Biden administration to cancel $5.8bn in student debt for public service workers | US student debt

The Department of Education announced on Thursday plans to cancel $5.8bn in student debt for 77,700 public service workers who qualify under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.

The program, which was created in 2007, promises student debt cancellation to graduates working full-time in public service jobs in government and the non-profit sector. The program only went into effect in 2017 – but the Department of Education under the Trump administration rejected the vast majority of applicants for relief when it kicked in.

Biden’s ramped-up efforts to cancel student debt come as the 2024 election approaches and polls show Biden struggling with young voters, in large part due to his support for Israel’s war in Gaza. He has leaned on young Democrats in Congress to carry his message that student debt is a top concern for his administration – like Maxwell Frost, the youngest member of Congress, who touted Biden’s position on student debt cancellation earlier this month.

By making funding already outlined in law available to borrowers, Biden is attempting to make good on his promise to address the student debt crisis despite a US supreme court ruling last year that killed his $430bn debt relief program. The plan the supreme court struck down would have applied to individuals earning less than $150,000 a year, cancelling $20,000 for Pell grant recipients and up to $10,000 for others.

“Today, more than 100 times more borrowers are eligible for PSLF than there were at the beginning of the administration,” said the US education secretary, Miguel Cardona, in a statement on Thursday. “The Biden administration is turning a promise broken under our predecessor into a promise kept.”

Student debt has ballooned in the last two decades, with federal and state governments slashing spending on higher education and Americans increasingly turning to college and graduate school in search of job opportunities in the wake of the 2008 economic crash. For-profit colleges, with higher acceptance rates, attract students but often leave them saddled with predatory loans.

As of the Thursday announcement, the Biden administration has approved $146.3bn in student debt cancellation over the course of his first term in office, according to the Department of Education. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program accounts for $62.5bn of the total allocation of debt relief since Biden took office.

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“Through all of our various student debt relief actions, nearly four million Americans have had their student debt cancelled under my administration,” said Biden in a statement on Thursday. “And, in the wake of the supreme court’s decision on my administration’s original student debt relief plan, we are continuing to pursue an alternative path to deliver student debt relief to as many borrowers as possible as quickly as possible.”

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