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Biden Cancels Billions in Student Debt But Hurdles Remain

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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)

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Medical Workers Sign Letter Urging Spotify to Combat Misinformation, Citing Joe Rogan

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The letter accused Spotify of “enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research.”


Doctors and Medical Professionals Sign Letter to Spotify

A group of 270 doctors, scientists, and other medical workers signed an open letter to Spotify this week urging the audio platform to implement a misinformation policy, specifically citing false claims made on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast. 

Rogan has faced no shortage of backlash over the last year for promoting vaccine misinformation on his show, which airs exclusively on Spotify. Most recently, he invited Dr. Robert Malone on a Dec. 31 episode that has since been widely criticized by health experts. 

Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter for promoting COVID-19 misinformation. According to the medical experts who signed the letter, he “used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public.”

“Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust,” the letter continued. “These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.”

Joe Rogan’s History of COVID-19 Misinformation

Rogan sparked swift criticism himself in the spring of 2021 when he discouraged young people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. He also falsely equated mRNA vaccines to “gene therapy” and incorrectly stated that vaccines cause super mutations of the virus. He took ivermectin after testing positive for the virus in September, despite the fact that the drug is not approved as a treatment for COVID.

“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the doctors and medical workers wrote. 

“We are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform,” they continued. “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”

Rolling Stone was the first outlet to report on the letter from the medical professionals. Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, was among the signees. She told the magazine that Rogan is “a menace to public health.”

“These are fringe ideas not backed in science, and having it on a huge platform makes it seem there are two sides to this issue,” she said. “And there are really not.”

Spotify had not responded to the letter as of Thursday.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Deadline) (Insider)

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Data Shows Omicron May be Peaking in the U.S.

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In some cities that were first hit by the surge, new cases are starting to flatten and decline.


New Cases Flattening

After weeks of recording-breaking cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, public health officials say that new COVID infections seem to be slowing in the parts of the country that were hit the hardest earlier on.

Following a more than twentyfold rise in December, cases in New York City have flattened out in recent days. 

New infections have even begun to fall slightly in some states, like Maryland and New Jersey. In Boston, the levels of COVID in wastewater — which has been a top indicator of case trends in the past — have dropped by nearly 40% since the first of the year.

Overall, federal data has shown a steep decline in COVID-related emergency room visits in the Northeast, and the rest of the country appears to be following a similar track.

Data from other countries signals the potential for a steep decline in cases following the swift and unprecedented surge.

According to figures from South Africa, where the variant was first detected, cases rose at an incredibly shocking rate for about a month but peaked quickly in mid-December. Since then, new infections have plummeted by around 70%.

In the U.K., which has typically been a map for how U.S. cases will trend, infections are also beginning to fall after peaking around New Year’s and then flattening for about a week.

Concerns Remain 

Despite these recent trends, experts say it is still too early to say if cases in the U.S. will decline as rapidly as they did in South Africa and the parts of the U.K. that were first hit. 

While new infections may seem to be peaking in the cities that saw the first surges, caseloads continue to climb in most parts of the country. 

Meanwhile, hospitals are overwhelmed and health resources are still strained because of the high volume of cases hitting all at once.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Wall Street Journal)

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COVID-Driven School Closures Top Record Highs, But Many Remain Open

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While some districts have implemented protective measures, many teachers say they fall short.


Schools Respond to Omicron Surge

U.S. COVID cases, driven by the omicron variant, are continuously topping new record highs, posing difficult questions for schools resuming after winter break.

According to Burbio, a data firm that tracks school closures, at least 5,409 public schools canceled classes or moved to remote learning by the end of last week due to COVID — more than triple the number at the end of December.

That is still only a fraction of the nation’s 130,000 schools, and many of the biggest school districts in the country are still insisting that students come into the classroom.

Los Angeles, which is home to the second-biggest district, is requiring that students at least test negative before they return to school this week.

In the biggest district of New York City, classes have already resumed following winter break. Although the city has said it will double random tests and send home more kits, students were not required to provide negative results.

Teachers Protest In-Person Learning

Teachers in other major districts have protested the local government’s decisions to stay open.

One of the most closely watched battles is in Chicago, where students on Monday missed their fourth consecutive day of school due to a feud between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).

Last week, the union voted to return to remote learning in defiance of a city-wide order mandating they teach in-person, citing inadequate COVID-19 protections. Lightfoot claimed the conditions were fine and that students were safe, despite record surges, instead opting to cancel classes altogether while the fight plays out.

On Sunday, the union said it was “still far apart” from making any kind of agreement with public school officials after Lightfoot rejected their demands.

Lightfoot, for her part, has said she remains “hopeful” a deal could be reached, but she also stirred up the union by accusing teachers of staging an “illegal walkout” and claiming they “abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families.”

Meanwhile, teachers in other school districts have begun to emulate the tactics in Chicago.

On Friday, teachers in Oakland, California staged a “sick-out,” promoting 12 schools serving thousands of students to close.

See what others are saying: (The Chicago Tribune) (CNN) (The New York Times)

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