In This Episode
- The Biden administration announced it will overhaul the student loan forgiveness program for public service employees. It was supposed to forgive certain federal loans of people who worked in the public sector or at non-profit jobs for at least 10 years, but about 98% of those who applied were denied. The change will help over a half-million borrowers.
- Work at all of the Kellogg Company’s U.S. cereal plants came to a halt. As of Tuesday, 1,400 workers across the country went on strike. Workers want better health care, holiday and vacation pay, and more. Before you panic shop, it is not immediately clear how much the supply of Frosted Flakes will be disrupted.
- And in headlines: a federal judge blocked the enforcement of Texas’s restrictive anti-abortion law, Mitch McConnell offered to suspend the country’s debt ceiling through December, and the New York Public Library announced no more late fees for overdue material.
- NY Times: “A Guide to Big Changes for Public Service Loan Forgiveness” – https://nyti.ms/3BeWyrI
- Vice: “‘People Work 100 Days Straight’: Kellogg’s Workers Shut Down Cereal Factories” – https://bit.ly/3uOA2Ue
- The Guardian: “Wave of US labor unrest could see tens of thousands on strike within weeks” – https://bit.ly/3AnCdPz
- Jonah Furman from Labor Notes – https://whogetsthebird.substack.com/p/weekly40
Gideon Resnick: It’s Thursday, October 7th. I’m Gideon Resnick.
Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Anderson, and this is What A Day we were kind of bummed they identified who the Zodiac Killer is because we were going to make finding him our first post-COVID road trip.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, we have actually been working on this for years. As natural codebreakers, this seemed like a great opportunity for us.
Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. What do we do now?
Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, a federal judge blocked enforcement of Texas’s restrictive six-week abortion ban. Plus, we recap the latest offers and counteroffers in Congress on raising the debt ceiling.
Tre’vell Anderson: But first, more than half a million people will reportedly get support with their student loan debt. The Biden administration announced yesterday it will overhaul the student loan forgiveness program for public service employees. This unfortunately doesn’t apply to me, but I’ll share the news anyway.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, there’s enough time to get a job that would get this overhaul, I guess. So this is welcome news for many, surely, as student loan debt has long been a major onus for college grads.
Tre’vell Anderson: Very much so. Student loan debt is something that affects at least one out of every eight people, with almost 43 million Americans having federal student loans. That’s almost $1.6 trillion, according to the most recent data from the Department of Education. Now, these changes are specifically related to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Congress created it back in 2007 to attract people to often low-paying government jobs and those in the nonprofit sector. The incentive, which was deemed generous at the time, was that after 10 years of work for a qualified public service company, those who had made their student loan payments on time would have their remaining balance cleared. Unfortunately, though, very few people were able to take advantage of the program because the program’s rules were, for many, complex and hard to follow. Here’s Lesley Stahl on last Sunday’s 60 Minutes talking to five military lawyers, so, you know people who should be very savvy enough to follow these rules.
[clip of Lesley Stahl] How many of you in your own mind think that you have paid up the 120 months and that you deserve to be forgiven? All of you. [narrating: But all of them were told they’re mistaken. They were off by years.] Were any of you derelict in making your payments?
[multiple voices] Never. No. Never. No. Never.
Gideon Resnick: OK, wow. Exactly how widespread was this confusion about how to actually get these loans forgiven?
Tre’vell Anderson: Well, more than 98% of those who applied for loan forgiveness through the program were rejected, mainly because borrowers thought they qualified, but were in fact ineligible. Advocates have also called out the program’s poor maintenance and administration. In a statement announcing the changes to the program, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said quote, “The system has not delivered on that promise to date, but that is about to change for many borrowers who have served their communities and their country.”
Gideon Resnick: Yes, to that point, what are these new changes and who is actually going to qualify here?
Tre’vell Anderson: So I’ll start with your second question first about who this actually affects. And that includes full time federal, state and municipal workers, teachers, nurses, folks in the military, charity workers, and countless other frontline workers who have been risking their lives throughout Miss Funky Covidina. You know what I mean?
Gideon Resnick: Yes.
Tre’vell Anderson: Now, the most consequential change to the program centers on what’s been called the “wrong loan problem.” When the program was created, it was limited to folks with specific student loans made directly by the government only. OK. Stay with me here. It gets a little complicated, this is where people get tripped up. Prior to 2010, many people who took out government-backed bank loans might have gotten one called the Federal Family Education Loan. It sounds like that one would qualify for forgiveness, right?
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it does.
Tre’vell Anderson: Well, that’s what other people thought. That’s what they were told by loan servicers. But those loans did not. So it really sucks if you took out one of those loans and had been paying it on time for years. Now with this overhaul, those people could qualify for forgiveness and have certain past payments count toward the magic 120 needed to take advantage of the program. If you think you fall in that number, there are a series of steps you have to take by October 31st of 2022. We’ll link to an explainer from the New York Times in our show notes.
Gideon Resnick: They even make the remedy complicated, too. OK, so the Education Department is saying this change alone may impact 550,000 people, but it seems like they could have just maybe made this change earlier.
Tre’vell Anderson: That’s what a lot of advocates are saying, for sure. But the Education Department has resisted such a change because they believed it did not have the legal authority to do so. It’s doing it now, however, under a 2003 law known as the Heroes Act, which allows them to bend the usual student loan rules in times of national emergency—like that little thing called a global pandemic. And there are two other major adjustments to the program, Gideon. First, for people who are or were on repayment plans or were only able to make partial payments, they’ll get retroactive credit. And secondly, for folks who made late payments, those too could be credited retroactively. Also, 22,000 folks will automatically have their debts wiped clean because of these changes.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, I like the sound of that. And so more broadly for people saddled with all kinds of student loan debts, interest and payments have been frozen throughout much of the pandemic, but they are set to resume at the start of next year. So is there any movement at all on getting all student loan debt just canceled?
Tre’vell Anderson: Inquiring minds definitely would like to know because I literally got my Navient notification yesterday.
Gideon Resnick: The worst possible notification.
Tre’vell Anderson: Very, very, very that. As we know, this is all a political game. And some Democratic lawmakers have been pressuring President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt per borrower. He obviously hasn’t done so, not yet, because he doesn’t believe he has the legal authority to enact wide-scale student loan cancelation. He asserts that it’s Congress’s role, but that he would sign any such legislation if it ever hit his desk. But it would be popular, that move. A recent survey found that about 80% of Americans support some kind of student loan forgiveness. To the other 20% of you: who hurt you? Either way, I’m going to need whomever wants to forgive student loan debt to get it together very soon.
Gideon Resnick: Yes, seriously. Turning to another story, yet another significant strike has begun in recent days in the U.S., this time among workers at Kellogg’s plants across the country.
[clip Byron Leche] Everybody in this plant makes incredible sacrifices that most people wouldn’t understand. They work eight days a week at least, and that’s months on end without a scheduled day off. I mean, some people in the plant don’t have a scheduled day off for the entire year. We’re not willing to accept that anymore.
Gideon Resnick: That was Byron Leche, a worker at a plant in Battle Creek, Michigan, talking to WOOD TV8 on Tuesday.
Tre’vell Anderson: So Gideon, tell us about some of the basics of the strike and how it got started.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah. So as of Tuesday, about 1,400 workers across the country went on strike, halting work at all of the company’s domestic cereal plants, the home of things like Frosted Flakes. The strike includes workers at plants in Battle Creek, as mentioned, and also Omaha, Memphis, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania. So as for the why here, it once again comes back to treatment of workers—broadly speaking, them wanting more reasonable hours, better pay. Here’s an unidentified striking worker in Omaha talking with KMTVe New Now.
[voice clip] Me and my brothers and sisters at the, with the union have all been here since the pandemic started. We’ve been working the 12-hour shifts. We didn’t take days off for it. I mean, we gave them everything we had, and now they want to take it away from us.
Gideon Resnick: Daniel Osborn, the president of the local union in Omaha, told The Associated Press that the company and the union have been at an impasse on a new contract for over a year. He said of specific concern are holiday pay, reduced vacation time, health care plans, and allegedly the threat of some jobs being outsourced to Mexico. Many workers also talked to VICE in a report that we can link to about management’s proposal to cut costs of living pay increases, while also being wildly short-staffed during the pandemic, with some days stretching to 16 hours and no days off for months at a time.
Tre’vell Anderson: And this is far from the first strike in this industry this year alone.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, there’s been so many and I think, you know, broadly, the pandemic and the exacerbating wealth inequality that it has wrought has kind of turbocharged these labor actions across the country. And that has really been noticeable in the food industry. A sector with, as we know, hard long hours, often harsher conditions than many others. Earlier this year, to your point, Tre’vell, as we mentioned before, hundreds of employees at a Frito-Lay plant in Topeka, Kansas, went on strike. That ended in the ratification of a new two-year contract. And last month, an even longer strike across multiple states by Nabisco employees came to an end with a new contract that included updated guarantees.
Tre’vell Anderson: But also, this is far from exclusive to just one industry. As we’ve talked about a lot recently, IATSE, the union representing many thousands of TV and film crews, overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike earlier this week. So it’s not just me imagining that we’re hearing more and more about strikes recently, right?
Gideon Resnick: No, it’s not. And I had the same thought these last couple of days. By the way, IATSE and AMPTP, the trade association that represents producers without the fun way to say its acronym, were back at the bargaining table the last couple of days. So they were effectively brought back together after IATSE workers voted for the strike authorization. And there are just tons of other industries where strikes are ongoing or under some sort of consideration at the moment, including among health care workers, transit workers, workers at universities, and more. There’s a recent Guardian story that lays out some of this that we can link to, and Jonah Furman, a writer for Labor Notes, recently tweeted that we are in a quote unquote “strike wave,” which is a phrase I like. He has an excellent newsletter that shows the massive scope of what we’re seeing right now that I recommend people check out too. We can link to that as well. So more on the Kellogg strike, labor movements, and working conditions soon, but that is the latest for now. We’re going to be back after some ads.
Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.
Gideon Resnick: Late last night, a federal judge ordered Texas to suspend its abortion law, which bans abortions after six weeks of gestation. It is the strictest anti-abortion law in the country and has been in place since last month. And this comes as a result of a lawsuit brought by the Biden administration, which charged that the law was in direct violation of a person’s constitutional right to an abortion. The law has already had its intended effect, with Planned Parenthood saying the number of patients at its clinics had dropped 80% in the two weeks after the law was implemented. Texas officials are likely to seek a reversal of this decision, and it remains unclear whether services could immediately resume due to fears about the lack of a more permanent legal solve. This is a developing story that we’re going to check back in on soon.
Tre’vell Anderson: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is letting his obstruction skills slip because he offered to help suspend the country’s debt ceiling yesterday, but only into December. McConnell stopgap proposal would avert the U.S. from defaulting on its debt right away, which could in turn lead to an economic crisis. And the offer marks a shift after McConnell said Republicans would block any vote to raise the debt ceiling before an October 18th deadline. It was one of the proposals he made in a statement. Another was to offer that the GOP would be cool if the Democrats wanted to raise the debt limit through the reconciliation process. But Dems said they didn’t want to set that precedent and that reconciliation takes too long and it’s too risky. Following a closed-door caucus meeting yesterday afternoon, several Democratic senators signaled they would accept McConnell’s short-term offer so that the country could pay its bills.
Gideon Resnick: So that we can do this all again, soon. The World Health Organization endorsed the first vaccine that helps prevent malaria yesterday. Malaria is considered one of the oldest known and deadliest infectious diseases. It kills more than 400,000 people every year, more than half of whom are children younger than five, and nearly all of the deaths happen in sub-Saharan Africa. The vaccine, called Mosquirix, is not just the first for malaria, but it is the first shot developed for ANY parasitic disease. This is what Dr. Pedro Alonso, the director of the WHO’s global malaria program, had to say about the announcement”
[clip of Dr. Pedro Alonso] It’s a scientific breakthrough. It’s a public health historical event that for the first time, a malaria vaccine can be safely and efficaciously deployed to save lives of African children.
Gideon Resnick: The vaccine had been in the works for many years, and the W.H.O. endorsed it now, after looking at the results of a 2019 vaccine trial program. That trial showed about a 30% drop in severe malaria cases among fully-vaccinated children. The W.H.O. endorsement marks the first step in a process that should lead to wide distribution of the shots in poorer countries.
Tre’vell Anderson: In a win for those of us who sometimes treat books as aspirational home decor, the New York Public Library announced it has gotten rid of late fees and waived all outstanding fines for overdue material. This new policy took effect last Tuesday. It means NYC librarians are losing out on their second favorite thing made out of paper: cold hard cash. The old fee system collected $3.2 million in fines in 2019, but Library President Tony Marx said in a statement that fines are, quote, “an antiquated, ineffective way to encourage patrons to return their books” and that quote “fines are quite effective at preventing our most vulnerable communities from using our branches, services and books.”.
Gideon Resnick: True.
Tre’vell Anderson: New York’s is the biggest library system in the country to scrap late fees. Other major cities that also give overdue amnesty include Chicago, San Diego and Cincinnati.
Gideon Resnick: Yeah, Cincinnati had not done it when I was there. I got into quite a pickle as a youngster, getting tons of DVDs out, to the point where the fines racked up and I had a collections agency letter sent to my house. So there you go. Here’s another reason besides student loan debt to never take vacations: when Idaho’s Republican Governor Brad Little left the state this Tuesday, his even more Republican Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin waited just a few hours before using her temporary executive authority to extend the state’s ban on vaccine mandates. Idaho’s constitution puts the lieutenant governor in charge if the governor is out of state, and this allowed McGeachin, who is running for governor herself, to sign an executive order that put her pro-aerosol anti-antibody credentials on display for the Trump wing of the GOP. From Texas, where he was meeting with Republicans to discuss concerns about immigration, Governor Little said that he would rescind and reverse McGeachin’s actions. He followed through on this yesterday afternoon. He also criticized McGeachin’s attempts to mobilize the National Guard while he was out of state. She had inquired about sending them to the border. McGeachin was essentially doing “Home Alone: Lost in the Governor’s Office” and instead of ordering pizzas, she was ordering displays of military force. And the wild part is, this isn’t even the first time the McGeachin has caught executive order fever. She did the same thing when Little left the state for a Republican governor’s conference in May, issuing an order that banned mask mandates.
Tre’vell Anderson: So she has a history of this and he keeps leaving the state. Something off to me.
Gideon Resnick: It’s like he wants it to happen. Yeah, like what’s going on? When he’s there, can’t he write a thing that’s like, Hey, you can’t do this? Wouldn’t that be the solve?
Tre’vell Anderson: Questions that need answers. OK?
Gideon Resnick: OK, yeah, I’m distressed. And those are the headline. One more thing before we go, I am out starting tomorrow for a little vacation, so you are going to be able to get all of your news from our amazing other hosts and relieve yourself from me being annoying. I will be back in a few weeks. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, play around with the governor’s stationary when he’s gone, and tell your friends to listen.
Tre’vell Anderson: And if you’re into reading, and not just no-strings-attached books like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.
Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.
Tre’vell Anderson: And we won’t miss you when you’re gone, student loan debt!
Gideon Resnick: No.
Tre’vell Anderson: Sayonara honey, don’t come back.
Gideon Resnick: Exactly. There’s the door, I’m pointing right now. You can’t see it, but you know. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lance. Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.