Amid new student loan debt relief, Education Secretary Cardona warns of Republican opposition

As the Biden-Harris administration announced additional student debt relief this week, it warned that future efforts to broaden student debt cancellation and reduce the cost of education are in jeopardy due to Republican opposition.

Borrowers who took out loans of $12,000 or less and made payments for 10 years will have their debt forgiven, the White House announced on Friday.

The Saving on a Valuable Education Plan (SAVE) reduces monthly payments from 10% to 5% of a borrower’s discretionary income. 

“The purpose here is to reduce the number of people that go into default,” said U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is pictured. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)

Cardona told theGrio that the administration planned to roll out Friday’s announcement in June but decided to do so ahead of schedule. In the meantime, he is encouraging student borrowers, especially Black borrowers disproportionately burdened by student loans, to sign up for the program. 

“There are other benefits that are coming in July for those who apply for SAVE,” he shared.

Currently, 6.9 million borrowers are enrolled in the plan, and 3.9 million have a $0 monthly payment.

The NAACP, on the frontline of the movement to cancel student debt for Black borrowers, praised the Biden-Harris administration’s announcement of additional debt relief.

“Student debt cancellation is an essential component of the continued fight to close the racial wealth gap,” said Wisdom Cole, national director of youth and college at the NAACP.

“We applaud the Biden Administration for their work to create clear pathways to relief in the absence of broad-based cancellation. This expansion of SAVE will provide much-needed relief to millions of borrowers who face crippling debt at the hands of exorbitant interest rates.” 

As the White House touts its latest round of debt relief, many borrowers are still awaiting the Biden-Harris administration’s anticipated Plan B for broad student loan debt cancellation after the Supreme Court killed President Biden’s initial plan to cancel up to $20,000 for borrowers making under $125,000.

The administration is currently negotiating a rulemaking process under the Higher Education Act that officials hope will present a debt relief program similar to the one struck down by the conservative majority on the high court. 

Student loan borrowers and advocates gathered for the People’s Rally To Cancel Student Debt on February 28, 2023, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for People’s Rally to Cancel Student Debt )

When asked if Black borrowers can expect such an announcement in 2024, Cardona told theGrio, “We’re hoping so.”

“We’re pushing to try to get as much done as quickly as possible,” he said. 

However, the education secretary warned that given the Supreme Court ruling last summer, any future program is likely to be challenged in court by Republican opposition. Therefore, the administration has to “make sure we’re moving forward carefully, listening to what the response of the Supreme Court was when they shut down the other debt forgiveness program.”

Absent an alternative to Biden’s now-scrapped student debt forgiveness program, the administration has diligently worked to provide economic relief to borrowers through existing programs and executive authority like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which provides debt relief to government and nonprofit employees. 

“We’re gonna do everything in our power to provide debt relief [and] ease of repayment,” said Cardona, who highlighted actions the administration has taken like giving borrowers a year before reporting nonpayments to credit agencies, holding student loan servicers accountable for bad practices, and making updates to FAFSA applications to expand the number of Pell Grant recipients, among other things.

“We’re not gonna stop fighting,” said Cardona, who boasted “more has been done in two and a half years [of the Biden-Harris administration] than any other administration combined.”

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (L) and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona (R), U.S. President Joe Biden in the State Dining Room of the White House October 4, 2022, in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

This year, Americans will vote to either reelect President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris or elect a new Republican administration. While Secretary Cardona is restricted from speaking about elections under the Hatch Act, he made clear the Biden-Harris administration and Republicans have two very different agendas for students, borrowers, and the future of education. 

“Pay attention to what people are saying, not only in the administration but in Congress,” said Cardona. 

“There’s dollars for 14,000 more school social workers and mental health providers at a time where we have a youth mental health crisis,” the education secretary explained. “Some of our colleagues on the Hill are trying to cut our budget for Title I schools by 80%.”

Cardona also accused Republicans of “hypocrisy” for their efforts to block President Biden’s student debt forgiveness plan, as many of them “received over a million dollars in debt relief themselves.” The secretary appeared to refer to previous reports about Republican lawmakers pocketing thousands in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan forgiveness during the pandemic. 

“We have folks that are fighting for students and see education as an investment in our country,” said Cardona, referring to the administration. He added, “And we have folks that don’t…I’ll just leave it there.”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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The Biden-Harris administration announced additional student debt relief for borrowers, forgiving loans of $12,000 or less for those who made payments for 10 years. The administration also reduced monthly payments from 10% to 5% of a borrower’s discretionary income through the Saving on a Valuable Education Plan (SAVE). This initiative aims to reduce the number of people who default on their loans. The NAACP praised the administration’s announcement, highlighting the importance of student debt cancellation in closing the racial wealth gap. However, the Supreme Court rejected President Biden’s initial plan to cancel up to $20,000 for certain borrowers, and any future efforts are likely to face opposition from Republicans. U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona emphasized the administration’s commitment to providing relief to borrowers through existing programs and executive authority, despite the opposition. This sets the stage for a contrast between the Biden-Harris administration’s agenda and that of the Republicans, as highlighted by Education Secretary Cardona. The administration is working to provide economic relief to borrowers and expand access to education, while the Republican agenda may not prioritize these issues.

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