- President-elect Joe Biden will extend the current pause on the student loan forbearance program on his first day in office, according to his transition official.
- Biden supports Congress forgiving $10,000 in student loan debt for each person, but he has not provided a timeframe to do so.
- Lawmakers and Biden disagree on whether Biden can use executive powers to cancel student debt.
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President-elect Joe Biden plans to prioritize federal student loan debt forgiveness on the first day of his presidency, but questions still remain on the likelihood of carrying out his forgiveness plans.
Last week, Biden's transition official David Kamin told reporters that Biden will direct the Department of Education on day one to extend the student loan forbearance program, which is the first direct promise the president-elect has made in combating the $1.6 trillion student debt crisis.
Kamin also said in the press call that Biden supports Congress canceling $10,000 of federal student loan debt per person — an idea that Biden had previously supported as proposed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and her Democratic colleagues.
While forgiving $10,000 for each person with student debt is widely favorable — Warren is pushing for $50,000 to be forgiven — whether Biden can achieve this in a timely manner remains unclear.
In terms of extending the student loan forbearance program, there are no apparent doubts that Biden can achieve this during his first day. On Dec. 4, former Sec. of Education Betsy Devos extended the program through Jan. 31, and Biden promises to extend this once again, which he will likely accomplish.
But in terms of forgiving a minimum of $10,000 of student debt per person, Biden has provided no clear time frame for doing so and said he will not use executive action on this issue, but he will support Congress should they choose to act on it.
There is a discrepancy among Biden and lawmakers on whether Biden can use his executive powers to cancel debt – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said to reporters last month, "You don't need Congress; All you need is the flick of the pen."
And in a letter to Warren from attorneys from Harvard Law School's Legal Services Center, they said that under the Higher Education Act, the president could direct the secretary of education to cancel student debt.
But Biden told The Washington Post that it is "arguable" the president can use executive powers to cancel student debt, and he said he would be unlikely to do so, so the status of the cancelation of a minimum of $10,000 of debt remains in the hands of Congress.
And President Donald Trump's administration is using its last days to halt progressive action on student debt.
In a memo the Dept. of Education released on Tuesday, it said that "the Secretary does not have statutory authority to provide blanket or mass cancellation, compromise, discharge, or forgiveness of student loan principal balances, and/or to materially modify the repayment amounts or terms thereof, whether due to the COVID-19 pandemic or for any other reason."
So although Biden could choose to change exisiting laws governing student loans, this memo comes at a time when he is already straying from the progressive push for debt cancelation.
With a Democratic majority in the House and Senate, Biden's plans to adddress student debt are likely to see success, but clarity is lacking on how and when the president-elect's plans will be accomplished.
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