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Biden-Sanders task force proposes forgiving certain student debt

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As the country inches closer to the November elections amid the coronavirus pandemic, Democratic candidate Joe Biden has emphasized his plan to address the student debt crisis.

Biden’s presidential campaign released a document Wednesday that took into account policy recommendations proposed by its joint task forces, including from supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Then 110-page document — which involved six joint task forces — runs the gamut on issues as varied as climate change, raising the minimum wage, and student loan debt.

On student debt, the Biden-Sanders team met in the middle on the idea of debt cancellation. (During his campaign, Sanders proposed to eliminate all student debt).

“Roughly six in 10 jobs require at least some education beyond high school, and yet the ever-rising cost of college tuition and fees leaves higher education out of reach—or saddles students with a lifetime of debt,” the document stated.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders do an elbow bump in place of a handshake as they greet other before the start of the 11th Democratic candidates debate of the 2020 U.S. presidential campaign, held in CNN's Washington studios without an audience because of the global coronavirus pandemic, in Washington, U.S. March 15, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
Democratic U.S. presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders do an elbow bump in place in Washington, U.S. March 15, 2020. (PHOTO: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Key highlights

  • Tuition-fee college: The task force’s proposal makes public colleges and universities tuition-free for students from families that make less than $125,000; double the maximum Pell Grant award for low-income students; and “increase federal support for programs that help first-generation students,” as well as those with disabilities, veterans, and underrepresented groups who are applying for college.

  • Forgiveness for all amid COVID-19: The plan would “authorize up to $10,000 in student debt relief per borrower to help families weather this crisis.” It’s worth noting that Biden is not mirroring Sanders’ plan to cancel all students debt, but instead cancelling a part of it for public service workers.

  • Forgiveness for some borrowers: The task force recommends forgiving all undergraduate tuition-related federal debt from two- and four-year public colleges and universities, as well as those who graduate from private Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority-Serving Institutions for borrowers who earn up to $125,000.

  • Forgiveness for low-income borrowers: The task force would also help low-income borrowers by capping and/or pausing debt payments: His proposal is to pause monthly billing and suspend interest for those earning less than $25,000. Those earning more than $25,000 would have their payments capped at no more than 5% of their discretionary income. After 20 years, their remaining debt would be “automatically forgiven.”

  • Bankruptcy: The proposal lays out a plan that would rejuvenate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to “take action against exploitative lenders and will work with Congress to allow student debt to be discharged during bankruptcy.” The current process is complicated, burdensome, and quite difficult, as lawyer Austin Smith has explained in a previous interview to Yahoo Finance.

  • Public service loan forgiveness: The task force recommends reforming this program, which has been criticized for its shortcomings — including a 99% rejection rate at one point — to make enrollment “automatic” for those who qualify, such as teachers, and those working in government agencies and non-profit organizations.

  • PSLF forgiveness: They also propose to “make the program more generous” by offering a tiered cancellation totaling $50,000 for public service workers: Forgiving up to $10,000 in student debt per year for up to 5 years. (This is similar to a bill Democratic senators have introduced.)

  • Forgiveness for teachers: Educators in particular will get up to $50,000 of their student debt forgiven.

  • For-profit colleges: Under these proposals, for-profit colleges would face a more restrictive enviroment: “The Trump Administration has let for-profit colleges and universities once again prey upon students with impunity by repealing important protections.” It proposes to tighten requirements on how for-profit colleges “demonstrate their value and effectiveness before becoming eligible for federal student loans.” The new Secretary of Education to re-instate borrower defense, and forgive loans held by defrauded students who attended predatory for-profit colleges. It will also protect veterans and service members from ending up in bad programs.

Democratic presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden gestures while speaking to people at the Delaware Memorial Bridge Veteran's Memorial Park in New Castle, Delaware, May 25, 2020. - Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, emerged from more than two months of seclusion Monday, wearing a black face mask during a visit to lay a wreath on the day the United States honors its war dead. Biden's last public appearance was March 15 when he faced off against his former Democratic rival Bernie Sanders for a debate in a television studio held with no live audience. (Photo by Olivier DOULIERY / AFP) (Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden at the Delaware Memorial Bridge Veteran's Memorial Park in New Castle, Delaware, May 25, 2020. (PHOTO: OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images)

Consumer advocates were pleased with the recommendations, but pushed for broader cancellation — particularly amid the COVID-19 health crisis.

"Student debt cancellation is now squarely part of major presidential platforms and that is a great step towards creating real progress … [but] we need relief for everyone who is impacted by student loan debt, which includes people with private loans from banks, people who attended private colleges, and others carrying debt from education expenses like textbooks, housing, and food,” Natalia Abrams, executive director of advocacy group Student Debt Crisis, told Yahoo Finance.


Aarthi Swaminathan is a reporter for Yahoo Finance covering education. If you have a story idea, or would like to share how you are dealing with your student loan debt, reach out to her at aarthi@yahoofinance.com

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