Nina Turner doesn’t think the student-debt crisis should be complicated: If President Joe Biden promised voters he would cancel their debt, then he should go right ahead and do that.
Turner, a former Ohio state senator who recently announced her candidacy for a seat in Congress, has long advocated broad student-debt cancellation. She was a national co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, in which student-loan forgiveness was part of his platform. And she has long held the belief that the president has the authority to cancel student debt even as Biden is unsure whether he has that authority.
“If the president was looking for a way to both uplift and celebrate, in material ways, the voters who actually put him in the White House that working-class coalition of Black, brown, white voters and other voters of color he can relieve them of student debt and work with the secretary of education to ensure nobody else gets in this student-debt trap,” Turner told Insider in an interview.
The student-loan portfolio in the US is $1.7 trillion and growing, falling on the shoulders of 45 million Americans. During his presidential campaign, Biden pledged to approve $10,000 in student-loan forgiveness for federal borrowers. While he has canceled $15 billion worth of student debt for targeted groups of borrowers like those defrauded by for-profit schools a year into his presidency, borrowers are still waiting for broad relief.
“This is a damn crisis,” Turner told Insider, “and it should be treated that way.”
Democratic lawmakers warn of losses at the polls if Biden doesn’t forgive student debt
Turner is one of several Democrats who’ve suggested that whether Biden fulfills that pledge could significantly affect the midterm elections this year.
She said it was long past time the White House push student debt to the top of its agenda.
“Forty-five million people would benefit from this. That’s a significant portion of not only the population in the United States of America but probably a significant amount of the people who actually voted in this election,” Turner said.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said in December that it was “actually delusional” to think Democrats could win upcoming elections without acting on progressive priorities like student debt.
A woman with thousands of dollars in student debt who voted for Biden told Insider in December that she’d been registered as a Democrat for decades but became an independent partly because Biden hadn’t fulfilled his pledge to approve widespread student-debt forgiveness.
And Amikka Burl, an independent voter who appeared on CNN in December to weigh in on Biden’s actions so far, gave the president a B to B-minus for his handling of student debt.
“He promised when he was actually running, on his campaign trail, that he would wipe out $10,000 worth of student-loan debt for every individual that has student loans,” Burl said. “That has yet to come to fruition, so I am waiting for that to happen.”
‘Cancel student debt, create a system so we don’t have a mammoth like this ever again’
Turner, a first-generation college graduate, said that she remembered being told over and over that getting a college education was key to a better future and she told Insider that doing so was especially meaningful to Black communities.
“Based on the history of this country, of chattel slavery, and then even beyond chattel slavery, unequal schools that led to Brown v. Board of Education, the gospel of seeking higher education has truly been embedded in those of us from the African American community because of the inequities that we have faced,” Turner said.
But student debt in the country has contributed to the persistence of those inequities. The Wall Street Journal’s Josh Mitchell explained in his book, “The Debt Trap,” that President Lyndon B. Johnson created the student-loan industry to eliminate racial and income inequities in education but as student-loan companies grew to prioritize profits, causing interest rates on loans to surge, many borrowers became trapped in a cycle of repayment that unevenly hurt minority communities.
A group of 36 civil-rights organizations last year described recent findings that upon graduation Black borrowers typically owed 50% more in student debt than white borrowers and that four years later Black borrowers owed 100% more.
In a recent survey conducted by the Education Trust, a nonprofit that advocates for student success, 66% of Black borrowers said they regretted ever taking out loans, deeming them “unpayable” and “not worth it.”
Many lawmakers advocating broad student-loan relief have said it would close the racial wealth gap and make higher education truly accessible for all, as Johnson intended.
“Cancel student debt, create a system so we don’t have a mammoth like this ever again,” Turner said. “That people who are just trying to better themselves have to be faced with this kind of debt for the crime of walking across the stage seeking a degree … it is obscene, and it is unnecessary.”
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