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Biden Administration to Forgive $39 Billion in Student Debt, There’s a Catch

By Ryan Teague Beckwith, Janet Lorin and Akayla Gardner

The US Department of Education will forgive $39 billion in student debt by updating a technical requirement under a long-existing program.

Students on campus at the American University in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. The Bloomberg Businessweek 2021-22 Best B-Schools MBA ranking created a Diversity Index for U.S. business schools that for the first time measures race, ethnicity, and gender. Photographer: Dee Dwyer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The change, announced Friday, will help more than 804,000 borrowers. It comes as the Biden administration pursues alternatives to a $400 billion student loan forgiveness plan that the Supreme Court struck down in June. 

President Joe Biden called the latest move part of his administration’s commitment to “bring the promise of college to every American.”

The new plan counts more payments toward a forgiveness program that kicks in when struggling borrowers have made the equivalent of either 20 or 25 years worth of payments. 

“For far too long, borrowers fell through the cracks of a broken system that failed to keep accurate track of their progress towards forgiveness,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement.

Income-driven plans allow struggling borrowers to make smaller payments and are different from Biden’s broader attempts to alleviate student debt, which is well in excess of $1 trillion.

While the president has been thwarted by the Supreme Court, the administration has discharged $72 billion in targeted loans, such as for students whose for-profit schools closed or qualified public servants. In a Friday statement, Biden touted those efforts, while criticizing Republican lawmakers who object to debt relief.

EXPLAINER: How Biden Lost Court Fight on Student Loan Forgiveness

“We will not stop there,” Vice President Kamala Harris said in a statement. “Our administration will continue to fight to make sure Americans can access high-quality post-secondary education without taking on the burden of unmanageable student loan debt.”

The Education Department began notifying eligible borrowers on Friday and said it would continue to identify those who reach the threshold for eligibility every month until next year. Discharges start within 30 days after email notifications are sent.

After the Supreme Court decision, Biden said he would attempt another mass debt forgiveness plan using a different legal rationale than the one rejected by the court’s conservative majority.

Representative Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican who chairs the Education and the Workforce Committee and opposes forgiveness, called the change announced Friday “illegal” and “shameful.” 

(Updates with Harris comment, in eighth paragraph.)

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