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Biden will once again try to pay off student loan debt for millions of Americans

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden unveiled a proposal that would help tens of millions of Americans pay off crushing student loans.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I will never stop to deliver student debt relief from hardworking Americans. And it's only in the interest of America that we do it.

FADEL: Biden made the announcement yesterday in Madison, Wis., the capital of a critical swing state. It's another attempt by the president to fulfill a campaign promise from 2020, after the Supreme Court blocked his first attempt to wipe out billions of dollars in student debt. For more on all this, we're joined now by Education Secretary Miguel Cardona.

Good morning, and thanks for being on the program.

MIGUEL CARDONA: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

FADEL: So what will this plan do?

CARDONA: Well, you know, first of all, it's really our work to fix a broken higher education system and give Americans a fair shot at higher education. The efforts combined will support over 30 million borrowers to give them access to higher education without crushing debt or runaway interest, which we know is happening across the country today.

FADEL: And when will these millions of Americans feel this relief? I mean, at what point will this plan go into effect?

CARDONA: Sure. We have - we're going to be releasing the proposal in a couple of weeks. And as the process works, we open it up for a comment period. And we're hoping to implement a portion of it - especially the runaway interest part - in the fall. I spoke to a teacher yesterday in New York who took out a loan for $30,000 and has been working in the profession for about 10 years. And that loan ballooned to $60,000. So when she makes payments, she doesn't even touch the principal. That's a system that's broken, and we're glad that we get to fix it.

FADEL: And how will this plan impact her? I mean, I know that it's supposed to wipe away the entire amount of debt for some 4 million people.

CARDONA: We've already provided debt relief to 4 million people, with a total of over $140 billion in debt relief. But for this teacher specifically, it allows this teacher to focus on the principal and not pay the interest that has ballooned. We're also looking to provide debt relief for public servants who have earned Public Service Loan Forgiveness in a bipartisan bill passed in 2007. But the implementation of that plan was broken and not working for our teachers, for our police officers, our nurses, our veterans. So we're fixing that system, too, where we're going to provide debt relief to those folks without having them jump through hurdles to try to get the debt relief that they've earned.

FADEL: Now, this was part of a key campaign promise that President Biden made in 2020, and it's been a struggle for the administration. A lot of critics, mostly Republicans, accused the president of unlawfully using his executive authority to make taxpayers pay for this release - relief. And they've challenged past attempts, like we saw in the Supreme Court. So opponents are expected to probably challenge this plan in court, too. Will it hold up?

CARDONA: It definitely will hold up. I'm using the authority under the Higher Education Act that I'm afforded, and I'm going to use it unapologetically to open the doors to higher education for more people across the country. Again, we have to remember, prior to the work that we've been doing here, we've normalized 1 million student loan defaults a year. That's bad for our students, for our borrowers and for our country. So as the president said yesterday, we want to give Americans a fair shot at higher education.

FADEL: I'm going to read you something that Maya MacGuineas of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget recently said. Quote, "we most certainly shouldn't be paying off student debt by adding to public debt." Is that what this plan does?

CARDONA: It doesn't. It makes whole a bipartisan agreement that was made in 2007 for public servants to receive debt relief after 10 years of public service and paying in their loans. Right now, as I said at the top of the call, the system is broken. And it's hard work, but we have to fix it. I think it costs more for our country when higher education is not accessible to many Americans who have potential. And as the president said yesterday, you know, how are we going to lead the world if our education system doesn't provide access and affordability to higher education?

FADEL: Very quickly, before I let you go, I mean, this talks about people already saddled with student debt, but college educations are not affordable for a lot of people in this country. How do you deal with the broken system, as you call it?

CARDONA: Yeah, that's a great question. I think it's important for the American people to realize we're fixing what's broken in the system, but we also have a plan so that we're not in the same position. We introduced the SAVE plan, which is more reasonable for repayment. So we're introducing college accountability that we've never had before to make sure that students that are enrolling in college, especially our first-generation college students who are a little bit nervous about going into college.

FADEL: OK.

CARDONA: We want to make sure that they have a good return on investment in their education.

FADEL: That's Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. Thank you so much.

CARDONA: Thank you. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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