Bernie Sanders says Americans shouldn’t face ‘financial ruin’ to ‘get a damn education’ in Supreme Court speech

Senator Bernie Sanders joined a rally with progressive lawmakers and hundreds of student loan borrowers outside the steps of the US Supreme Court on 28 February demanding that the nation’s high court preserve President Joe Biden’s plan to cancel higher-education debts for millions of Americans.

“In America, we have 45 million Americans, young people, drowning in student debt,” the progressive senator from Vermont told the crowd.

“And I have talked to people all over this country who literally delay having a family, can’t have any kids, they can’t afford a car, they can’t afford to have a middle class life because they’re drowning in this student debt,” he added. “In America, you shouldn’t have to face financial ruin because you want a damn education.”

The nine Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments in a pair of cases from Republican attorneys general and a conservative activist group challenging the president’s plan to eliminate up to $20,000 in federal student loan balances for eligible Americans.

More than 40 million borrowers are eligible for up to $10,000 in canceled higher education debts, or up to $20,000 for borrowers that relied on Pell grants, under the administration’s plan. Roughly 20 million people are eligible to have their debts canceled completely, according to the White House.

Roughly one in five Americans hold a piece of the $1.7 trillion in federal student debt, a figure that has exploded over the last decade alongside growing higher education costs. Millions of Americans also continue to tackle accrued interest without chipping away at their principal balances years after graduating, or have been forced to leave their colleges or universities without obtaining a degree at all while still facing loan repayments.

More than half of those 45 million people have $20,000 or less to pay off, while roughly one-third of all borrowers owe less than $10,000, according to the Federal Reserve. Seven percent of people with federal debt owe more than $100,000.

Those eligible for relief under Mr Biden’s plan include borrowers who earn up to $125,000, or $250,000 for married couples.

Roughly 26 million have already applied for relief through the plan, and more than 16 million were approved, according to the White House.

 (Getty Images for People's Rally)
(Getty Images for People's Rally)

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bob Menendez and US Representatives Cori Bush, Judy Chu, Maxwell Frost, Ilhan Omar, Pramila Jayapal, Ayanna Pressley, among others, also joined the rally outside the court on Tuesday.

In her remarks, Senator Warren accused the nation’s high court of “playing politics” and warned against “an extremist court” exploiting an “opportunity for millions of Americans to have a little racial justice, a little economic justice, a little opportunity to build more secure futures going forward.”

Black women have the largest student debt burdens, graduating with an average debt of $37,558, compared to $31,346 for white women, according to a 2020 analysis by the American Association of University Women.

Senators Warren and Sanders also recently signed on to a letter with several Democratic colleagues urging the Education Department to take “immediate action” to strengthen protections for students enrolled in postsecondary programmes “that saddle students with unaffordable debt and provide low financial returns.”

“We believe it is critical for students, families, and student support professionals like school counselors to have easy access to information indicating which institutions set high tuition rates, enroll students in low-quality programs with little payoff, and capture large amounts of federal student aid while failing to produce student outcomes,” the senators wrote.