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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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CDC Director Overrules Expert Panel, Says At-Risk Workers Can Get Pfizer Booster

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The panel refused to recommend boosters for Americans whose jobs put them at risk of contracting the coronavirus, but the agency’s head rejected that decision.


CDC Issues Pfizer Booster Guidance

In a highly unusual move, the director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) overruled the agency’s advisory panel late Thursday and recommended Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 booster shot for people at risk of infection due to their jobs.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky’s decision aligns with a similar determination by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the day earlier.

On Wednesday, the FDA authorized third jabs of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine for select Pfizer recipients six months after they completed the two-dose regime.

The authorization applies to people 65 and older and adults ages 18 to 64 that have a high risk of severe illness or whose jobs or institutional exposure “puts them at high risk of serious complications of COVID-19 including severe COVID-19.”

In a statement announcing the move, acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said the third group includes “health care workers, teachers and day care staff, grocery workers and those in homeless shelters or prisons, among others.”

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices largely backed the FDA’s authorization in its Thursday decision.

The committee additionally backed third doses for people 50 to 64 who have medical conditions that make them at risk for severe infection. It also said individuals 18 to 49 with underlying medical conditions can assess their own personal risk and obtain a booster if they feel it is needed. 

The experts, however, voted 9-6 against recommending the shots for Americans ages 18 to 64 whose jobs put them at increased risk of being exposed to COVID-19.

Walensky agreed with most of the panel’s determination but added the additional recommendation for occupational exposure, explaining that she decided to go against her own advisors in order to bring the CDC more in step with the FDA’s authorization.

“As CDC Director, it is my job to recognize where our actions can have the greatest impact,” Walensky said in a statement. 

“I believe we can best serve the nation’s public health needs by providing booster doses for the elderly, those in long-term care facilities, people with underlying medical conditions, and for adults at high risk of disease from occupational and institutional exposures to COVID-19.”

Moderna, J&J Recipients Left Behind — For Now

Walensky added that while the vaccine advisory panel only reviewed data for the Pfizer vaccine, the CDC “will address, with the same sense of urgency, recommendations for the Moderna and J & J vaccines as soon as those data are available.”

There is currently no data on whether it is safe or effective to mix-and-match vaccines made by different companies, and as such, federal guidance encourages people to get boosters from the makers of their original jab.

The CDC has estimated that around 26 million people received their last Pfizer dose at least six months ago.

Around half of those individuals are 65 or older, and is unclear how many more will meet the eligibility requirements for the booster. 

Meanwhile, around 23 million Moderna recipients are at least six months past their second vaccine, and about 3.3 million people are at least six months past their Johnson & Johnson jab.

While tens of millions of Pfizer recipients will now be eligible for a third dose, the roughly half of vaccinated Americans who got Moderna and J&J shots will have to wait.

How long that wait will be is uncertain, though federal officials have suggested booster shots for the other two vaccines could be approved in a matter of weeks.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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Chris Cuomo Accused of Sexual Harassment by Former ABC News Boss

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News producer Shelley Ross said that while she does not want Cuomo to lose his CNN gig over her accusations, she hopes he holds himself accountable for them in other ways.


Chris Cuomo Accused of Sexual Harassment

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo was accused of sexual harassment by his former ABC boss, Shelley Ross, in a Friday op-ed published in The New York Times. 

Ross wrote that the incident between her and Cuomo happened during a farewell party for a colleague in 2005. At the time, she was the executive producer of an ABC entertainment special but was previously the executive producer at “Primetime Live,” where Cuomo was one of several anchors. 

“When Mr. Cuomo entered the Upper West Side bar, he walked toward me and greeted me with a strong bear hug while lowering one hand to firmly grab and squeeze the cheek of my buttock,” she wrote in the op-ed. 

She claimed that Cuomo said, “I can do this now that you’re no longer my boss.”

She allegedly responded by pushing him away and telling him, “No, you can’t.” She then stepped back to reveal that her husband was sitting behind her, witnessing the interaction, and they left the party shortly after the ordeal.

According to Ross, she received an apology email from Cuomo roughly an hour after the episode. In the subject line, he wrote that he was “ashamed” of his actions, but he opened the message by saying his “hearty greeting was a function of being glad to see [her].

“christian slater got arrested for a (kind of) similar act (though borne of an alleged negative intent, unlike my own)…and as a husband i can sympathize with not liking to see my wife patted as such,” Cuomo reportedly wrote. “So pass along my apology to your very good and noble husband…and i apologize to you as well, for even putting you in such a position.”

He closed the email by saying he will “remember his lesson” next time, “no matter how happy” he might be to see Ross. 

“My question today is the same as it was then: Was he ashamed of what he did, or was he embarrassed because my husband saw it?” Ross wrote, arguing that while Cuomo considers it a “sincere apology,” she has always viewed it as “an attempt to provide himself with legal and moral coverage to evade accountability.”

Shelley Ross Calls for Accountability

Ross wrote that she does not believe the incident was “sexual in nature.” Instead, she understands it as an arrogant display of masculine power. 

“Whether he understood it at the time or not, his form of sexual harassment was a hostile act meant to diminish and belittle his female former boss in front of the staff,” she wrote. 

Ross’s op-ed comes just over a month after Cuomo’s brother, Andrew Cuomo, resigned as the Governor of New York following a slew of sexual misconduct allegations. Chris Cuomo faced intense criticism for advising the governor throughout the scandal.

When the allegations against his brother were making headlines, Cuomo went on air during “Cuomo Prime Time” to announce he would not be covering the situation, though he said he has “always cared very deeply about these issues and profoundly so.”

Ross questioned how genuine that statement may have been, considering both her interaction with him and his choice to support his brother. 

“I am left again wondering about his relationship with truth and accountability,” she wrote. “Has this man always cared ‘deeply’ and ‘profoundly’ about sexual harassment issues? Does he believe enough in accountability to step up and take some meaningful actions?”

When The Times asked Cuomo for a statement regarding the accusation, he said that “As Shelley acknowledges, our interaction was not sexual in nature.”

“It happened 16 years ago in a public setting when she was a top executive at ABC,” he continued. “I apologized to her then, and I meant it.”

Over the last several years, many powerful men have lost their jobs over sexual misconduct claims as the MeToo movement launched a global reckoning with the cultures of harassment that permeate nearly every industry. Ross said she is not looking for Cuomo to be the next person ousted over one of these allegations. Instead, she hopes he will keep his role at CNN and use it to shine a better light on this issue.

She wrote that Cuomo should “journalistically repent” by going on-air “to study the impact of sexism, harassment and gender bias in the workplace, including his own, and then report on it.”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Variety) (Associated Press)

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U.S. Special Envoy to Haiti Resigns Over “Inhumane” Deportations of Haitians

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The top-ranking diplomat described the Biden administration’s approach to Haiti as “deeply flawed” while claiming that his policy recommendations were “ignored and dismissed when not edited to project a narrative different from my own.”


Resignation Letter

U.S. Special Envoy for Haiti Daniel Foote resigned from his post Wednesday over the Biden administration’s decision to deport thousands of Haitians who have been camped in a Texas border town.

The administration announced the decision last week after the camp amassed more than 14,000 people in a matter of days, sparking widespread outrage as images of the sordid conditions circulated online. Federal officials are also now blocking thousands of other Haitians from entering the country.

Foote announced his resignation, effective immediately, in a scathing letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken that was first reported by PBS.

“I will not be associated with the United States inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees and illegal immigrants to Haiti, a country where American officials are confined to secure compounds because of the danger posed by armed gangs in control of daily life,” he wrote in the letter.

“Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed, and my recommendations have been ignored and dismissed, when not edited to project a narrative different from my own.”

Backlash and Support

The Biden administration responded to Foote’s letter by trying to undermine the diplomat and dispute his claims.

In a written statement to reporters Thursday, State Department spokesperson Ned Price denied that Foote’s suggestions were ignored.

“There have been multiple senior-level policy conversations on Haiti, where all proposals, including those led by Special Envoy Foote, were fully considered in a rigorous and transparent policy process,” he said. 

“Some of those proposals were determined to be harmful to our commitment to the promotion of democracy in Haiti and were rejected during the policy process. For him to say his proposals were ignored is simply false.”

Price also condemned the envoy for resigning during “a challenging moment that requires leadership.”

“It is unfortunate that, instead of participating in a solutions-oriented policy process, Special Envoy Foote has both resigned and mischaracterized the circumstances of his resignation,” he continued.

On the other side, at least one top official in Haiti cheered Foote’s remarks.

“This is the first time we see a U.S. diplomat who has decided to go against the will of the U.S. government,” Mathias Pierre, Haiti’s election minister, told The Associated Press. “We salute that.”

See what others are saying: (PBS News) (The Associated Press) (The Washington Post)

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