TEXAS, USA — This story originally appeared in the Texas Tribune.
Gov. Greg Abbott joined 21 Republican governors Monday urging President Joe Biden to scrap his student loan relief plan, asserting that the thousands of dollars in individual debt relief would harm the working class.
The governors wrote in a letter that the loan forgiveness plan offers a bailout for a minority of Americans who are largely well off, arguing that those “with the most debt, such as $50,000 or more, almost exclusively have graduate degrees, meaning hourly workers will pay off the master’s and doctorate degrees of high salaried lawyers, doctors, and professors.”
But most of those people would not be eligible for the loan relief program announced last month, which disqualifies anyone earning over $125,000. Eligible applicants are limited to $10,000 in relief, unless they are recipients of Pell Grants, intended for low-income students, in which case they can get up to $20,000 in relief. The program also proposes a new repayment plan that caps monthly undergraduate loan payments at 5% of a borrower’s discretionary income — cutting monthly payments roughly in half.
The White House justifies the program with the skyrocketing price of a college education and the increasing demand for secondary degrees to remain competitive in the job market. The typical undergraduate student who takes out loans leaves college with almost $25,000 in debt, according to the Education Department. Mounting costs of education have also discouraged thousands of students from completing their studies, saddling them with debt but no degree, the White House argues. The White House also cast the relief program as part of its pandemic response.
In 2021, 56% of students who graduated from four-year public universities in Texas had approximately $25,000 in student debt, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
In 2019, 81% of Black students who graduated with bachelor’s degrees in Texas had some kind of debt, compared with 52% of white graduates in Texas. And the average debt load for Black graduates was about $4,000 higher than for white graduates, hovering around $30,311.
Student loan forgiveness has long been a major policy objective among Democrats, including the 2020 Biden campaign. Its backers say student debts are both holding back graduates from economic mobility and discouraging potential students from pursuing educations that could improve their financial prospects.
But there are stark divisions even among Democrats over how far student loan forgiveness should go. Progressives were unsatisfied with the amount of relief in Biden’s plan, with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders calling for free higher education and a complete cancellation of student loans.
There are limits to Biden’s power in student loan forgiveness. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi contends that only Congress, as the keeper of the purse strings, can completely erase all student loan debt, and Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, have challenged the legal authority of Biden’s more modest plan. The administration constitutionally can only spend money appropriated to it by Congress.
“This administration is exceeding its legal authority and illegally burdening hard-working Americans with debts they didn’t take on themselves,” Cruz said in a statement last month.
Legal issues aside, Republicans rebuffed the notion of loan forgiveness altogether, arguing it is unfair to students who have paid off their loans and fearing any further surge in cash could exacerbate the nation’s high inflation. They also protest against tax dollars from Americans who never went to college going toward student loan relief.
“Simply put, your plan rewards the rich and punishes the poor,” the governors wrote in their Monday letter.
Other signatories run the ideological gamut of Republican governors, including hardliners like Ron DeSantis of Florida and moderates like Larry Hogan of Maryland.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.