According to a November 11 tweet from Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, 10,000 public servants had already had $715 million in debt forgiven. The total in the coming weeks was expected to reach 30,000 people and $2 billion.
The people affected are in many occupations, but teachers are one of the big groups affected. According to recent numbers from the National Education Association, 45% of educators had to take student loans to attend college, averaging $55,800. To do the valuable work of teaching. Of that 45%, 14% who still had unpaid student loan debt had a balance of $105,000 or more—and educators of color and younger educators were struggling the most with debt.
“The burden is off,” a paramedic with a new baby at home told NPR after his $19,000 in debt was erased. “I can’t tell you how I spread my joy, like, through the rafters at work,” a Pennsylvania state government employee said after $20,000 in loans was forgiven.
On social media, many people celebrating that their loans had been forgiven also noted that they had paid back close to the original amount they borrowed—but had fallen further behind because of interest.
The people whose loans are now being forgiven fall into the most straightforward categories to straighten out administratively, but several other categories of people are becoming eligible to have their status reassessed, including people who need to consolidate loans through the federal Direct Consolidation loan program and do a bunch of other, doubtless frustrating, paperwork, along with people who need to certify that their jobs qualify them for the PSLF program. Additionally, people whose loan records have irregularities or errors may need to request a manual review. The deadline for getting into the Limited PSLF Waiver program is October 31, 2022.
You can check out a small part of the explosion of happiness below. But working in public service should never have demanded that people take on life-altering debt. Starting to fix it shouldn’t have taken this long. It shouldn’t be this stressful or difficult. And public service loan forgiveness should only be a tiny part of the Biden administration’s actions on the student debt front.
President Joe Biden should take note of the joy and relief coming from this necessary but limited action. He could get this reaction on steroids if he would simply follow through on his campaign promise to cancel $10,000 of every borrower’s student debt. He would have gotten a bigger and better response if he had done so months ago, rather than letting angst and anxiety and anger build up around whether he’d fulfill his promise. He would get a bigger and better response if he canceled more than $10,000 per borrower, as economic and racial justice demand.
Whatever he’s thinking of doing, Biden should look at the response to the first 10,000 public service workers getting loan forgiveness of $715 million, and the next 20,000 public service workers expected to get loan forgiveness of another $1.2 billion or so, and think about the explosion of joy and pure “now I can get on with my life” if he did more.
Yes, some people would howl and wail about it. But the people who would be most likely to vote on their feelings about this specific issue? They would be the happy ones.