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Biden strikes back at critics of student loan forgiveness in DSU speech

President Biden stands on stage at Delaware State University in front of bleachers filled with DSU students.
Paul Kiefer
Delaware Public Media
President Biden speaks at Delaware State University on Thursday.

President Biden visited Delaware State University Friday to promote the rollout of his student loan forgiveness program.

Biden's address comes on the heels of two court victories for his administration in its defense of the student loan forgiveness plan. The Supreme Court Thursday declined to hear a Wisconsin lawsuit seeking to halt the program and a federal judge in Missouri dismissed another from six Republican-led states. An appeal of the second case is likely, with critics of the debt relief plan see it as among the most viable legal challenges.

The program offers up to $20,000 of loan forgiveness to Pell Grant recipients and $10,000 to other borrowers,
though the Biden administration quietly excluded more than 4 million borrowers with commercially-held Federal Family Education Loans — a key pillar of the federal student loan program until 2010 in late September. Applications for loan forgiveness opened this month. Those who earn more than $125,000 are not eligible for loan relief.

At DSU, Biden spoke to a friendly audience — his administration's focus on increasing federal funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) during the pandemic enabled the University to reduce the debt burden of 225 graduating seniors.

In his remarks, Biden struck back at Republican critics, who he says approved unfunded tax cuts and had millions of dollars in Paycheck Protection Program loans forgiven.

"I will never apologize for every working- and middle-class American as they recover from the pandemic," he said, "especially not to the same Republican officials who voted for a $2 trillion tax cut that mainly benefitted the wealthiest Americans and the biggest corporations and wasn't paid for and racked up our deficit."

He also defended students and graduates receiving loan forgiveness.

“Ted Cruz, the great Senator from Texas, said it’s for slackers," he said. "Slackers who don’t deserve relief. Who in the hell do they think they are?”

Enthusiasm for the debt relief program is high at DSU, where students say it can be especially impactful at historically Black colleges like theirs that often lack the large endowments needed to offer large scholarships.

First-year student president Brandon Poplar also noted that the program could be especially impactful at historically Black universities like DSU pushing to increase graduation rates.

“We see a lot of first-year students who have a hard time going into college and matriculating through because they’re not able to afford it and not able to continue their loan payments," he said.

Assistant Women’s Basketball Coach Cherelle Dennis says it should be only a first step in relieving pressure on professionals like her. She owes $165,000 from her undergraduate and graduate education and says the $10,000 she may be eligible for will only cover accrued interest.

“If I do get the $10,000, when we go back into the repayment phase, interest is going to accrue again, so I’ll be back at square one again," she said.

The Department of Education will, however, re-amortize borrowers’ monthly payments to reflect their reduced loan amount.

Biden also took Friday as an opportunity to underscore two other major policy goals of his administration: re-implementing a national prohibition on the sale of assault weapons and codifying a national right to abortion.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.