Forgive student debt: Yo-yo no more!

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As the son of a toy-seller, I enjoy a yo-yo as much as the next child-at-heart. Something I find less fun is being yo-yoed. Lately, my expectations regarding President Joe Biden’s promise to forgive a substantial amount of student loans have been doing a lot of rising and falling.

I am one of the 26 million borrowers who submitted an application for the relief program when it went live online. Although it was quickly approved, I, like many other struggling Americans desperate for reprieve, have been left feeling powerless in the face of repeated rug-pulling.

There’s a word that comes up when I talk to friends about their college experience: punishing. Not in the context of the academic or social aspects of attending university, but to lament the persistent financial burden of attending even the cheapest of state schools.

There are over 43 million individuals contending with student debt in the United States today, who collectively owe more than $1.6 trillion. This total has grown significantly over the last few decades as the cost of college has risen unchecked. With 63% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, many borrowers have only stayed afloat because of the recurrent repayment pauses.

Such pauses were in response to tremendous opposition to Biden’s initiative from Republican and Democratic politicians alike. Much of it is rooted in bad faith toward the working class. A common complaint is that it’s “not fair to people who have already paid off their loans,” a statement so blatantly disingenuous that it doesn’t even deserve a polite rebuttal.

Yet another argument, popular with the conservative majority of the Supreme Court, is that the $400 billion plan is beyond the scope of the Heroes Act of 2003, which the Biden administration invoked. Though they may claim that new Congressional action on this issue is needed, the 2003 law does not limit the power of the Secretary of Education to “waive or modify” loans in the face of a national emergency. It is dishonest to imply that Covid wasn’t and isn’t a legitimate catastrophe that calls for immediate extraordinary action.

If it’s not the government’s job to come to the aid of the disadvantaged and create a better country for everyone to live in, then what is its job exactly? We have elected these politicians to wield our tax dollars to our benefit, and they are demanding that we suffer instead.

It’s hard enough to endorse Joe Biden’s timid plan to forgive up to $20,000 per borrower who makes less than $125,000 per year. Other Democrats have put forth better plans to cancel even more debt, but Joe Biden is candidly uninterested in pursuing higher targets. Studies show that forgiving up to $50,000 per borrower (as in a plan by senators Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren) would entirely cover the loans of 80% of young borrowers.

Not only that, Black and other Americans of color — who are disproportionately affected by the student loan crisis — would have their overall wealth increased by a whopping approximately 40% under such a plan. In a more just world, Bernie Sanders’ call to cancel all student debt would get the attention it deserves.

The reality is that a college should be completely free! Certainly, drastically reducing its runaway cost is a necessity for achieving a highly educated and less burdened population. But going ahead with Joe Biden’s forgiveness plan right now is a vital first step that will give young people starting out in pandemic-ravaged America a better future.

As it is, things aren’t encouraging for young borrowers as we wait for a verdict from the most right-wing Supreme Court we’ve seen in our lifetimes. But I have not given up hope that we will solve this crisis.

Whether or not Biden’s plan fails (and our government continues to yo-yo millions of us above a lake of unfair debt), the young workers, dreamers, and academics of this country ultimately have the power to shed the financial yoke that binds us. When we stand in solidarity, we will always topple unjust systems designed to keep our faces in the dirt. The days of oppressive student debt are numbered!

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