Student debt protest

Student loan borrowers call for full student debt cancellation at a rally outside the White House on January 13, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for We, The 45 Million)

Rapid Response Protests Planned to Stop Biden From 'Screwing Up' Student Debt Relief

"$10K, no way," said organizers. "Don't go small, cancel it all!"

Organizers with the Debt Collective are planning a rapid response demonstration at the White House Friday following reports that President Joe Biden has reached a decision to cancel $10,000 of student debt for some borrowers--a plan that doesn't go as far as his campaign promise, which critics had already denounced as inadequate.

"$10K, no way," tweeted the Debt Collective, the nation's first union of people who owe debt. "Don't go small, cancel it all!"

While campaigning for the presidency in 2020, Biden said he would cancel "a minimum of $10,000" in debt for every federal student loan borrower. More than 43 million Americans owe an average of more than $37,000 for their education.

On Friday, The Washington Postreported that the president is expected to soon announce means-tested plans to cancel $10,000 per borrower for individuals who earned less than $150,000 in the previous year or married couples who earned less than $300,000.

Organizers are also planning to demonstrate at the University of Delaware commencement where Biden is speaking Saturday.

"It is not too late to prevent him from screwing this up," said the Debt Collective.

As Politico reported earlier this month, officials in the U.S. Education Department have warned Biden that means-testing student loan cancellation will be difficult to implement before the November midterms:

They're warning the White House that the agency lacks the data to automatically cancel loans based on a borrower's earnings, according to three people familiar with the discussions.


Department officials have told the White House they would need to set up some sort of application process to determine whether borrowers qualify for relief, according to the people familiar with the discussions. That added layer of bureaucracy would likely take longer for the Education Department to implement compared with across-the-board forgiveness, and it would mean that borrowers would miss out on the benefit if they don't know to sign up or apply for it.

"Means testing $10,000 per student loan borrower is going to be an administrative nightmare," tweeted Anna Helhoski, a senior writer at Nerd Wallet. "A red tape mess waiting to happen."

Proposals to means-test student debt cancellation have also been met with strong criticism from progressives.

Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, compared the White House's reported plan to "pouring a bucket of ice water on a forest fire."

"Right now, Black Americans are the only people who have more student debt left to repay than the sum of their median annual income," Johnson said. "$10,000 in cancellation would not even place their student debt total lower than their annual income... President Biden, $10,000 will not help those in the lower class who have been devastated by our oppressive system."

The Revolving Door Project at the Center for Economic and Policy Research took aim at Biden for "trying to please everyone" by means-testing the reported debt relief program--a move that it said would "likely please no one."

Republicans and corporate Democrats have scoffed at the notion of universal debt relief, with Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) calling it a "slap in the face" to people who didn't attend college or already paid off their loans and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) promoting "income-based repayment plans" earlier this month.

"Any student debt forgiveness policy will inevitably be distorted in attack ads from bad-faith corporate centrists and the right-wing propaganda machine into a false claim that this policy only helps educated elites," said Max Moran and Hannah Story Brown of the Revolving Door Project. "The solution to that problem is to help student debtors AND people who didn't attend college by improving people's lives all around with a broad slate of policies, not by making this policy inadequate."

Using his executive authority, they said, the president can "decriminalize cannabis, correct the federal poverty lines to bring millions into social safety net programs, march in on prescription drugs, and close longstanding loopholes in the tax code for corporations and ultrarich individuals."

Noting that many borrowers have high interest rates, progressive political strategist Roger Ouellette said the reported proposal "fundamentally misunderstands the predatory nature of student loans."

The reported plan is "an absolute insult," Thomas Gokey, co-founder of the Debt Collective toldCNBC ahead of the rapid response protest. "This is less than what he promised on the campaign."

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