Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness: Too Much, Not Enough, Just Right, or Beyond the President’s Authority?

In August, President Joe Biden’s administration announced a student loan forgiveness plan which would cancel up to $10,000 in debt for most borrowers and up to $20,000 for some borrowers.1 Current federal student loan borrowers who earn less than $125,000 per year (less than $250,000 per household) can have up to $10,000 forgiven and those who received Pell Grants can have up to $20,000 forgiven.2 Pell Grants are a type of federal financial aid for undergraduates who demonstrate the most need.3 As many as 43 million Americans could see their debt reduced through this plan.4

The plan is currently being challenged in court by several Republican state attorneys general. These states are arguing that President Biden is overstepping his authority and that the plan may harm some private lenders “because it would prompt millions of borrowers … to consolidate their debt into the main federal student program.”5

In addition, 22 Republican governors have argued that the plan is unfair to those who have already paid off their debt. “For many borrowers, they worked hard, made sacrifices, and paid off their debt,” wrote the governors. “For many others, they chose hard work and a paycheck rather than more school and a loan. Americans who did not choose to take out student loans themselves should certainly not be forced to pay for the student loans of others.”6

Democrats, including members of the Biden administration, have pushed back against these arguments. “Let’s be clear about what they would be trying to do here: The same folks who voted for a $2 trillion tax giveaway for the rich and had hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own small business loan debt forgiven would be trying to keep millions of working middle-class Americans in mountains of debt,” said White House spokesperson Abdullah Hasan.7

However, the Biden administration is also receiving pushback from members of its own party who believe the plan does not go far enough. For example, campaign strategist Angelo Greco said, “It’s a small, small addition. … I just don’t see how anyone who has been pushing for at least $50,000 and citing all the racial equity stats as motivation to do it can be thrilled about something that scratches the surface of a systemic crisis.”8

“We think roughly 20 million people will be debt-free,” said Thomas Gokey, an organizer with the Debt Collective. “For many others this will do very little. We have more work to do.”9 For his part, Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called the move “a big deal” but added he believes “we have got to do more” to make higher education more affordable, such as making public colleges tuition free.10

It is not clear how the courts will rule on the various challenges being raised against the plan, but it is clear that this issue will be on voters’ minds during the midterms and other elections to come.

Join Us! On November 16, Close Up will host a free online panel discussion about student loan forgiveness and the costs of higher education (register here). The webinar will be followed by a reflection session for students from across the country to share their views on this pressing issue (register here).

Discussion Questions

  1. Are you worried about the costs of college? Why or why not?
  2. Do you support President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan? Why or why not?
  3. Do you think the federal government should take other steps relating to the cost of college? If so, what actions would you support?

 

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Paul Morigi/Getty Images
[1] The College Investor: https://thecollegeinvestor.com/40628/president-bidens-student-loan-forgiveness/
[2] CBS News: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/student-loan-forgiveness-application-biden-relief-plan/
[3] CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2022/08/25/politics/pell-grant-student-loan-forgiveness/index.html
[4] Axios: https://www.axios.com/2022/09/20/biden-student-loan-forgiveness-legal-challenges
[5] CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2022/10/24/bidens-student-loan-forgiveness-plan-is-on-hold-what-borrowers-need-to-know.html
[6] Business Insider: https://www.businessinsider.com/gop-governors-block-student-debt-relief-states-millions-would-benefit-2022-9
[7] CNBC: https://www.cnbc.com/2022/09/07/republicans-may-try-to-block-student-loan-forgiveness.html
[8] The Hill: https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/3614316-progressives-hail-biden-for-action-on-student-loans/
[9] Ibid.
[10] Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/nicholasreimann/2022/08/24/progressives-praise-bidens-student-debt-cancellation-as-gop-and-moderates-voice-concern/?sh=3ab17b8074da

 

Despite White House Push for Updated COVID-19 Boosters, Americans Are Slow to Roll Up Their Sleeves

Last Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration expanded eligibility for updated COVID-19 booster shots to include children as young as five. Prior to this announcement, the revised Pfizer vaccine was restricted to those 12 and older and the Moderna vaccine was restricted to those 18 and older.1

These updated booster shots address the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the omicron variant that first appeared in November 2021. They also address the original strain of the COVID-19 virus and have been shown to be highly effective in combating the worst effects of the virus. While widespread vaccination continues to be a critical element in White House efforts to combat the pandemic, many Americans young and old have not received all of the booster shots recommended to them.

The updated booster shots have had a slow uptake nationally among both adults and children, proving to be a significant challenge to the pandemic strategy of President Joe Biden’s administration. The administration continues to grapple with dwindling public interest and shrinking funding for the pandemic response.

While the initial vaccines were highly sought after and widely distributed, successive boosters have received significantly less public interest. Of the 226 million Americans who completed the initial round of vaccination, only about half received at least one booster shot. Since the updated booster shots were authorized in August, only around 13 million Americans have received them.2 This may be in large part because Americans are unaware of the existence of this revised booster. According to one survey, half of adults said they had heard little or nothing about the new booster shots.3

Many families are particularly hesitant to vaccinate their children against COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about a third of children aged 5-11 have received an initial round of vaccination.4 Within that group, only about 16 percent of children received the original booster shot, which became available to them in May.5 Public health officials are working to increase this number and to encourage parents to vaccinate their children with the revised booster.

Weekly Increase in the Number of US Children Ages 5-11Recieving their Initial Covid-19 Vaccination”

The Biden administration has prioritized vaccination amidst its struggle to secure funding for the continued fight against COVID-19. This summer, the administration requested that Congress allocate billions of dollars to pay for more vaccines, testing, therapeutics, and research to combat future variants.6

In March, House Democrats dropped a COVID-19 aid package from a broader spending package to fund the government after some in their caucus disagreed with plans to pay for it by redirecting money set aside for some state governments to address their pandemic needs as part of the American Rescue Plan. A few weeks later, a smaller bipartisan deal came together in the Senate, but it ultimately collapsed when Republicans insisted the chamber vote on keeping pandemic border restrictions in place.7

To date, Congress has been unable to pass a new pandemic relief package. White House officials instead decided to repurpose federal COVID-19 funds meant for tests and protective equipment in order to supply more vaccines and antiviral pills.8 Around $10 billion in funds from the Department of Health and Human Services was rerouted, and about half of it was used to purchase vaccines for Americans ahead of a possible winter wave of virus cases. These reallocated funds were used to buy over 170 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine—enough to vaccinate most of the roughly 225 million Americans who have had an initial round of vaccination.9 Despite the Biden administration pouring resources into vaccination efforts, whether Americans will respond by rolling up their sleeves remains to be seen.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are some additional reasons that Americans who received the initial COVID-19 vaccine might not be getting the booster and updated booster shots?
  2. Given the low fatality rates among children, should the federal government prioritize efforts to get children vaccinated and boosted? If not, which groups should it prioritize and why?
  3. Do you support increased spending on vaccination efforts? Why or why not?

 

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Sarah ReingeWirtz/Medianews Group/ Los Angeles Daily News Via Getty Images
[1] Center for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2022/s1012-COVID-19-Vaccines.html
[2] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/15/us/politics/covid-booster-shots.html
[3] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/30/health/omicron-booster-covid.html
[4] American Academy of Pediatrics: https://www.aap.org/en/pages/2019-novel-coronavirus-covid-19-infections/children-and-covid-19-vaccination-trends
[5] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/12/us/politics/covid-booster-shots-kids.html
[6] CBS News: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/covid-vaccines-updated-boosters-new-ad-campaign-biden-administration/
[7] Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2022/09/20/gop-balks-covid-funding-after-biden-declares-pandemic-is-over/
[8] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/08/us/politics/vaccines-white-house-funding.html
[9] New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/15/us/politics/covid-booster-shots.html

 

Does Religious Freedom Guarantee Abortion Access?

On October 6, three Jewish women filed a lawsuit against the state of Kentucky claiming that the state’s current abortion restrictions are vague and violate their religious freedom.1 Kentucky’s state legislature passed a series of bills in 2019 that banned abortion from fertilization, only allowing for abortion if the mother’s life is in danger. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.2

These laws were allowed to go into effect after the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022). That decision overturned Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992), both of which previously found that access to abortion was a constitutional right. Because of the Dobbs decision, access to and restrictions on abortion are now in the hands of the states.3

The women in the Kentucky lawsuit all argue that the abortion ban violates Jewish law and practices and forces pregnant Jews to conform to another set of religious beliefs. For over a millennium, Jewish scholars have developed answers to questions regarding when life starts, reproductive rights, and abortion. The majority of Jewish denominations teach that a fetus becomes a human life at birth; therefore, a fetus does not have the same rights as a person. They believe that the life and health of the mother (frequently understood to include mental and emotional health) must take precedence over that of the fetus.4

The case claims that Kentucky law forces Jewish women who screen their pregnancies and in vitro fertilization (IVF) embryos for genetic anomalies to violate their religious beliefs by continuing unviable pregnancies. The case also states that families are harmed financially by requiring storage for embryos indefinitely.5

Jessica Kalb, who has struggled with infertility, has nine embryos currently frozen from her previous round of IVF and wants another child. However, the embryos have not been screened to see if they are compatible with life, and under Kentucky law, it is unclear if disposing of incompatible embryos would be illegal. She has decided not to go forward with another pregnancy.

Lisa Sobel’s daughter is also a result of IVF, and the Sobel family wants more children. However, she had a very difficult first pregnancy and worries what might happen in the second. “At this point, I’m scared to try and have another child,” she said. “If I miscarry, I could bleed out before the doctors and the lawyers could decide whether or not they could treat me or if I needed to be prosecuted, and that’s not a risk I’m willing to take for myself or my child or my husband.”6

Finally, Sarah Baron claims in the lawsuit that as an Ashkenazi Jew, she has a higher risk of passing on genetic diseases such as Tay-Sachs disease, which is always fatal.7 The suit states that without the option of abortion, nonviable pregnancies cause psychological harm to the mother and cannot be terminated as is expected under Jewish law.8 The case is scheduled to be heard on November 15.

In response, Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron indicated that he would defend the law. “The General Assembly has made it clear that Kentucky will protect unborn life and these laws are an important part of the commonwealth,” he said on October 6.9 Cameron is running for governor in 2023 and his platform addresses his support for ending abortion in the state.

Other states’ abortion restrictions are also being challenged in court by Jewish communities. In Indiana, Hoosier Jews for Choice are plaintiffs in a case suing the state over its abortion restrictions, and in Florida, a synagogue is taking the issue to court.10 Also in Florida, three rabbis joined a suit that includes a United Church of Christ reverend, a Unitarian Universalist minister, an Episcopal Church priest, and a Buddhist lama in order to challenge the restrictions in the state.11 It is likely that other organizations in states where abortion is restricted will follow.

Discussion Questions

  1. Kentucky law states that human life starts at fertilization. Does it matter if that law is at odds with a person’s deeply held religious beliefs? Why or why not?
  2. IVF is a medical intervention that relies on extracting and fertilizing multiple eggs at a time, knowing that not all will be used. What should be done with the unused embryos?
  3. Deeply held religious beliefs have granted individuals and organizations permission to refuse vaccination compliance or to refuse to cover certain types of health care for their employees. How is the Kentucky case similar to or different from those religious arguments?

 

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion about abortion and religious freedom with your comments or questions below.

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: Bruce Schreiner/AP
[1] Sobel et al. v. Cameron: https://htv-prod-media.s3.amazonaws.com/files/sobel-complaint-against-cameron-1665079005.pdf; Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2022/10/10/kentucky-abortion-law-2022-jewish-lawsuit/
[2] Kentucky Legislature: https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/recorddocuments/bill/19RS/hb148/bill.pdf
[3] Supreme Court: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf
[4] National Council of Jewish Women: https://www.ncjw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Judaism-and-Abortion-FINAL.pdf; Rabbi Susan Grossman: https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/sites/default/files/public/halakhah/teshuvot/20052010/grossman_partial_birth.pdf
[5] Sobel et al. v. Cameron: https://htv-prod-media.s3.amazonaws.com/files/sobel-complaint-against-cameron-1665079005.pdf
[6] Lexington Herald-Leader: https://www.kentucky.com/news/politics-government/article266756996.html
[7] Boston Medical Center: https://www.bmc.org/genetic-services/jewish-genetic-disease-screening
[8] Sobel et al. v. Cameron: https://htv-prod-media.s3.amazonaws.com/files/sobel-complaint-against-cameron-1665079005.pdf
[9] ABC News: https://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/jewish-women-cite-faith-contesting-kentucky-abortion-ban-91135292
[10] Indy Star: https://www.indystar.com/story/news/2022/09/08/indiana-abortion-law-runs-afoul-of-religious-freedom-restoration-act-lawsuit-claims/66888195007/; NPR. https://www.npr.org/2022/06/15/1105229512/florida-abortion-law-synagogue-lawsuit-15-weeks
[11] Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/world/us/florida-clergy-lawsuits-say-abortion-ban-violates-religious-freedom-2022-08-02/

 

The Voting Rights Act Goes to Court, Again

On October 4, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of Merrill v. Milligan. In that case, the Court is considering whether the Voting Rights Act of 1965 should apply to Alabama’s recent congressional redistricting. One section of the Voting Rights Act requires that states provide minority voters with “an equal opportunity to participate in the political process.”1

Close Up Classroom Resources

Gerrymandering: Should the federal government mandate that states end partisan gerrymandering?

What Are the Details of the Case?

Alabama has a large Black population but that population does not have a significant impact on the election of Alabama’s members of the House of Representatives.2 Only one of Alabama’s seven districts is set up so that minority voters have the potential to sway the election. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Black voters have less opportunity than other Alabamians to elect congressional candidates of their choice.3 As NPR reports, ”Black voters are either concentrated in that district so they are a supermajority there or spread out across the remaining six districts so that their voting power is diluted. It’s a practice known as packing and cracking.”4

A summary of the case’s road to the Supreme Court from Axios states:

  • A three-judge lower court, including two appointees of former President Donald Trump, found in January that Alabama’s congressional map violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. “The appropriate remedy is a congressional redistricting plan that includes either an additional majority-Black congressional district, or an additional district in which Black voters otherwise have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice,” the judges said in a 225-page ruling.
  • The state of Alabama asked the Supreme Court to put the lower court ruling on hold while it appealed, which the justices allowed, the Associated Press reports.5

WATCH: The Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument in Alabama Racial Gerrymandering Case, from NBC News

What Were Alabama’s Arguments?

The state of Alabama argues that its districts are legal and that they were drawn in a race-neutral manner.6 During oral argument, the attorney for Alabama argued that there are many possible configurations of the congressional districts, and that computer models did not necessarily produce a map that was more favorable to minority voters. They stated that even the “plaintiffs’ [the other side’s] own witnesses testified about millions of possible race-neutral plans that, like Alabama’s plan, have no more than one majority-minority district. Plaintiffs were able to produce comparator plans with more majority-Black districts only by starting with a ‘nonnegotiable’ racial target and backfilling with other redistricting criteria after that target had been hit.”7

What Were the Plaintiffs’ Arguments?

Deuel Ross, senior counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, argued for the plaintiffs. “There is nothing race-neutral about Alabama’s map,” he said. “The Black Belt is a historic and extremely poor community of substantial significance. Yet Alabama’s map cracks that community and allows [a] white block voting to deny Black voters the opportunity to elect representation responsive to their needs.”8

Ross also argued that the plaintiffs were not asking for guarantees that Black voters would be a majority or the major force in any district. Instead, they were asking for a plan that drew Black voters in districts where they are given “at least a fair chance—not even a guaranteed chance—to elect their candidates of choice in a second district.”9

WATCH: A Starting Point’s Divide & Conquer

What’s Next?

While the Supreme Court has already heard the case, it is unlikely that its decision will be handed down before June 2023.

Discussion Questions

  1. What have you learned about redistricting, gerrymandering, and the Voting Rights Act?
  2. What other issues relating to elections and voting do you think are important to discuss?
  3. How do you think the Supreme Court should rule in this case? Why?
  4. Do you believe that the U.S. system of campaigns, elections, and voting is fundamentally fair? Why or why not?

As always, we encourage you to join the discussion with your comments or questions below.

 

Sources

Featured Image Credit: William Hennessy, featured in SCOTUSblog
[1] Axios: https://www.axios.com/2022/10/04/supreme-court-voting-rights-act-merrill-milligan
[2] SCOTUSblog: https://www.scotusblog.com/2022/10/conservative-justices-seem-poised-to-uphold-alabamas-redistricting-plan-in-voting-rights-act-challenge/
[3] National Conference of State Legislatures: https://www.ncsl.org/blog/2022/07/26/-supreme-court-to-decide-alabama-redistricting-case.aspx
[4] NPR: https://www.npr.org/2022/10/04/1126804414/supreme-court-voting-rights-act
[5] Axios: https://www.axios.com/2022/10/04/supreme-court-voting-rights-act-merrill-milligan
[6] CBS News: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/supreme-court-hears-alabama-redistricting-case/
[7] National Conference of State Legislatures: https://www.ncsl.org/blog/2022/07/26/-supreme-court-to-decide-alabama-redistricting-case.aspx
[8] NPR: https://www.npr.org/2022/10/04/1126804414/supreme-court-voting-rights-act
[9] CBS News: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/supreme-court-hears-alabama-redistricting-case/