Biden Moves to Reduce Student Debt

Student loan debt disproportionately affect students of color and women.

On August 24th, President Biden announced new student loan debt relief. The relief is up to $10,000 for individuals earning less than $125,000 per year and for households earning less than $250,000 a year. Those that received Pell grants for low-income students can have $20,000 worth of debt canceled. The White House estimates that 43 million federal student loan borrowers are eligible for forgiveness. This announcement comes after months of deliberations. 

According to a White House Fact Sheet, the total cost of both four-year public and four-year private college has nearly tripled since 1980. The average undergraduate student with loans now graduates with nearly $25,000 in debt. 

Further, debt unfairly affects different groups. The student debt burden disproportionately falls on Black students. Twenty years after first enrolling in school, the typical Black borrower who started college in the 1995-96 school year still owed 95% of their original student debt. Further, four years after graduating, nearly half of Black graduates owe more on their loans than their initial balance, compared with just seventeen per cent of White graduates.  

The student debt burden also affects men and women differently. Women hold about of student loan debt, while female graduates are paid around 74% of what male graduates make. According to the American Association of University Women, women require more education to earn a wage equal to less-educated men. Even with equal loan debts, the wage gap makes it more difficult for women to pay off their loans. 

Nearly 8 million borrowers may be eligible to receive relief automatically because relevant income data is already available to the U.S. Department of Education. For those that do not have relevant information available, an application will be available before the pause on federal student loan repayments ends on December 31st.

Kansans Kill Restrictive Abortion Initiative

On August 2, Kansas voters whether to amend the state constitution to say it does not include a right to abortion. Nearly 60 percent voted against the measure, affirming that a majority of Kansans support abortion access. 

The measure was part of a primary ballot, which are closed in Kansas. Registered Republicans far outnumber Democrats in Kansas, and primaries are typically not well-attended. The Kansas secretary of state’s office was predicting around 36 percent turnout, but the state ended up having an unprecedented primary turnout of about 50 percent.  According to the New York Times, there were a total of 908,745 votes. This is higher than the primary turnout in 2020, in the midst of a presidential election cycle. It is higher, even, than the 2014 general election turnout

“​​The vote,” according to NPR, “preserves access to abortion in Kansas and serves as a rebuke to the regional trend of states significantly restricting access.” Abortion is currently legal 22 weeks into pregnancy, making Kansas a haven as neighboring states set the most restrictive laws in the country.

The resounding 18-point margin came as a surprise in a state that carried a 15-point margin for Trump in the 2020 election. Rachel Sweet, who led the campaign for the bill’s defeat, said the victory was won through a bipartisan appeal. This was the first of six abortion-related initiatives on the ballot this year. The other states voting on the issue are California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana, and Vermont. 

About $6 million was spent on advertising for each side of the issue. The Roman Catholic Church was responsible for nearly two-thirds of funds supporting the restrictive measure, with one of the largest donations being ​​$2.45 million from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Kansas City, Kansas. Church advocacy is allowed in Kansas for nonpartisan ballot measures. Value Them Both was the largest contributor in favor of the amendment, raising $4.69 million

On the other side of the ledger, Kansans for Constitutional Freedom — where Rachel Sweet is the campaign manager — contributed largely to the huge turnout in a deep-red state. It received many of their donations from groups and individuals who prioritize access to healthcare, raising $6.54 million. Among the largest donors were Sixteen Thirty Fund, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and Planned Parenthood Great Plains.

Governor Laura Kelly won the Democratic primary with 94 percent of the votes and will face Republican challenger Derek Schmidt, the state’s attorney general, in November. In a press release following the Dobbs decision, Schmidt expressed his opposition to abortion access.

Election analysis by The New York Times observed: “The rejection of the amendment has as much to do with lukewarm support in the reddest counties as it does with strong opposition in the bluest ones.” With unexpectedly high voter turnout, Kansans made clear their affirmation of abortion rights. 

Biden Administration Takes Steps to Combat Maternal Mortality

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed nation in the world and has a rate more than double that of peer countries. Recently, the Biden Administration has taken many steps to tackle this, as a part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s Blueprint for Addressing the Maternal Health Crisis. According to CNN, the blueprint has five major goals: (1) to increase health care access and coverage; (2) to address bias in health care so women are heard and respected when they raise concerns; (3) to improve data collection; (4) to expand and diversify the medical workforce that cares for pregnant people; and (5) to help low income women who lack economic and social supports before, during and after pregnancy. 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services recently unveiled its Maternity Care Action Plan to aid in the implementation of the Biden-Harris Administration’s blueprint. CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure stated that “CMS will use every available lever to support people during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period, and advance health equity across the country. Our action plan is built on promising approaches… to advance equitable, high-quality maternity care and reduce unnecessary maternal illnesses and deaths.” 

One aspect of CMS’ plans is the extension of Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage for 12 months after pregnancy in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Kansas. These three states join California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington, D.C in having extended coverage, meaning more than 280,000 people across the country can get the critical postpartum care they need. According to the HHS, if all states adopted this option, as many as 720,000 people across the U.S. annually could be guaranteed Medicaid and CHIP coverage for 12 months after pregnancy. 

CMS is also outlining a proposal for a “Birthing-Friendly” hospital designation, a key feature of the maternal health strategy. The “Birthing-Friendly” designation would be publicly displayed on a CMS website to help consumers find hospitals that have demonstrated a commitment to maternity care quality. 

To further the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to addressing the maternal health crisis, the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health invested $8.5 million in initiatives designed to reduce pregnancy-related deaths and complications that disproportionately impact minority populations and those living in rural areas. 

Last week, the HHS also announced a proposed rule implementing Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, and disability in certain health programs and activities. Strengthening this rule is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to advancing gender and health equity and civil rights. Planned Parenthood CEO and President Alexis McGill Johnson stated that “With Roe overturned, we have called on leaders at all levels to act to support health care access that is free of judgment and discrimination. ​​This is particularly essential as attacks on people seeking abortions–as well as trans people–have significantly escalated in recent months.”


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