Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses a news conference in Orlando on Aug. 25, 2022. Source: Screenshot/Facebook
Gov. Ron DeSantis denounced President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program Thursday, labeling it unconstitutional and unfair to Americans who didn’t amass significant education debt. He also argued it would feed inflation.
“It’s very unfair, you know, to have a truck driver have to pay back a loan for somebody that got, like, a PhD in gender studies. That’s not fair. That’s not right,” the governor said during a news conference in Orlando.
“The people that should pay for it are not the American taxpayers, it should be the universities should be responsible for that. If they’re producing people that went deep into debt and their degree is not worth anything, and they’re not able to make enough money to pay it back, well then that’s on them,” he said.
DeSantis also fired back at accusations by Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist that the governor has been acting like a “dictator” and an “authoritarian” for pushing divisive initiatives against protesting, COVID protections, abortion access, voting rights.
The governor cited his COVID policies to refute the charge.
“We made the right decision by keeping the state open. So, I think the people that are dictatorial are the ones that want to lock you down. I think the people that are dictatorial are the ones that wanted to lock kids out of school for a year — which all of them wanted to do here in Florida and I stopped it and made sure kids could be in school. I think it’s dictatorial to say that someone should lose their job based on their decision to get a COVID shot or not,” he said.
DeSantis didn’t mention that he did close the public schools for several months in 2020, or that he issued a broad “stay-at-home” order sharply restricting social gatherings and closing businesses around that same time. He ultimately repudiated both moves.
The ostensible reason for the news conference was so that DeSantis could announce a “Sun Pass Savings Program” offering what he estimated would be $40 million in discounts to commuters using the Florida Turnpike network and other toll roads owned by the Florida Department of Transportation.
The program would begin in September and last for six months, the governor said, giving the Legislature time to enact a permanent and perhaps more expansive discount program for additional toll roads, including the Miami-Dade Expressway and Central Florida Expressway. (Find a list of covered highways here.)
The program would offer 20 percent credits to drivers with 40 transactions per month and 25 percent discounts to those with 80 per month.
Biden announced Wednesday that he would cancel up to $20,000 in federal student loan debt for Pell Grant borrowers and up to $10,000 for other borrowers with an income of less than $125,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a household. There’s also a continued pause on student loan repayments until Dec. 31. Additionally, there are limits on accrual of interest on these debts. The administration estimates about 43 million borrowers would benefit, including 20 million who’d see their remaining debt erased.
DeSantis owes at least $21,284.92 in outstanding debt but may not qualify under the Biden plan. According to state financial disclosure records from June 2022, DeSantis has liabilities described as “Sallie Mae,” which typically would be private education loans. DeSantis attended Yale and Harvard, both private Ivy League schools.
DeSantis argued Biden lacks authority to act in any event.
“I think this is still important; some people may not care as much — he does not have the constitutional authority to do this. He is relying on emergency powers because of COVID. So, wait a minute: You got a PhD in gender studies five years ago and that has something to do with COVID?” he said.
“It is an abuse of power. It’s not constitutional. I don’t think this is gonna be sustained going forward. But it just shows you, you hear these politicians talking about these emergency powers — basically, they want that to be able to override the traditional rule of law.”
He predicted a court challenge.
“There may be an argument that they know that this is a weak ground. They have a lot of people that are supporters that have these advanced degrees and they’re asking for the relief, and so, it’s maybe a way to placate that segment of their base — knowing, though, that it’s going to get stopped in court and then maybe the inflationary hit won’t end up materializing if it doesn’t go into effect.”
However, the loans covered are held by the U.S. Department of Education. An administration fact sheet estimates that “nearly 90 percent of relief dollars will go to those earning less than $75,000.”
“The Department of Education estimates that, among borrowers who are eligible for relief, 21 percent are 25 years and under and 44 percent are ages 26-39. More than a third are borrowers 40 and up, including 5 percent of borrowers who are senior citizens,” the document says.
“By targeting relief to borrowers with the highest economic need, the administration’s actions are likely to help narrow the racial wealth gap. Black students are more likely to have to borrow for school and more likely to take out larger loans. Black borrowers are twice as likely to have received Pell Grants compared to their white peers. Other borrowers of color are also more likely than their peers to receive Pell Grants,” the fact sheet continues.
As for feeding inflation, expert opinion is divided. Republicans including DeSantis and Florida U.S. Sen. Rick Scott insist that’s a threat, but a Vox analysis quotes economists to the effect that it depends on what debtors do with the money diverted from repayments.
“So many of these folks actually lack any considerable economic buffer,” Alí R. Bustamante of the progressive Roosevelt Institute told Vox. “When you just take into consideration the demographics of it, you can see that any kind of increase in spending is actually very small.”
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