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Biden's student loan forgiveness for SAVE borrowers is win but not home run for advocates

Progressives are celebrating President Joe Biden's $1.2 billion in student loan forgiveness announced Wednesday but pushing for more as he tries other strategies to alleviate the student debt crisis.

Education Department officials are taking Thursday and Friday to discuss the details of an entirely separate relief proposal the Biden administration has been crafting. Whether that plan, which could be more far-reaching, will survive in the courts is yet to be determined.

That’s why Biden has been separately working to forgive targeted groups’ loans in a piecemeal fashion. Separate rounds of relief came after progressives urged the president to come up with an alternate plan to cancel student debt after the Supreme Court last year struck down his first attempt.

The 150,000 borrowers enrolled in the SAVE plan qualified for the Wednesday round of forgiveness. These were people who took out loans of  $12,000 or less and had been making payments for at least 10 years.

Dr. Jessica Saint-Paul, a physician's assistant and community college educator, credited Biden with the recent “life-changing” forgiveness of her student loans when she introduced him to a crowd at a Culver City library in California Wednesday.

“I wanted to be better equipped and I wanted to serve my community. I wanted to live my own American dream,” Saint-Paul said. “I’ve been working hard faced with repaying my loans for almost two decades, but like millions of Americans, doing the right thing wasn’t enough.”

Saint-Paul said she took out about $95,000 in loans to pay for her undergraduate, master's, and doctoral degrees. After 18 years of repayment, she owed $144,562. Two weeks after she gave birth to her daughter, she now owes nothing.

Biden's effort to forgive student debt, she said, is the reason she can afford her Los Angeles mortgage, invest in retirement and save for her family's future.

In his remarks, Biden addressed scenarios like Saint-Paul's, in which borrowers feel pressured to wait to have children until their student loans are paid off.

“Folks, I’m happy to have been able to forgive these loans because when we relieve Americans of student debt, they’re free to chase their dreams,” Biden said.

Student Debt Crisis Center President Natalia Abrams celebrated the announcement Wednesday, saying it gave low-balance borrowers relief they deserved.

“This news will put money back into the pockets of everyday people,” Abrams said in a statement. She added that she believes “student debt cancellation is the path forward to achieve an affordable higher education system in this country again.”

Conservatives criticize the cancelation

Conservative commentators and politicians balked at the news of the president canceling student loan debt. Many argued Biden's workarounds to alleviate the debt crisis are not fair to people who have paid back their loans.

A popular Truth Social user who goes by Gunter Eagleman prompted an online discussion about whether Biden's student loan forgiveness was an attempt to win over voters ahead of the November presidential election.

“If you go to college and sign a college loan, you’re making a commitment to debt,” a popular X and Truth Social user who goes by Gunther Eagleman said. “I think it’s an absolute ploy to buy votes.”

Republican Congressman Byron Donalds, who represents Southwest Florida, took to X to criticize the Wednesday cancelation, saying that taxpayer dollars should not be used to let borrowers off the hook.

"Millions of Americans did not attend college. Millions of Americans paid off their student loans. Millions of Americans have no student loans. That's NOT FAIR to them," Donalds wrote.

Who does and doesn't qualify for this round of forgiveness?

However, Persis Yu, a director at the Student Borrower Protection Center, said the people identified for relief were carefully chosen. The Wednesday cancellation helps some of the most deserving borrowers: people who took out a small amount of money and have struggled to pay it back for a long time.

“When I was working with low-income borrowers, so many were in default on loans, having wages taken from them and their tax refunds seized,” Yu said. “All too often, it’s because borrowers could not navigate the system.”

Student Debt Crisis Center Managing Director Sabrina Calazans said the decision made the Biden administration appear strong ahead of extended student loan relief talks this week.

Calazans, Yu and Satra Taylor, a director at Young Invincibles, emphasized that plenty of people were left out of the relief. Millions of borrowers were unaffected by the Wednesday decision. These three experts separately said they applauded the cancellation, but they were still waiting for Biden to finish the job.

Yu noted that the forgiveness this week did not extend to young people. It applied to people who had put in at least 10 years of repayments. It offered no form of relief to an entire generation of borrowers saddled with debt, she said.

She added that what happened this week was just “one piece" but the Biden administration still must find a way to remedy "a broken system.”

Rachel Barber is a 2024 election fellow at USA TODAY focusing on politics and education. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter as @rachelbarber_

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden's SAVE student loan forgiveness proposal gives progressives hope