Student loan borrowers and advocacy groups continue to pressure President Biden to enact sweeping student loan cancellation. But administration officials are touting $15 billion in student loan forgiveness that has already been provided to hundreds of thousands of borrowers during Biden’s first year in office.
Student Loan Forgiveness Under Biden: $15 Billion for 675,000 Borrowers
“I am proud of everything our team at [the U.S. Department of Education] has accomplished in this first year & remain inspired & committed to accomplish even more in the months and years ahead,” said Education Secretary Miguel Cardona in a tweet on Thursday, marking exactly one year since President Biden assumed office. Cardona shared a graphic celebrating the administration’s achievement on education policy, including billions of dollars in student loan forgiveness for 675,000 borrowers.
The student loan forgiveness referenced by Cardona largely stems from the Biden administration’s expansion of three key existing federal student loan relief programs:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): Under the Limited PSLF Waiver program unveiled by the Education Department in October, the Biden administration is easing the rules governing the settled student loan program for borrowers who have devoted their careers to nonprofit or public organizations. Through October 31, 2022, the Department is expanding the definition of “qualifying payments” to include most types of federal student loans and any type of repayment plan, allowing tens of thousands of borrowers to get immediate loan forgiveness, and many more to get closer to the 120 total payments that are required to become eligible for relief.
- Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) Discharge: Under the TPD Discharge program, the Biden administration has provided automatic federal student loan for cancellation of hundreds of thousands of disabled borrowers who are receiving Social Security disability benefits. In addition, the administration has indefinitely suspended post-discharge monitoring of a borrower’s employment earnings, which had been required under federal rules for three years following discharge approval. The Education Department is currently working to overhaul the TPD discharge regulations to permanently eliminate income monitoring and make applying for a TPD discharge easier for borrowers in the future.
- Borrower Defense To Repayment: The Biden administration has been trying to fix the troubled Borrower Defense to Repayment program, which allows federal student loan borrowers to request cancellation of their debt if their school engaged in certain kinds of fraud or misrepresentations that induced them to attend or remain enrolled. The Department has reversed a prior policy allowing officials to provide little or no relief even for approved Borrower defense claims, and has tried to expedite the processing of applications for certain groups of borrowers who attended specific for-profit schools. Still, the program remains mired in bureaucratic and legal disputes, and the Department still has a large backlog of thousands of unprocessed applications.
Biden also extended the ongoing payment pause on federal student loan billing and interest to May 1, adding to the $60 billion in waiver payments and interest accrual.
Will Biden Provide More Student Loan Forgiveness?
While the administration celebrates its recent initiatives, the $15 billion in student loan forgiveness provided so far amounts to less than 1% of total outstanding student loan debt. Biden campaigned on providing $10,000 in federal student loan forgiveness for every borrower. He also proposed for giving all undergraduate federal student loan debt for borrowers with annual incomes under $125,000 who attended public colleges and universities or historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and private minority-serving institutions (MSIs).
But Biden has expressed reluctance to act unilaterally without Congress, hesitance about supporting a greater amount of student loan forgiveness, and uncertainty that he would have the legal authority to rely on executive action alone. When asked about student loan forgiveness at a press conference earlier this week, Biden ignored the question.
Biden directed the Education and Justice Departments to explore the potential legality of broad student loan forgiveness last April, but the resulting legal memos — which some White House officials said would be released quickly — have yet to be produced.
Still, additional student loan forgiveness initiatives by Biden are not off the table. The extended payment pause provides more time for the administration to consider its options, including a temporary expansion of Income Based Repayment plans being touted by some advocacy groups that could result in billions more in student loan forgiveness if enacted.
Further Student Loan Reading
Student Loan Forgiveness Updates: New Changes Coming In 2022 For Public Service Borrowers
Navient Student Loan Settlement: Who Qualifies For Relief, And What To Do
4 Signs That Student Loan Cancellation Isn’t Off The Table
Income Based Repayment: Advocates Call On Biden To Enact Sweeping Reforms For Student Loan Borrowers