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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley

Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) partipate in a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on February 27, 2019. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

'We Can Do Better' Than Biden's Paltry Student Debt Relief Plan, Says AOC

The president's approach, said the New York Democrat, is "just enough to anger the people against it *and* the people who need forgiveness the most."

Julia Conley

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Friday joined economic justice advocates in rebuking President Joe Biden's reported plan to cancel just $10,000 in federal student loan debt for a means-tested selection of borrowers, warning the proposal is too little for those who need it most while excluding many desperate for relief.

"$10,000 [of] means-tested forgiveness is just enough to anger the people against it and the people who need forgiveness the most," the New York Democrat said. "We can do better."

Ocasio-Cortez responded to reports about the plan, which would offer relief to individuals who earned less than $150,000 in the previous year, as advocates held a rapid response protest outside the White House to demand the Biden administration provide more ambitious relief.

The congresswoman was among the critics who noted that many student borrowers are paying off thousands of dollars in interest, which "will undo that $10,000 fast."

"$10,000 student debt relief just isn't enough," said Lauren Miller, communications director for the Harvard Institute of Politics. "Especially if it's not paired with a huge reduction on interest rates, banning federal aid from going to for-profit colleges, a massive increase in Pell Grants, and free public college."

After the rapid response protests were announced Friday morning, the Student Borrower Protection Center announced that an "historic coalition" of 529 labor and civil rights groups called on President Joe Biden to cancel at least $50,000 of student debt per borrower, as Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have proposed.

The groups include national labor unions such as the UAW and the SEIU as well as the NAACP.

The support for broad relief from labor unions counters claims from corporate Democrats, Republicans, and White House officials that large-scale student loan relief would unfairly benefit the wealthy, said one critic.

As Max Moran and Hannah Story Brown of the Revolving Door Project wrote in a Common Dreams op-ed Friday, the administration's insistence on an "artificially limited" plan capping relief at $10,000 will "come down hardest on the most vulnerable."

"For 83% of Black borrowers, canceling only $10,000 of debt would still leave them with a balance higher than their original amount," Moran and Brown wrote, because over the last two decades, the median student debt balance for these borrowers quadrupled from $7,000 to $30,000.

"What should be a slam-dunk opportunity to energize voters young and old, and especially voters of color, may instead become a bureaucratic mess that offers too little relief for too much complexity—which is exactly what student debt profiteers want from a loan forgiveness policy, if we are to have one at all," they added.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said Biden's reported plan does not go "as far and as deep as the hurt is" as she called for more "bold" and "meaningful" reforms.

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