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Unions demand Biden cancel student debt for public service workers

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Labor unions are making a new push to get the Education Department to use executive action to forgive the student loans of Americans working in public service jobs — the latest pressure from the left for the Biden administration to act more aggressively on student debt relief.

A wide range of unions representing teachers, fire fighters, health care workers and government employees on Thursday called on Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to fully erase the debt of borrowers who have worked for more than a decade in public service jobs.

The unions say the relief is needed because the Education Department’s existing Public Service Loan Forgiveness program has been plagued by problems and mismanagement. More than 98 percent of applicants seeking loan forgiveness have been rejected by the program.

“The COVID-19 pandemic underscores the need for immediate action,” the unions wrote to Cardona in a letter, which was shared with POLITICO. “Public service workers who should have already benefited from the Department of Education’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program are serving on the front lines of our pandemic response — caring for patients, teaching our students, and delivering essential services in communities across the country.

The letter was led by the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union, and signed by 14 other unions collectively representing more than 10 million public service workers. They include the American Federation of Government Employees; American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees; International Association of Fire Fighters; United Auto Workers; and Service Employees International Union.

Democrats for years have raised concerns about the difficulty that public service workers have had navigating the federal government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. They sharply criticized Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ oversight of the program, which the Trump administration had proposed eliminating.

“After four years of scandal and allegations of widespread mismanagement, it is clear to our organizations that the federal government has fundamentally failed to deliver on this promise,” the unions wrote in the letter to Cardona on Thursday.

On the campaign trail, President Joe Biden vowed to fix the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, and he backed legislation that would expand the benefits.

Now the unions are pressing the Biden administration to go further and use executive action to swiftly provide automatic relief to public service workers. The letter says that the Education Department should use its emergency powers during the pandemic to waive any necessary regulations or laws to carry out the loan forgiveness.

But Biden has been skeptical of the notion of using executive powers to unilaterally write off federal student loan debt. Earlier this year, Biden said he would not take executive action to wipe out $50,000 of debt per borrower, as many progressives and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are urging him to do.

The White House has said that the president has not ruled out taking some type of executive action to cancel student loan debt, and his advisers are reviewing the issue.

The Biden administration over the past week has announced a series of “targeted” relief to federal student loan borrowers, though consumer advocates have criticized the policies as far too narrow.

The Education Department canceled the debts of some students who were defrauded by their for-profit college and waived some of the paperwork requirements to ease loan forgiveness for borrowers with severe disabilities. In addition, the department earlier this week halted collections on more than 1 million borrowers who had defaulted on federally-guaranteed student loans held by private entities.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on April 1, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michael Stratford is an education reporter for POLITICO Pro. He most recently covered federal higher education policy and student loans at Inside Higher Ed, with previous bylines at The Associated Press, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. 


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The Real Living Wage? $17.28 An Hour – At Least

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Fifteen dollars shouldn’t be too much to ask – or demand.

In almost every state, a worker needs more than $15 an hour to make ends meet. Add in student debt, and the minimum living wage shoots up to $18.67 an hour nationally. A family with children needs significantly more.

That’s according to new research from People’s Action Institute, which calculates the national living wage at $17.28. A living wage is the pay a person needs to cover basic needs like food, housing, utilities and clothing, along with some savings to handle emergencies.

In some states, the living wage is much higher. New Jersey, Maryland, and New York have a living wage greater than $20 per hour for a single adult. In Hawaii and Washington, D.C., that figure hits almost $22 per hour. No state has a living wage for a single adult lower than $14.50 an hour.

This is the first report in the annual Job Gap Economic Prosperity Series to factor in the $1.3 trillion in student debt owed by college students nationwide into the calculation of what a living wage should be nationally and in the states.

“Students should not be saddled with thousands of dollars in debt after graduation. However, those who do graduate with debt need jobs that pay enough to make ends meet,” the report says. “And, making ends meet should include not only basic necessities like food and housing, but the ability to put aside money for savings and to pay off existing debt.”

In addition to calling for increasing the federal minimum wage to a living wage and eliminating the tipped subminimum wage, usually paid to people like restaurant servers, the report also calls for expanding tax-free student debt forgiveness and reinvesting in higher education to eliminate the need for student loans to begin with.

“We Just Choose Bills Out Of a Hat”

In Iowa, where the living wage is $15.10 an hour for a single person – twice the state minimum of $7.25 – and higher for families with children, people are doubling and tripling up on jobs, rooming together, and even turning to predatory payday loans.

Tonja Galvan is one of those Iowans. She makes a bit more than $20 an hour at the John Deere plant in Ankeny, near Des Moines, where she lives with her mother, daughter, and granddaughter. Even with three generations of the family working – her mother and granddaughter are paid much lower wages – they can never catch up.

“When we can’t pay everything,” Galvan says, “we just choose bills out of a hat to see what we’ll pay and what we’ll push to the next month.”

Galvan sees many other families struggling – and she’s helping take charge in a campaign with the Iowa Citizen for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI). Galvan has joined other workers, teachers, service providers, and other Iowans to press for a higher wage floor, hitting the doors in her community and speaking with county supervisors.

They’ve scored wins in four counties around the state – Johnson, Linn, Polk, and Wappelo – with a phase-in of new wage floors ranging from $10.10 to $10.75. (Johnson County’s will also be pegged to the consumer price index.)

Iowa CCI organizer Matthew Covington calls the increases “a step in the right direction,” but he’s the first to say they’re just a step. His organization is now making sure cities in Polk County match that county minimum, take it higher, and close exemptions for the restaurant and grocery industries. Meanwhile, Iowa CCI also has their sights set on the state legislature.

In Colorado, a coalition of nonprofits, faith groups, and small businesses are taking a different approach for raising the wage floor. They’re turning to the ballot box.

An initiative supported by this coalition, Colorado Families for a Fair Wage, would gradually increase the hourly minimum statewide to $12 by 2020.

Though the corporate opposition has poured money into the state, there’s plenty of business support for increase – and recent research from the University of Denver debunking claims of a negative impact on jobs.

In fact, Lizeth Chacón, executive director of Colorado People’s Alliance (COPA) and co-chair of the coalition, says the number of jobs grew after the state’s last minimum wage increase, in 2006. Those gains were seen in restaurants, small businesses, and rural areas. The number of small businesses in the state also increased.

“Small businesses helped put this proposal together,” says Chacón. “They said, ‘We’re already paying our staff more because we want them to be able to support their families and stay with us.’”

The People’s Action Institute living wage figures show just how needed these fierce campaigns are. As Iowa CCI’s Covington knows, the numbers aren’t academic. “The more we talk about actual costs,” he says, “the more it helps.”

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on October 25, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Julie Chinitz is currently the special projects director for Alliance For A Just Society. She previously served as policy director from 2010 to 2012 and as a staff attorney/policy analyst from 2002. She developed projects combining participatory research, policy analysis, and base-building. Prior to joining the Alliance, she was an Equal Justice Fellow with Northwest Health Law Advocates, where she launched a program to increase access to health care in Washington’s Yakima Valley. She is a graduate of Oberlin College and Columbia University School of Law and has worked extensively with public interest and human rights organizations.


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$1.3 Trillion. 42 Million People

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With the problem this big, it’s no wonder so many people are talking about student debt.

Consumer Reports has weighed in with an issue dedicated to the discussion of the student debt crisis, including an investigation by the Center for Investigative Reporting. Along with personal storiesfrom young people dealing with student debt, the report includes a wealth of useful information for current and future student loan borrowers.

For instance: Do you know which common financial product comes with more robust consumer protections: student loans or mortgages?

OK, so maybe you figured out the answer to that one pretty easily, but here’s a breakdown from our friends at Consumer Reports.

It’s important to know your rights when taking on any debt, including student loans. As the Consumer Reports poll confirms, student debt has become such a burden for many borrowers that it affects their major life decisions as well as their everyday finances.

The special report also includes an important discussion guide to help you and your family make the best decision about college and student loans. The guide includes links to excellent government and other resources and lots of information about available tools and the different things to be considered when making such an important decision.

Consumer Reports also offers an interactive chart to help you understand your repayment options and their relative costs over time so you can be more informed in your choice of repayment plan.

Student debt can be scary and confusing, and there are a lot of improvements to be made to the system, but this new report from trusted consumer advocates is an excellent resource for students, families and borrowers alike.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on June 30, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Sarah Ann Lewis, esq., Senior Lead Researcher, Policy.


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