RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — President Joe Biden’s plan to cancel some student loan debt and extend the pause on repayment is getting mixed reviews from Virginia lawmakers.
Under the plan rolled out on Wednesday, the Biden Administration will cancel up to $10,000 in federal student loans and up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients. The relief is limited to individuals earning less than $125,000 per year and households earning under $250,000 per year.
Biden is also extending the pandemic-era pause on student loan repayment for a “final time” through Dec. 31, 2022, with payments resuming in January 2023.
In a statement on Wednesday, Senator Tim Kaine said the plan will ease the burden of student debt for millions of Americans.
Kaine said borrowers with less than $10,000 of debt tend to have the hardest time paying off their loans because they might not have finished their degree, or may have entered a less lucrative field. He said the vast majority of these borrowers are people of color.
“I believe that doing $10,000 of loan forgiveness is the most targeted way to meet the needs of those who are most in need and then if we need to do more above that we can do it in a more targeted way,” Kaine told reporters in April.
In a tweet, Rep. Donald McEachin said he was pleased to see Biden follow through on his campaign promise but he called on Congress to do more.
“We cannot stop here. Congress must build on this momentum, take action to cancel additional student loan debt, and provide further relief to Americans,” McEachin said.
In a statement, Senator Mark Warner favored a different approach.
“I commend the administration on taking action to provide student debt relief, though I’ve been saying for a long time that a smarter and more permanent solution would have been refinancing these loans to significantly lower interest rates,” Warner said in a statement.
In an interview on Wednesday, Rep. Ben Cline also said he would support targeting interest rates.
“If we can give some relief to borrowers on the interest that they owe the government, they can start paying their principal sooner and get those loans off of the books,” Cline said.
Cline said the plan is likely to face legal challenges. He said Biden doesn’t have the authority to cancel student debt without Congress, which the U.S. Department of Education has contested.
One estimate puts the price tag at $300 billion.
“It’s going to add to inflation and it’s going to do very little to address the rising cost of college education,” Cline said.
In a statement, Rep. Rob Wittman called the plan “fiscally reckless” and unfair.
“This action forces taxpayers to pay for a bill that they do not owe. This is an insult to those who never attended college, as well as student loan borrowers who have already paid back their loans,” Wittman said in a statement.
Rep. Bob Good echoed those concerns and accused Biden of announcing the plan for political gain.
“Sadly, this abandonment of personal responsibility as an American value is nothing more than a desperate and transparent attempt to save his party from catastrophic losses in the midterm elections by appeasing the radical left,” Good said in a statement.
At an event on Wednesday morning, Governor Glenn Youngkin said he wasn’t prepared to take a stance on Biden’s plan but said he’s focused on taming the cost of higher education. Youngkin has pressured the state’s public colleges and universities to keep tuition flat.
“We’re still waiting to hear from two public institutions that are still studying [it] but everyone else has committed to hold tuition flat,” Youngkin said. “Students coming out with tens of thousands of dollars of debt is a real challenge and the best way we can approach that is to keep tuition low.”
Despite the backlash from some lawmakers, students at Virginia Commonwealth University had good reviews for Biden’s plan on Wednesday.
Drew Spera, a 5th-year grad student, supported the plan even though he already paid off his student loans.
“It’s too late for me but I’m not salty or bitter about it. I think some people are and that’s the wrong way to look at this. Better late than never,” Spera said.
Marie Cox, a sophomore studying forensic science, expects to have well over $10,000 in loans by graduation. She’s glad to see Biden taking this step but wishes he would go further on debt forgiveness to reduce this major stressor.
“As a freshman, there were multiple times where I was crying in the bathroom about the fact that I was going to accumulate so much debt trying to get a degree,” Cox said.