Indiana Daily Student

OPINION: Biden has a golden opportunity to tackle student loan debt

In just a few days, President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be inaugurated. As baseless claims of election fraud continue, their historic inauguration will also take place in the midst of a pandemic. Undeniably, 2020 was a year in which Americans were forced to adapt to a “new normal” and are in need of a different direction of events in 2021. 

To help Americans during these unprecedented circumstances, Biden has promised to extend the pause on federal student loan payments on his first day in office. If he does not act, student loan payments will resume Jan. 31. Additionally, Biden Transition Official David Kamin said Biden supports Congress in immediately canceling $10,000 of federal student loan debt for each person due to the pandemic. 

Student loan debt in the United States has continued to spiral out of control, resulting in nearly $1.6 trillion in debt among more than 40 million Americans in 2020. This crisis has intensified due to pandemic related pay cuts and job losses that many Americans have faced. Now, more than ever, struggling Americans need more time and government assistance to pay off their student loan debt. 

Although Biden has previously stated that he will support congressional efforts in forgiving $10,000 of federal student loan debt per person, he did not give a specific time frame that this will take place or who exactly this debt cancellation will apply to. It is likely that Congress’ initiative to cancel $10,000 of student loan debt will only apply to borrowers with federal student loans rather than borrowers with private student loans. 

At IU, many undergraduate and graduate students rely on federal student loans to fund their college education. Approximately 31% of all undergraduate students at IU-Bloomington use federal student loans. Among incoming freshmen, 35% of students take both private and federally funded student loans. The proposed student debt cancelation will greatly benefit these IU students, who on average are $20,500 in debt after graduation.

On Thursday, Biden revealed his $1.9 trillion economic and healthcare relief package which focuses on providing aid to Americans, coronavirus testing and distribution of the vaccine. Shockingly, student loan debt forgiveness was not present in the relief package. While this led student advocacy groups to say they believe that the president-elect will use immediate executive authority to address student loan debt, this seems unlikely. 

While Biden has taken a more moderate stance on tackling student loan debt, many Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-MA, proposed to cancel up to $50,000 per person in student loan debt. According to Biden, the president may not have the executive authority to carry this out. 

“It’s arguable that the president may have the executive power to forgive up to $50,000 in student debt,” said Biden. “Well, I think that’s pretty questionable. I’m unsure of that. I’d be unlikely to do that.” 

While forgiving up to $10,000 in student loan debt is a good place to start, it is not enough to address the staggering $1.6 trillion in student loan debt. Biden’s moderate approach is insufficient, and he must consider Warren’s proposal in order to make a significant change to student loan debt rates. 

Starting Jan. 20, Democrats will control the House of Representatives and the Senate after gaining a slight majority over Republicans, who are largely against student loan debt cancellation. Although the Democrats now have an advantage, it is unclear whether or not they intend to prioritize student loan debt cancellation. 

As constituents, it is important for us to hold our elected officials accountable for the promises they made during their campaigns. According to a poll from Vox and Data for Progress, 51% of voters support forgiving up to $50,000 of student loan debt for those who make less than $125,000 a year. Providing aid to those struggling to make ends meet and pay off their student loan debt, or even canceling student loan debt all together, is a good thing. Education debt has harshly affected families with lower net worths and racial minorities. Addressing this major problem will help to close this problematic wealth gap. 

Americans have struggled to pay off student loan debt for years, and this has been greatly aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Democratic lawmakers will need to seize the opportunity to tackle the problems they have vowed to resolve and provide aid to those who have suffered far too long under the Trump administration. Otherwise, what was the point of winning this election? 

Rama Sardar (she/her) is a freshman majoring in media with a concentration in film. She aspires to be a screenwriter and film director.

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