Student Loans: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

Main segment: Student loans in the United States. Other segments: U.S. House of Representatives passes the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, divisions in the U.S. House Republican Conference
Student Loans: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 11 Episode 5
Aired on March 17, 2024

Main segment: Student loans in the United States
Other segments: U.S. House of Representatives passes the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, divisions in the U.S. House Republican Conference
Guest: Nicole Polizzi

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[Cheers and applause]

John: Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight”! I’m John Oliver, thank you so much for joining us. It has been a busy week. Haiti’s prime minister agreed to resign amid deepening unrest, Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer soft-launched a breakup with Benjamin Netanyahu, and a certain someone’s Adobe free trial expired in a pretty public manner. But we’re going to begin in Congress, where the house passed a bill that could eventually ban TikTok, the wildly popular app some of you are using to watch this very content in three-minute chunks. And for those who do choose to engage with the show that way: we’re back. ♪ ♪ I’m never doing that again. The House bill would effectively ban TikTok unless it breaks ties with its Chinese parent company, something Nancy Pelosi summarized like this.

This is not an attempt to ban TikTok, it’s an attempt to make TikTok better. Tic, tac, toe, a winner. A winner.

John: I’m curious: is it a rule that to be in Congress you have to be one of the weirdest motherfuckers to ever live? I’d ask how that happened but I think we all know. She went to her speechwriter and said “I have the perfect line for the tick-tack vote.” And they said, “did you just say tick-tack?” And she said, “you’re going to love it.” And they said, “again, did you say tick-tack?” And she said, “it’s a winner. It’s a winner,” then marched to the floor and alienated every American under the age of 35. Meanwhile, across the aisle in the House, Republicans have been in disarray. Colorado’s Ken Buck became the latest congressman to resign, and he doesn’t seem that sad to be going, given how he summed up the mood of the place.

It is the worst year of the nine years and three months that I’ve been in Congress. And having talked to former members, it’s the worst year in 40, 50 years to be in Congress.

John: that is not great! For one thing, the last 40,50 years included 9/11 and January 6th, two moments in American history so bad, they ruined their dates entirely. Still, I get the desire to leave Congress is pathetic right now, passing just 27 bills into law last year, making this session the least productive in decades. And Buck has been there a long time. I know 2015 doesn’t seem like a long time ago, but you know what happened back then? Left shark. Yeah. Do you remember a time when we could all collectively celebrate the joyful stupidity of something like Left Shark, as a community? Could you even imagine seeing Left Shark today and saying “I love this thing,” without immediately worrying that you’d see headlines the next day like “the insidious nature of left shark privilege” or “left shark’s overall deal at Amazon in jeopardy after anti-vax claims” or “leaked flight logs reveal left shark took 75 trips on the lolita express?” We didn’t worry about any of that stuff back then, we just looked at left shark and said “yes.” That’s how long Ken Buck’s been having a bad time in Congress. And his departure’s symbolic of a larger discontent within his party, though luckily for house republicans, they had a retreat this week. A chance to mend fences and come together. But there was a hitch.

Fewer than 100 members are even attending the event. That’s less than half of the conference. One lawmaker telling Axios, quote, “I’d rather sit down with Hannibal Lecter and eat my own liver.”

John: Wow. Now, there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to hang out recreationally with your coworkers, but you must really want to avoid an event if your answer expands beyond “no.” At a certain point, more details become hurtful, that’s why every wedding RSVP doesn’t read will attend, will not attend, and will not attend because I’d rather be the middle part of a human centipede. And the Hannibal Lecter excuse wasn’t the only elaborate “no.” For instance, Carlos Gimenez told a reporter he wouldn’t be coming because “he’d already bought the material to clean his boat this week.” Which makes sense. We all know how important it is to use boat cleaner before it expires. But lawmakers didn’t just skip the event because their coworkers are, broadly speaking, a bad hang. There was also grumbling that, instead of the usual retreat destination of Florida, Mike Johnson picked the Greenbrier in West Virginia, whose recent reviews online are, at best, mixed, with travelers complaining that “Greenbrier is sad,” “the bed and pillows were among the worst we’ve experienced,” and one simply labeled, “don’t do it.” There’s also this photo on their website right now, which looks like the last thing you see before being brutally murdered at an abandoned Cadbury factory. That looks like the Wes Anderson remake of The Shining. Although I will say: there is one amazing feature under that resort that makes it a perfect setting for a party in crisis.

During the Cold War, in case of a nuclear disaster, this is where our House and Senate would have relocated to, to continue doing their job.

Wow, how heavy is this door?

This door is actually 18 tons.

This was a dormitory with 60 to 65 beds. And there would also be riot gear.

The riot gear is to protect the people in here from each other?

From each other.

John: Yeah. It says a lot about your opinion of the people in charge of the government — the ones those planners were expressly trying to save — that they thought that if left in an enclosed space for an indeterminate amount of time, they’d inevitably murder each other. Look, it’s pretty clear House Republicans need to be reminded there are bigger things than themselves, and that there’s a lot at stake here. And maybe what Mike Johnson needs is to find a way to get the entire party to that resort, head down to the bunker, and step through that 18-ton door so they can marvel at the weight of their role in restoring order to a world gone mad. And then, while they do that, the rest of us can close that fucking door behind them and run. I don’t want to say it’s a perfect plan, but I will say, tic tac toe, it’s a winner. A winner.


John: Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns student loans. The biggest thing you leave college with besides a diploma and a drinking problem. Student debt is such a massive issue in this country that a few years ago, Burger King had a program dubbed “whopper loans” where lucky people could get up to $500 of their loans repaid, which they promoted with video of their mascot incinerating loans with a flamethrower. And just the year before, KFC did this.

If you name your baby Harland, you could win $11,000 in college tuition. All part of a contest by KFC to honor its founder, Colonel Harland Sanders. The chain will give the prize to the first baby born on September 9th named Harland. September 9th was the colonel’s birthday and the $11,000 is a nod to his chicken’s — [laughs] 11 herbs and spices.

John: Okay, first, that laugh is delightful. But also, someone actually did it! They named their baby Harland for $11,000 in college tuition money. Which is dark, but to be fair, “Harland” is not the worst baby name. The worst name would be “Derek.” Think about it, you saw a baby with cheeks like clouds and an innocence unparalleled and you thought “that’s Derek.” “That’s my little second-string lacrosse player.” “I can’t wait to hold that junior sales associate in my arms.” But as wild as those offers are, you can see the appeal. Currently, over 43 million Americans have student loans. That’s about 13% of the U.S. population, for a total outstanding debt of 1.7 trillion dollars. That’s higher than the GDP of Australia! One of the countries you know. Sometimes to illustrate a point, I have to use a country like Estonia and you have to infer from my tone whether that means a number’s big or not. And now, because I’ve successfully traumatized you over the years, you’re probably wondering — is that really Estonia? I don’t know, you tell me. Maybe you should’ve paid more attention at that school you paid so much fuckin’ money for. And for many struggling to pay their student loans, the debt can feel overwhelming.

I started with $80,000. I have been paying for 10 years. The grand total is I have paid $120,000 and I still owe $76. How the fuck is this possible?

John: That’s the appropriate response! No one should be working for ten years only to end up worse off than when they started. I mean, physically worse, sure. That is a given. It’s completely understandable. A but not financially. Now, you might remember, Joe Biden campaigned on tackling student debt. But his most ambitious plan, to wipe out over $400 billion of it, was struck down by the Supreme Court last summer. Another banger decision from the gavel gang, who are really playing the hits these days. Honestly, you guys should really take this show on the road, and if you do, I’ve got the perfect tour bus. For another 48 hours, it can be yours. Well, one of yours. If the rest of you get invited is kind of up to him. And for many on the right, the court’s decision was a good thing, because all along, the very idea of college loans getting forgiven had made them furious.

He may pull the trigger tomorrow on even more student loan forgivingness for pointless, useless baloney liberal arts degrees like the cultural significance of soap operas.

Why stop at student loans? Why not pay off people’s car loans, their home loans, their loans to get a tattoo?

Why should I have to pay for my neighbor’s dumb daughter who went to, I don’t know, grad school for anthropology, who just backed her car into my car and didn’t leave a note? Uh-uh, I’m not paying for that.

John: Wow. What a bunch of weird made-up bullshit followed by one thing that definitely did happen. I’ll be honest — I’d never considered how that cufflink of a man has neighbors. He lives in a community, among people who have to see him on the street and at the store. And yet he thinks someone hit his car by mistake? And that there’s only one suspect? That’s absurd! The whole town probably takes turns driving into his car! Also, for the record, Jesse Waters went to a private liberal arts college in Connecticut. Which shouldn’t be surprising. That’s the most Connecticut bitch face I’ve ever seen. Season five Rory Gilmore would have wrecked her whole life for him. But for all the scorn heaped on people who took on student debt, it’s worth noting this number only got so big because of a lot of shortsighted policy choices over the years. In fact, one of the original architects of the federal loan program back in the ’60s was asked a few years ago how she thought her proposal turned out. And she said, quote, “we unleashed a monster.” So given that, tonight, let’s look at that monster, how it got so big, and what we can do about it. And let’s start with how we got here. Because there’s two key issues that got us into this mess: the first is the loan program itself. Federal money for higher education really started with the introduction of the G.I. Bill. For years after it, lawmakers argued unsuccessfully for more federal funding for education. Then, sputnik happened, and suddenly, everyone from Eisenhower on down decided that scientific education was key to keeping up with Russia. Eisenhower signed the National Defense Education Act, which created the first loan program for students who wanted to study math, science, and engineering. And over the years, one president after another expanded the program. LBJ opened up lending to more people, regardless of their area of study, Nixon launched Pell Grants and created “Sallie Mae.” And Clinton started the process of shifting away from banks issuing student loans, to having them come directly from the government, all while pushing repayment ideas like this.

The Democrats ought to be for a program that gives every American person the chance to go to college and help for everybody who needs it, and they should pay the money back in one of two ways. Either as a small percentage of their income over a long period of time, or by giving three or four years of their lives back to their country through national service as teachers, or policemen, or family service workers!

John: Sounds good! In exchange for an education, graduates could give back by doing two of the hardest jobs I can imagine, and one that’s mostly staring at your phone in the New York subway. Under Clinton, and later Bush, we actually passed versions of that proposal, pegging student loan repayment to income or national service. And some of these tweaks genuinely had the goal of making access to education easier. But the only thing they definitely made easier was ensuring that anyone going to college could now access an absolutely massive line of credit. And theoretically, that would have been manageable, so long as the price of college didn’t get out of hand. But that brings us to the second issue. Because up until the pandemic, which brought tuition freezes, the price of an education crept steadily up over the years. It’s now at the point where the average net cost of attendance for in-state students at public schools — that’s after subtracting financial aid and grants, and adding in costs for things like housing, food, and books — is around $20,000 per year. And while a lot of factors contributed to that rise, one key one was a dynamic that accelerated after the 2008 financial crisis, when states began slashing funding for public colleges and universities, where the vast majority of U.S. students go. Understandably, those declines in funding were followed by large increases in tuition and fees to cover the gap. Here’s the former head of LSU in 2016, explaining how, in just a few short years, the ratio of what the government pays to what students pay had shifted there.

I’d say in ’08, we were 70-30, 70% state, 30% student. We’re 80-20 right now. 80% Student, 20% state. We’re quietly privatizing public higher education throughout the country. The children in elementary school are not going to have a public affordable option by the time they get out of high school.

John: it’s true! And you can add that to the list of things elementary school children aren’t gonna have by the time they’re 18. The list is now affordable public college, summers below 100 degrees, and their grandparents probably. Sorry, kids! Olds die! And when that reporter asked the then-governor of Louisiana to justify those cuts, his response was less than inspiring.

I have a constitutional obligation to deliver a balanced budget and the cuts have to come from somewhere. So, the cuts are coming at the expense of higher education and also at the expense of students in order to keep those universities afloat.

Students have access to money, so do lawmakers think, well, we won’t put money toward this because we know that students can take out debt and pay for their education that way?

Well, obviously that is happening to some degree, not just in Louisiana but around the country, and I find it very troubling.

John: “Yeah, we’re robbing our children to pay for our budget.” On one hand, I guess he’s being honest, but that’s still one of the worst things I’ve ever seen come out of Louisiana. With the best, of course, being Monsieur Jacques, the statue of a frog in a top hat from the city of Rayne. Now, does it look like the placard in front of him is blocking his enormous frog dick? Yes it does. Is there a photo where it doesn’t look like that? No, there is not. So public universities were struggling for funding. And many responded by ramping up spending. Which might seem counterintuitive, until you realize you can charge tuition almost three times higher to out-of-state or international students than in-state ones. So colleges now compete to lure those students in, with expensive amenities from state-of-the-art student centers to rock climbing walls. In fact, one of the most potent symbols of those spending wars is at LSU itself.

Wow, there it is, lifeguards and everything. Students at Louisiana State University can now enjoy a 500-foot lazy river that spells out LSU. Hey, lifeguard! Are you a student here, too?

Yes, sir.

So you’re paying for this? You’re paying for the lazy river.

Yes, I pay for this. It’s in my fees.

John: Okay, first, stop yelling at that student through a fence. He’s busy. At work. Being paid to watch the river he paradoxically funds. Second, not to river shame, but that has too many curves. The whole point of a lazy river is to get day drunk on nattys, pass out to an mgmt album, and vibe. You can’t do that if every five seconds you have to navigate the twists and turns of the letter s. But whether out of necessity or greed, universities basically started turning their campuses into resorts to justify taking more money from students. And the thing is, even as tuition climbed, students didn’t stop applying. They just kept borrowing as much as they could. So the mere existence of the student loan industry has ended up contributing to a vicious cycle of rising tuition and higher debt loads. All of which has made it very easy to wind up taking on debilitating amounts of debt, often at an age when you barely understand what you’re getting into.

It was just explained to us as everybody has student loans and this is just something you do to get ahead in life. To have a drink of alcohol, you have to be 21. To take out $100,000 worth of debt, you can be 18. You can do that. And I definitely did not understand what I was signing up for.

John: Right. That’s a huge burden to take on at 18. And that’s already a difficult age. You can’t legally drink, you can’t stop fighting with your mom, who’s being a total bitch, and leonardo dicaprio keeps skulking around your school. Why add the biggest financial decision of your life to that list? One borrower said she barely recognized her own childlike handwriting on the forms that committed her to decades of debt. And yet, for many, taking it on can seem like the only rational choice. Because so many careers are off-limits to anyone who hasn’t been to college.

Even though two-thirds of administrative assistants don’t have bachelor’s degrees, three-quarters of the new job postings for administrative assistants say you have to have a bachelor’s degree to be considered for that job. So, two-thirds of the people who currently do that job can’t apply for three-quarters of the new jobs in the field.

John: Exactly, a lack of a college degree is a significant barrier to entry for a lot of jobs. And barriers to entry make sense for some things, like practicing medicine, or gorilla enclosures. But requiring a degree for a job that can be done without one makes no sense at all. And once you’ve taken these loans on, even those who can afford the minimum payment can end up treading water for years. Here’s that woman you just saw, breaking down where her monthly payments actually go.

So, my total due for this month, $707.74. What will be applied to the principal? $64.54. So, the principal is the total amount of loan, like, actual money that I actually took out. What will be going to the interest? $643.20. So, my principal isn’t going down, my debt isn’t going down, I’m literally just paying the interest.

John: that’s ridiculous. That $650 could be much better spent — on the principal on her loan, or even to buying two cameos from Rudy Giuliani every month. And I’d prove that to you by buying one, but I don’t want to give that man any money. So we got one from Snooki instead, who charges around the same amount.

Hey, Brittney! What’s up, mama! It’s your girl, Snooki! And I can’t believe this video costs half as much as your student loan interest. That’s fucked up! [Blows kiss]

John: Yeah, it is! Thank you, Snooki. Thank you very much. And as those debts pile up, it’s no wonder that, for many with student loans, it can feel almost impossible to plan for a future.

One of the things that scares me is becoming a parent. I just got married last year and my wife is on me like, “hey, you know, I’m ready. Are you ready?” And so, you know, while I would love to be a parent but then I look at the — the cost of childcare and I look at my student loan balance and it’s like, then I’m still gonna be balancing, do I make my student loan payment or do I pay child care? You know, and I don’t want to default on my student loans, but at the same time, if I’m going to become a parent, I want to make sure that my child has the best life possible and I just don’t see how that is possible with having a student loan debt hanging over my head.

John: Yeah, student loans shouldn’t determine whether you have kids. It’d be crazy if something the government did influenced your decision to have a child or not. Right? Right? That would be crazy! Right? That would be absolutely crazy! And let’s address who gets hit hardest here. Because when many imagine the typical borrower, they’re picturing the caricature painted on Fox News, or in ads like this one, attacking Biden’s debt relief plan.

Want to be a struggling artist? College is on me.

My kids don’t need fancy things like school supplies or new shoes.

I work for you, theater major.

This shift is for you, business major, go buy yourself that new car.

Enjoy your free ride, college is on me.

Tell Congress, stop Biden’s bailout for rich kids.

John: They’re so right. Stop paying for rich kids to study theater! What are they gonna do with that degree anyway? Star in a hack political ad making fun of anyone who studies theater? Go get a real job where you touch a wrench! But about that “bailout for rich kids” idea. It gets tossed around a lot when it comes to debt forgiveness. Which is weird because rich kids tend not to have student debt, because their parents tend to pay for their college, just like they tend to pay for lawyers to make that thing with the car and the cyclist go away. And people with the highest loan balances are often current on their payments, because they may’ve gotten advanced degrees that allowed them to earn more. Conversely, those most burdened by debt often have relatively small amounts of loans, from attending public universities. That guy who was talking about putting off kids? He’s not in debt because he studied theater. He owes $30,000 from going to a state university to study accounting. He took the exact path people like this guy love to cream their chinos over, and it still fucked him over. In fact, as of 2022, most student loan borrowers with outstanding debt owed less than $25,000. And having a smaller debt doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easier to pay off. In fact, borrowers with the least debt often had slightly more difficulty with repayments. And that can be for multiple reasons, including they may’ve had to leave school before finishing, meaning they have all the debt, but no degree to show for it. And it gets even worse because increasingly, it’s not just young people taking on student loans. That’s thanks to yet another federal program called Parent Plus, which allows parents to take out a student loan on their child’s behalf. But these loans are even riskier. They have effectively no income requirements, and no limit on borrowing. And that means there are increasing numbers of retirees saddled with student debt on behalf of their kids, like this 80-year-old man.

And this is my son, who graduated in 2008 from Bridgewater College with a degree in biology. I didn’t want him to be stuck with having the debt that a lot of kids have when they get out of college. So, I assumed that loan. The parent plus loan that I took out was through the Department of Education. I think I started in 2004. I’m still paying it. And according to Navient, I’ll be done in 2040.

John: You know what I like about that? The slight laugh in his voice at the end there. That’s the chuckle of a man who knows he’ll be dead before that loan gets paid back. That’s a man laughing in the face of god and government. And death might be the only option to get out from under these loans. Because — as we’ve discussed before — student loans are extremely difficult to discharge through bankruptcy. They’re actually something of an outlier in that regard, as this professor explains.

If I were to go and lose all my money at a gambling casino, I can declare bankruptcy. If I were to, you know, be a criminal and do some horrible thing, I can declare bankruptcy. Students are not allowed to declare bankruptcy.

John: It’s true. And while I appreciate the hypothetical there, it’s a little hard to imagine this guy blowing his life savings at a craps table. I’m just saying, the very fact that he called it a “gambling casino” proves he’s never been inside one. So this entire system seems practically set up to drown people in debt. But there is one more player we should mention here, and that’s student loan servicers. You might know them by names like these. And if you know who these companies are, you probably fucking hate them! Servicers manage loans on the government’s behalf — and in theory, they’re supposed to help you navigate the system. But in practice, they often manage to make things much worse. A report found some companies have billed people for the wrong amount, given them bad information, and subjected them to incredibly long hold times on the phone, with one borrower waiting 565 minutes to speak to a representative. And that incompetence is a problem. Because the government does have programs to ease the burden of student debt — remember, the ones you saw Bill Clinton describe earlier? Where your debt can be reduced based on income or public service? Those actually do exist. But unfortunately, the government designed them in a very complicated way, and their implementation is in the hands of these companies. Take this woman. She was enrolled in a program where, after a decade of public service, her loans would be forgiven. She spent her decade serving in the military, and nine years in, having auto-paid on-time every month, she assumed she was nearly done. But when she called her servicer, fed loan, they told her she’d only been credited with one year of payments, so still had nine left. And when she asked why, their response was maddening.

The woman looked through my account and she says, “you may have an issue that we know is an issue where the auto-debit takes the payment but one penny short of what is actually due so it doesn’t count.”

I submitted my case for a review, and it sat in review for three years. And in the interim, I was paying because you’re like, okay, well, they’re reviewing it. They’re doing something. But it — the review never — three years later, it was still under review.

John: Hold on, we may’ve undercharged you by one penny so the payment doesn’t count? In no other transaction would that be acceptable! If you buy a shirt that’s $9.99 and the store only charges you $9.98, the cashier can either let it go, or say, “you actually still owe us one penny.” But at no point would they be allowed to say “sorry, your payment doesn’t count, give us $10 again.” And she’s not alone, a Gao report found that that loan-forgiveness program had a denial rate of 99%. A similar thing happened with “income-driven repayment plans,” which provided that, if your income was below a certain level, and you made 20 to 25 years’ worth of payments, your loan would eventually be forgiven. Which sounds good. But, again, the programs’ mechanics were complicated, and servicers fucked things up. Government reviews found some steered borrowers into something called “forbearance” instead — which basically hits pause on your loan, but allows interest to keep accumulating. That’s exactly what this woman says happened to her.

For months now, Julie Alicea has been desperately trying to take control of her mounting student loan debt. It’s now in the tens of thousands.

And it’s crazy cause I’m trying to pay.

But she says her loan servicer Navient is not helping. She’s been trying to apply for an income-based payment plan but instead the company steers her towards a costly forbearance and won’t send the paperwork she needs.

Since I requested income repayment program assistance and I’m still waiting since like early summer last year.

John: That’s absurd! She’s trying to make this situation better, and they’re not helping! She’s taking it so seriously, she’s wearing a headset on the news! Which I presume is because she’s having to be on hold with Navient every waking moment of her life! But even if you manage to get enrolled in a program, and jump through all the hoops for two decades, your servicer might still screw it up. An investigation a few years ago found some servicers weren’t clearly tracking borrowers’ payments toward the program and had no idea when borrowers qualified for forgiveness. Which may help explain why, as of 2021, despite the fact that 2 million borrowers have been enrolled in income-based repayment plans for over 20 years, only 32 had successfuly canceled their loans. Not 32% — 32 people! This program has only worked for a single season of Bachelor contestants. And honestly, chalking it up to companies’ incompetence might be too generous. A whistleblower who worked in customer service at Navient has said that one major metric employees were graded on wasn’t how helpful they could be to customers, but how fast they could get them off the phone.

Part of our training was keeping your calls to seven minutes. If I don’t keep my call to 7 minutes, I have a lower status at the end of the day. I’m considered not having performed as well. A few of my coworkers said that there was just no way to answer all of those questions in a way that was satisfactory and maintain the numbers that we were maintaining. And so, they would be on their call and then they would just press a button and go, “oops.”

John: Wow. “Oops.” That’s not good. And I should say, Navient denies putting time limits on calls, and also denies steering customers into forbearance. In fact, they have a whole statement here that apparently I have to read to y — except, oops! I dropped it. It turns out you’re right, Navient. It’s so easy to do. The good news is Navient’s contract with the government has since expired. Unfortunately, many of their accounts were transferred to Mohela, which doesn’t seem to be much better. It was recently found to have failed to send billing statements on time to 2.5 million borrowers, and over 800,000 were delinquent on their loans as a result. And when you take everything you’ve seen tonight together, it is hard to feel like the system isn’t rigged.

We’ve been told, you know, working-class people that as long as you get an education, then you will have job prospects. You’ll be able to take care of your family. You’ll be able to have a future. I really used to blame myself a lot, and I used to feel a lot of shame. And then I started to look at the policies and I’m like, wait a second, is it personal responsibility or is it really bad policy? And I realized it’s bad policy, straight up.

John: She’s right. We’ve set up a system where we’ve created a barrier to entry for many jobs, that can only be passed by taking on some of the most debilitating loans, with the least protections, administered by some of the shittiest companies on earth. And coverage the average loan debt of all demographics. So what do we do? Well, personally, I’d argue that Congress needs to pass massive debt forgiveness. But I know that’s a hard sell in that building, given that some of its members have sat in hearings on the student debt crisis and said shit like this.

I’m a small business owner back in Texas, and in my world, if you borrow the money, you pay the money back. Pure and simple.

John: That’s an interesting point from a man whose eyebrows seem surprised to be on his actual face. But on one level, I get that argument. It’s just, it’s a little hard to take coming from him as, at the start of the pandemic, his “small business” received a $1.4 million PPP loan. And guess what he didn’t then do? Pay it back. He also happens to be one of the wealthiest members of Congress. So I think we may’ve just found an actual bailout for the rich. Someone should tell that man who definitely knows how a car works. He’s going to be so mad! And that’s the thing — for all the populist speechifying that essentially boils down to, “how dare you spend money on something that benefits someone who’s not me?” The government spends money all the time, on all sorts of things, to benefit select individuals, because we think there’s a net societal benefit. From forgiving loans to small businesses, to subsidizing corn farmers, to giving homeowners massive tax breaks, to building stadiums — I don’t love spending money on all of those things! But if you do, it feels pretty weird to suddenly draw a hard line at student debt. And while we wait for Congress to pass comprehensive debt relief, I do have some good news. Because while the Supreme Court struck down Biden’s big, $400 billion plan, to his credit, he’s managed to get other, meaningful solutions through, by tweaking existing programs. Under his administration, we’ve forgiven nearly 12 billion of debt for borrowers with disabilities, and — through adjustments to the public service loan forgiveness program — another $56 billion for nearly 800,000 borrowers. That is significant for those benefiting from it.

Everything says: “paid in full.”

The relief and celebration came in a flurry.

I’ve been paying on student loans for 38 years.

Zero balance.

To see zero — I’m used to seeing zero in my checking account, not my student loans or a credit card or anything like that. So, it’s shocking.

John: That is great, and it’s honestly the sort of thing that calls for a message of congratulations. And luckily, I happen to know just the person to deliver it.

Hey, Sarah! I’m so glad your student debt is all gone! Congratulations, mama! [Blows kiss]

John: Thank you again, Snooki. [Blows kiss] And look, if you personally have student debt, it’s worth knowing this administration is currently rolling out the save plan, a retooled version of income-driven repayment which does look promising. It lowers eligibility requirements, and ensures that for anyone who borrowed less than $12,000, their debts would be wiped clean after 10 years of payments. You can go to this website to see whether you’re eligible and how much it might save you. And I’m not saying it’s perfect. For a start, it’ll have to be administered properly, and remember, these assholes are still involved. But in just its first few months, the save plan’s relieved a total of $1.2 billion for 150,000 borrowers. In fact, if you take everything Biden’s administration’s done together, he’s managed to relieve $138 billion in student loans for 3.9 million people in just three years. That’s more than any president in history. And look, I know we’re talking about band-aid solutions here. Even if we got rid of all the problems with the servicers, that won’t fix the giant pile of debt people owe. And even if we got rid of that, that won’t fix the central problem that the cost of college in this country is absurd. And there are proposals to fix and deal with that, each with pros and cons — from putting colleges themselves on the hook for a portion of the debt when students default on loans, to making college tuition free. And I’m sure we’ll discuss them another time. Because we do need to tackle the cost of college, for everyone’s good. And I’m not saying college is the right choice for everyone — but it should be a choice. It can unlock a lot of opportunities, and be a net benefit to all of us. So it should be affordable for everyone, regardless of what you study. Whether you’re a medical student, a business student, or a certain anthropology student, heroically ramming into your dipshit neighbor’s car. A grateful nation thanks you.


John: That’s our show. Thank you so much for watching. We are off next week back March 31st! See good night!

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