justice and Education Departments are reviewing Biden’s executive authority to cancel $50,000 in debt, but he has yet to cancel even $10,000.
Cancelling debt for students at public colleges and HBCUs
Biden also campaigned on forgiving all undergraduate tuition-related federal student loan debt for borrowers from public colleges and universities earning up to $125,000 per year, and from private Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and minority-serving institutions.
Biden dedicated funding to HBCUs in both his stimulus and infrastructure proposals, but not the wider forgiveness.
Some HBCUs have used Biden’s stimulus money to cancel debt for their own students. But given student debt’s disproportionate burden on Black borrowers, organizations continue to call for the president to cancel their debt.
Reforming student-loan programs
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program is supposed to forgive student debt for public service workers after 120 qualifying monthly payments, but it is notoriously flawed, continuing to reject 98% of applications. Biden promised to fix the program, and those fixes are currently in the works.
Biden’s regulatory agenda, released earlier this month, included plans to reform PSLF, along with amending the “borrower defense to repayment,” which forgives loans for students who were defrauded by for-profit schools.
The process for implementing these improvements could be lengthy, though, with the department planning to finalize the new rules by April 2022. It held public hearings this week to gather feedback on the loan system, and it will soon determine a path forward for rulemaking.