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Democrats hope student loan moves hold weight for Biden in November

Democrats hope student loan relief may prove to be a winning issue for President Biden in November after he canceled billions in debt despite his loss at the Supreme Court last summer.

The White House has touted the president as canceling more student loans than any other administration in history, but Biden has still failed to live up to his 2020 campaign promise of universal debt forgiveness.

Allies say voters will see Biden’s historic efforts in loan cancellation and be understanding that the $10,000 in relief for every borrower failed due to the conservative-learning Supreme Court, which holds three justices former President Trump appointed. 

“I think [student loans] are probably one of the more impactful and consequential issues for those who may have went to college to pursue a higher education.” said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist.  

“I think it’s going to be a critical and consequential issue,” Seawright said, adding that for “one-issue voters” on the subject of student loans, Biden “lived up to his promise as best he could.”  

In total, the Biden administration has forgiven $143.6 billion for 3.96 million borrowers.  

The relief has most commonly come through reforms to income-driven repayment programs or been aimed at borrowers defrauded by their schools, or those with disabilities.  

More than $62 billion went to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which forgives debt for those in a government or nonprofit positions after 10 years, and more than $45 billion went to improvements in other income-driven repayment systems.

Another $22 billion went to borrowers who were defrauded by their schools, and more than $11 billion was forgiven for those with total and permanent disabilities.

“I think we see the president use the tools that he has under existing law to cancel that for folks that have been stuck in the student loan system for decades or have been working in public service for a decade or more. That’s important work to deal with problems across the student loan system that President Biden inherited from former President Trump,” said Mike Pierce, the executive director of Protect Borrowers Action (PBA).

But millions of others haven’t seen relief at all, after the Supreme Court nixed Biden’s plan for universal forgiveness.

And those borrowers had to restart their student loan payments, with no relief, during the Biden administration after they were paused for more than three years due to the coronavirus pandemic, as both Trump and Biden extended the pandemic pause numerous times. The more than 40 million student loan borrowers with more than $1.7 trillion in debt began repayments last fall.

Biden “has to remind folks that it was a right-wing activist court, three appointed by President Trump, that has stopped progress on this issue,” Seawright said. “Secondly, I think [Biden] has to really show the receipts, as we say in my community, about what has been done in spite of what this court has tried to block.”

A new poll by PBA and SocialSphere showed that most Americans do not know how much student loan debt Biden has tackled, with only 11 percent thinking it is more than $100 billion.

“Joe Biden has been committed to ensuring hardworking Americans get the relief they deserve; that’s why he’s cancelled more student loans than any president in American history — even after Donald Trump’s Supreme Court Justices ripped away student debt relief from millions of Americans,” the Biden-Harris campaign said in a statement to The Hill. “From now until Election Day, we’ll be meeting voters where they are and reminding them early and often that it’s Joe Biden who has their back and Donald Trump who stands in the way of life-changing relief.”

Trump has not been clear how he would tackle the rising cost of higher education, should he return to the White House, but Republicans argue loan cancellation is unfair to those who never went to college or already paid off their debts, and Trump praised the high court decision striking down Biden’s plan.

The former president said the plan would be “very, very unfair to the millions and millions of people who have paid their debt through hard work.”

“I think [Biden] has to paint a very clear picture going forward about what the intentions are, in terms of bringing even more student loan debt relief to voters, whether they’re young or not so young,” Seawright said.

While the administration has forgiven large sums of debt, most of the relief has gone to older Americans or those paying on their student loans for at least 10 years, largely missing a younger demographic that is passionate about the issue.

“President Biden knows that there are tens of millions of younger people who would have benefited from the policy struck down by the right-wing Supreme Court, and that’s why the Department of Education is continuing to do the work here,” Pierce said.

“Once again, when President Biden is running in November against former President Trump, voters are going to have a stark choice here about whether they want a government that continues to provide student debt relief that continues to help people that are struggling under the weight of unaffordable student loan debt, or they want to go back to the way things were under President Trump,” he added.