Many have called on Biden to ramp up his efforts to forgive student debt as the COVID protections for borrowers near expiration.
Biden Ramps Up Debt Forgiveness
President Joe Biden has made headlines over the past few weeks for erasing student debt for certain groups.
At the end of August, he forgave $5.8 billion for student loan borrowers with a total and permanent disability, as well as $1.1 billion for defrauded borrowers, bringing his total debt cancellation to $9.5 billion since taking office.
While many cheered the move, others noted that the figure is just about 0.6% of the $1.7 trillion in accumulated student debt.
“If this continues at the same pace, Biden will be on track to cancel about 4.8% of total student debt by the end of his term,” Business Insider noted.
As a result, some have argued that Biden, so far, has fallen short of his campaign promise to reform the student loan system and forgive $10,000 in student debt per borrower.
Notably, Biden’s administration has taken some significant efforts on this front. In addition to reversing a Trump-era rule that prevented borrowers who had been defrauded by for-profit universities from accessing forgiveness they were eligible for, the Department of Education has also waived administrative hurdles for borrowers with disabilities.
While the administration is still working towards broader forgiveness, Biden has said he does not have the legal power to cancel student debt unilaterally without authorization from Congress, and he has urged Democratic lawmakers to act.
However, key leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), have argued that the president does have the power to forgive the debt, and called on him to erase $50,000 per borrower.
At the same time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) has backed Biden’s claim that he does not have the ability to cancel student debt.
The resulting stalemate comes at a time of increased pressure to act on student debt as the U.S. comes closer and closer to a massive cliff: the expiration of loan relief benefits put in place during the pandemic.
For the last year-plus, around 40 million borrowers have been exempt from mandatory federal payments, interest rates, and collection on loans in default.
While those protections have been extended under both former President Donald Trump and President Biden, they are set to expire at the end of this coming January, and there is little political will among Republicans in Congress to extend the benefits again.
Impact on Future and Incoming Students
With the student loan crisis expected to resume at full swing — if not at an even worse rate than before — many young Americans are being driven away from four-year universities.
A recent survey of high school students by ECMC Group, a nonprofit that helps student borrowers, found that the likelihood of attending a four-year school fell from 71% to 53% in less than a year.
At the same time, another study by College Ave Student Loans, which provides private student loans, found that 55% of families said they plan to borrow this year.
Taking out loans may be the right move for some people who desire certain degrees to obtain specific jobs that will then allow them to pay off their loans, but that is not true for many young people.
According to data from the Economic Policy Institute, college degree earners make just over 50% more than someone with only a high school diploma.
But that might not be worth it for those who would have to spend decades paying off loans, especially as more and more large employers like Apple, Bank of America, Google, and IBM, have stopped requiring college degrees for entry-level jobs.
Still, that decision is highly personal and requires a lot of foresight — something that is an incredible imposition on a 17- or 18-year old who has to make the decision of a lifetime after facing years of pressure and expectations.
The choice is further complicated by the fact that the U.S. does not have anything close to an adequate structure for financial literacy to guide young people to conduct such cost-benefit analysis.
The lack of a cohesive system has led countless people to take on debt when they do not fully grasp the magnitude of how much they will owe and how it might affect their entire lives.
Efforts to Increase Financial Literacy
Furthermore, numerous families lack financial literacy, and only 21 states require high school students to take a course in personal finance education.
As a result, many argue that the dearth of financial education is intentional, especially given the implications for minority and immigrant families. Regardless, it is clear that this is a systematic and intergenerational issue.
Of note, there are a number of efforts to increase youth financial literacy.
At the statewide level, several initiatives have been taken this year. For example, Alabama enacted legislation that requires financial literacy for student-athletes who earn compensation. Hawaii’s legislature also adopted resolutions urging relevant agencies to implement a graduation requirement for a financial literacy credit.
The initiatives that will arguably have a bigger impact, however, are those in the private sector.
Recently, a number of mobile apps aimed at boosting financial literacy among younger Americans have been cropping up.
This includes Copper, which describes itself as “the only bank that teaches teens about money,” and offers short, energetic educational videos and a financial literacy quiz. Step, another app for teens, provides brief videos and catchy articles to its two million users.
While both products are specifically targeted at teens, they are simply part of the broader, growing market of apps that are designed to help all Americans, regardless of age, improve their financial management.
See what others are saying: (Forbes) (Business Insider) (CNBC)
Conservatives Slam Elmo For Getting Vaccinated Against COVID-19
While critics accused the muppet of promoting propaganda, CDC data shows the shots are safe and effective.
Elmo Gets Vaccinated
Conservative politicians expressed outrage on Twitter after the beloved “Sesame Street” character Elmo revealed he got vaccinated against COVID-19 on Tuesday.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently cleared the way for children between the ages of six months and five years to get vaccinated against the virus. The famous red muppet is three years old, making him finally eligible for the jab.
In a video shared by “Sesame Street,” Elmo said that he felt “a little pinch, but it was okay.”
Elmo’s father, Louie, then addressed parents who might be apprehensive about vaccinating their own kids.
“I had a lot of questions about Elmo getting the COVID vaccine,” he said to the camera. “Was it safe? Was it the right decision? I talked to our pediatrician so I could make the right choice.”
“I learned that Elmo getting vaccinated is the best way to keep himself, our friends, neighbors, and everyone else healthy and enjoying the things they love,” he continued.
Republicans Criticize “Sesame Street”
While some praised the video for raising awareness and addressing the concerns parents may have, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx) quickly lambasted the effort.
“Thanks, Sesame Street for saying parents are allowed to have questions,” Cruz tweeted. “You then have Elmo aggressively advocate for vaccinating children UNDER 5. But you cite ZERO scientific evidence for this.”
Despite Cruz’s claim, the CDC has provided ample resources with information on vaccines for children.
He was not alone in criticizing the video. Harmeet Dhillon, a committeewoman of the Republican National Committee for California, suggested that Elmo would be taking puberty blockers next.
Other anti-vaxxers claimed Elmo would get myocarditis and accused “Sesame Street” of promoting propaganda.
COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to be both safe and effective against transmission of the virus, but this is not the first time conservatives have turned their anger against a friendly-looking muppet who opted to get the jab. When Big Bird got vaccinated in November, Cruz and other right-wing figures accused the show of brainwashing kids.
Big Bird’s choice to get vaccinated was not a shocker though, clips dating back to 1972 show him getting immunized against the measles.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Hill) (Market Watch)
Uvalde Puts Police Chief on Leave, Tries to Kick Him Off City Council
If Pete Arredondo fails to attend two more consecutive city council meetings, then he may be voted out of office.
Police Chief Faces Public Fury
Uvalde School District Police Chief Pete Arredondo was placed on administrative leave Wednesday following revelations that he and his officers did not engage the shooter at Robb Elementary for over an hour despite having adequate weaponry and protection.
Superintendent Hal Harrell, who made the announcement, did not specify whether the leave is paid or unpaid.
Harrell said in a statement that the school district would have waited for an investigation to conclude before making any personnel decisions, but chose to order the administrative leave because it is uncertain how long the investigation will take.
Lieutenant Mike Hernandez, the second in command at the police department, will assume Arredondo’s duties.
In an interview with The Texas Tribune earlier this month, Arredondo said he did not consider himself in charge during the shooting, but law enforcement records reviewed by the outlet indicate that he gave orders at the scene.
Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw told state senators on Tuesday that some officers wanted to enter the classrooms harboring the shooter but were stopped by their superiors.
He said officer Ruben Ruiz tried to move forward into the hallway after receiving a call from his wife Eva Mireles, a teacher inside one of the classrooms, telling him she had been shot and was bleeding to death.
Ruiz was detained, had his gun taken away, and was escorted off the scene, according to McCraw. Mireles later died of her wounds.
Calls for Arredondo to resign or be fired have persisted.
Emotions Erupt at City Council
Wednesday’s announcement came one day after the Uvalde City Council held a special meeting in which community members and relatives of victims voiced their anger and demanded accountability.
“Who are you protecting?” Asked Jasmine Cazares, sister of Jackie Cazares, a nine-year-old student who was shot. “Not my sister. The parents? No. You’re too busy putting them in handcuffs.”
Much of the anger was directed toward Arredondo, who was not present at the meeting but was elected to the city council on May 7, just over two weeks before the massacre.
“We are having to beg ya’ll to do something to get this man out of our faces,” said the grandmother of Amerie Jo Garza, a 10-year-old victim. “We can’t see that gunman. That gunman got off easy. We can’t take our frustrations out on that gunman. He’s dead. He’s gone. … Ya’ll need to put yourselves in our shoes, and don’t say that none of ya’ll have, because I guarantee you if any of ya’ll were in our shoes, ya’ll would have been pulling every string that ya’ll have to get this man off the council.”
One woman demanded the council refuse to grant Arredondo the leave of absence he had requested, pointing out that if he fails to attend three consecutive meetings the council can vote him out for abandoning his office.
“What you can do right now is not give him, if he requests it, a leave of absence,” she said. “Don’t give him an out. We don’t want him. We want him out.”
After hearing from the residents, the council voted unanimously not to approve the leave of absence.
On Tuesday, Uvalde’s mayor announced that Robb Elementary is set to be demolished, saying no students or teachers should have to return to it after what happened.
We make it a point to not include the names and pictures of those who may have been seeking attention or infamy and will not link out to websites that might contain such information.
Texas Public Safety Director Says Police Response to Uvalde Shooting Was An “Abject Failure”
New footage shows officers prepared to engage the shooter one hour before they entered the classroom.
Seventy-Seven Deadly Minutes
Nearly a month after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas that killed 19 children and two teachers, evidence has emerged indicating that police were prepared to engage the shooter within minutes of arriving, but chose to wait over an hour.
The shooting at Robb Elementary began at 11:33 a.m., and within three minutes 11 officers are believed to have entered the school, according to surveillance and body camera footage obtained by KVUE and the Austin American Statesman.
District Police Chief Pete Arredondo reportedly called a landline at the police department at 11:40 a.m. for help.
“It’s an emergency right now,” he said. “We have him in the room. He’s got an AR-15. He’s shot a lot… They need to be outside the building prepared because we don’t have firepower right now. It’s all pistols.”
At 11:52 a.m., however, the footage shows multiple officers inside the school armed with at least two rifles and one ballistic shield.
Law enforcement did not enter the adjoined classrooms to engage the shooter until almost an hour later, at 12:50 p.m. During that time, one officer’s daughter was inside the classrooms and another’s wife, a teacher, reportedly called him to say she was bleeding to death.
Thirty minutes before law enforcement entered the classrooms, the footage shows officers had four ballistic shields in the hallway.
Frustrated Cops Want to Go Inside
Some of the officers felt agitated because they were not allowed to enter the classrooms.
One special agent at the Texas Department of Public Safety arrived about 20 minutes after the shooting started, then immediately asked, “Are there still kids in the classrooms?”
“It is unknown at this time,” another officer replied.
“Ya’ll don’t know if there’s kids in there?” The agent shot back. “If there’s kids in there we need to go in there.”
“Whoever is in charge will determine that,” the other officer responded.
According to an earlier account by Arredondo, he and the other officers tried to open the doors to the classrooms, but found them both locked and waited for a master key to arrive. But surveillance footage suggests that they never tried to open the doors, which a top Texas official has confirmed were never actually locked.
One officer has told reporters that within minutes of the police response, there was a Halligan bar, which firefighters use to break down locked doors, on-site, but it was never used.
At a special State Senate committee hearing Monday, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw called the police response an “abject failure” and “antithetical to everything we’ve learned over the last two decades since the Columbine massacre.”
“The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from (entering rooms) 111 and 112 was the on-scene commander who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children,” he said. “The officers have weapons, the children had none.”