Student Debt, You’re Cancelled | Crooked Media
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August 24, 2022
What A Day
Student Debt, You’re Cancelled

In This Episode

  • President Biden announced on Wednesday a plan that would cancel $10,000 in student loan debt for millions of Americans, and $20,000 for Pell grant recipients. That will allow millions of borrowers to become debt-free, but critics say it won’t benefit those with larger balances nearly as much as full forgiveness – a goal that progressives have pursued for years. Braxton Brewington with the Debt Collective, an organization that works to empower student loan borrowers, joins us to discuss the decision’s impact, and why more needs to be done.
  • And in headlines: a Russian missile strike killed at least 22 people at a train station in central Ukraine, the Uvalde school district fired its police chief, and a new study shows that long COVID has taken out as many as 4 million Americans from the workforce.


Show Notes:



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For a transcript of this episode, please visit




Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Thursday, August 25th. I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


Erin Ryan: And I’m Erin Ryan and this is What A Day where we are taking advantage of lower gas prices by finally learning to do donuts. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes, obviously not to excess, but just a couple donuts in the Target parking lot each morning to get our day started. 


Erin Ryan: Don’t talk to me till I’ve done my donuts. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Please don’t. [music break] On today’s show, more pieces of the midterm puzzle have come together. Plus, climate change reveals another relic from the past in Texas. 


Erin Ryan: I love that story. But first, yesterday, President Biden made an announcement we’ve all been waiting for about student loan debt. 


[clip of President Joe Biden] If you make under $125,000, you get $10,000 knocked off your student debt. If you make under $125,000 a year and you received a Pell Grant. You’ll get an additional $10,000 knocked off that total for a total of $20,000 relief. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Biden also extended the student loan payment pause again through December 31st. It was originally going to end next month. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah, so obviously this is great news. According to NPR, about 43 million borrowers are going to benefit from this overall. But even better, 20 million of them will actually be debt free as a result. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That is not a small amount of people. That is so many people. That is really, really great news for so many people around this country. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah. And some of the people celebrating might even listen to WAD they might be listening right now. And so we asked you, our listeners on Instagram, about how you are reacting to the news. One said, quote, “I can use my monthly payment towards dental care. I’ve been putting off the dental care that’s more than regular cleanings for years because it’s so insanely expensive. I’ll be saving roughly $500 a month now. I’m so relieved”. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Every thing that I’ve heard like this from people who are paying loans, who are affected by this decision today and, you know, either don’t have debt or have significantly less because of this, are going to use this money for such basic things that it’s almost mind blowing, that, you know, this has been such an issue for so long. 


Erin Ryan: Mm hmm. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Dental care, books for their kids, like medicine. It’s like such instrumental stuff. And it is so wild to think that what was holding people back from accessing this were these insurmountable amounts of debt. 


Erin Ryan: You know what? It reminds me of what people did with the child tax credit. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right! 


Erin Ryan: They spent it on their kids. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Erin Ryan: It turns out when you give relief to people who are middle income earners, they spend it on improving their lives. 


Priyanka Aribindi: They have needs. Yes. 


Erin Ryan: Exactly. 


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s not just like fun money. 


Erin Ryan: Exactly. They’re not buying yachts with the $10,000 bailout from the government. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Certainly not. Another listener named Erin, not to be confused with you, our Erin, who you know, you’ve already paid off your student debt. 


Erin Ryan: Okay, Priyanka, just to be fair, it took me 14 years and it was horrible. It took me, I am not one of those people that’s like I did it. You should have to do it, too. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Certainly not. No. That was the last thing we expected from you. Um but anyways, this Erin, not you wrote to us and said, quote, “This helps, but it is the bare minimum. Borrowers also have state and private loans that they have been paying this entire time. Federal loans are a drop in the bucket. Why aren’t Democrats assisting to the fullest extent? I expect better”. 


Erin Ryan: I think that that is a fair criticism from the left, that more could have been done and more wasn’t done. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. 


Erin Ryan: This is not nothing. But it’s not everything. 


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s definitely not. Yeah.  


Erin Ryan: Yeah. I think especially for people who are working in fields where an advanced degree is required. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Erin Ryan: And then the income that awaits them once they have their advanced degree, which is required to get their job, their income is not enough to pay back student loans. 


Priyanka Aribindi: And people have like really cruel responses when that scenario is posited. Take these people who are upset about this happening. It’s incredibly cruel what they have to say. 


Erin Ryan: Oh yeah. It’s like, Oh, you shouldn’t have gone to grad school then. Okay, cool. Well, someone’s got to be a social worker. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Erin Ryan: Do you want everybody to just be a banker? Do you want us to be a nation of inside boy bankers and nobody has any any useful and socially applicable skills? 


Priyanka Aribindi: Perhaps. 


Erin Ryan: And uh they’re not the only ones who feel that way. In fact, many progressives have been very vocal about how this is still not the full cancellation of federal student loan debt that they wanted to see from Biden, and that this is nothing for many people who are burdened with six figures of debt, people who are going to have to start making payments on those loans in January if the pause doesn’t get extended again. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So to learn about the full scope of how borrowers will be impacted by the news we have with us again, Braxton Brewington. He is the press secretary for the Debt Collective, a progressive organization that is fighting for full student debt cancellation. Braxton, welcome back to What A Day. 


Braxton Brewington: Glad to be back. 


Priyanka Aribindi: So we got some follow up today on a Biden campaign promise with this recent round of debt cancellation. Last week, the Education Department cancelled nearly $4 billion in debt for people who went to some former for profit colleges. So what’s your reaction to this news? 


Braxton Brewington: This is a significant amount of debt, but if you don’t meet those qualifications, this is likely not much for you. And so what we’re really saying is the president needs to go even further and cancel all federal student debt. If you can cancel $10K, if you can cancel $20K. You can cancel all of it. I think it’s worth celebrating that debtors were successful in pressuring someone who frankly, was very opposed to cancelling student debt. I mean, he’s been stalling on this issue for at least two years. But we know that people are still going to be suffering. Payments are set to resume in just a couple of months now. And so we’re really going to be in this sort of situation again. This is sort of a Band-Aid on an issue that really needs to be addressed at the severity of it. 


Erin Ryan: So what concerns do you have about how this will be rolled out? Like the federal student aid’s website crashed, presumably under the weight of millions of borrowers who wanted to see if their slates were wiped clean. So what are some potential hurdles for those who qualify, and are there people being left through the cracks? 


Braxton Brewington: They’re announcing relief right. But their application for that relief doesn’t come out until the coming weeks. So this is the tedious type of work that they’re going to put borrowers through where you have to sort of pay attention to every single change that happens at the Department of Education. And that’s really not sustainable when we’re talking about tens of millions of borrowers. Right. People don’t have the means to just check the Internet every day to see what little change has happened. People have to go to public libraries to fill out burdensome paperwork. I’ve received a slew of questions from debtors who say, I don’t even remember if I had a Pell Grant. I went to college 12, 20, 60 years ago. You know, they have all these types of really deep bureaucratic questions. And so what we’re really worried about is going to be this rollout and people will inevitably fall through the cracks, which is why we’ve been always pushing for cancellation to be automatic, like it was for those former students at for profit colleges. 


Erin Ryan: Right. 


Braxton Brewington: The Department of Education just proved that they can make cancellation automatic. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely. So as we’re talking about, there are still millions of other borrowers whose debt exceeds $10,000 and even $20,000 in many cases by significant sums. Can you tell us a little more about who is being left behind here and how this burden is impacting their everyday lives? 


Braxton Brewington: So we know that cancelling $10,000 for everyone means that the vast majority of Black student debtors will not only have student debt, but they’ll still have more than they took out. We know older borrowers, the debt collectors just launched a 50 over 50 student debt strike where 50 individuals over the age of 50, were saying none of them have less than $10,000. Their average was over $100,000. Some of their balances exceeded $300,000 and $400,000. 


Erin Ryan: Wow. 


Braxton Brewington: Health care professionals who have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of medical loans, disproportionately women, disproportionately women of color. We know that those are the folks that are really going to be left out of this decision. 


Erin Ryan: So the last time you were on the show, you told us about the debt collective’s work organizing the student debtors strike. That campaign encouraged borrowers to look at ways to not pay without defaulting. So right now, the moratorium on payments has been extended to the end of the year, though President Biden says it will be for the last time. Can you also remind us what will happen if these borrowers can’t get any more extensions? 


Braxton Brewington: Well, we’re going to keep fighting to make sure that this is not the last time. In fact, they used the word final last holiday season or we had a strike that was set to launch in September that now will launch in January should payments actually resume. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. 


Braxton Brewington: We hear from debtors all the time who say if student debt payments resume, I’m not going to be able to save for retirement. The most common response is if my debt is cancelled, I’ll be able to buy a home. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Braxton Brewington: There is people who won’t be able to afford medication, who are going to have to pull their children out of childcare and find some type of alternative, maybe less safe option to watch over their children. We know that there are people who are taking even more desperate risks like selling their home so that they can make their student debt payment, right, risking a roof over their head so that they can pay the Department of Education, who’s proved over the past three years that they don’t need these payments. 


Erin Ryan: Some of the pushback I’ve seen about cancelling student debt or any kind of debt have been people who say, Oh, well, I paid my student loans. Why doesn’t everybody have to pay student loans? How do you make the case to people who maybe don’t directly benefit from cancellation of student debt, that this is something that is good for everybody? 


Braxton Brewington: I think that’s a really important question. And I think people sort of often can view these types of issues as a zero sum game. 


Erin Ryan: Mm hmm. 


Braxton Brewington: Falling sort of succumb to this issue of scarcity, that there maybe is not enough to go around, but the opposite is very much true. We know that cancellation doesn’t cost taxpayers any money. No one’s taxes are going to go up. This is not going to effect inflation right. What we really know is that, if anything, there’s going to be a spur of economic activity and we really want to return to education being a right. We kind of make this comparison to actually the movement to make high school free. There was a time when high school cost money. It was not accessible to everyone. And then we realized that’s not a good idea. Now K through 12 is free and everyone can go and we view public education as a right. And so we’re simply saying we need to extend that to higher education. I also want to point out that almost half of student debtors have college debt but don’t have their diploma. That means that they are burdened by this debt, but they’re not reaping any economic or financial benefit of having their degree. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So what can we do to kind of push our elected officials to take further action on this? And, you know, on the student loan crisis. 


Braxton Brewington: I think we have to do what we’ve been doing over the past two years, which is to continue to push Biden to cancel more debt. Right now, people will need a couple of months to see the sort of effects of people actually getting relief so they can say, wow, there actually is an economic stimulus. People are being able to maybe purchase that home because of that amount of debt that was holding them back. They’ve been able to start that business that they wanted to start. I think we need to start championing those stories of people who will benefit from this small amount of relief. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely. 


Braxton Brewington: So that we can use that as pressure to push to say, actually, if we go a bit further, this can happen for everyone. So we have to do that. And should payments resume in January. We’re going to have to strike. And so I think we should use this as momentum to sort of push for more student debt cancellation and for cancellation of other debt types that the federal government holds. 


Erin Ryan: Well, Braxton, thank you so much for your time today. We love having you. 


Braxton Brewington: I’m so glad to be back. Thank you. 


Erin Ryan: We’ll link to the Debt Collective in our show notes so you can read more about their work. But that’s the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads. 




Priyanka Aribindi:  Let’s wrap up with some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Erin Ryan: A Russian missile hit a train station in central Ukraine yesterday. The blast killed at least 22 people and injured 50 more. The attack came while Ukraine commemorated its Independence Day, not just to mark the country’s separation from the USSR, but also in defiance of Russia’s invasion that is now six months long. Here’s one Ukrainian Alexandra Cobernic talking with the AP in Kiev. 


[clip of Alexandra Cobernic] It’s very scary, but people are different. People are very determined. People are wearing [?] together, they are united. And we all believe in our victory. And we really need Europe to still support us and to stand with us till our victory to celebrate together. 


Priyanka Aribindi: It never ceases to amaze me, their spirit, as all of this continues to happen around them. All this death and destruction. 


Erin Ryan: The bravery of Ukrainians in war zones and anybody in a war zone who just defiantly goes out and refuses to be afraid is kind of awe inspiring to me. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, it’s incredible. The Uvalde school district has fired its police chief following widespread criticism that he failed to act quickly enough during the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School. Pete Arredondo is the first law enforcement officer to lose his job as a result of the botched response. Feels like there should probably be some more. 


Erin Ryan: Yeah. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Just a few. The city’s acting police chief on the day of the massacre is currently on leave. An investigation from the Texas state legislature found, quote, “systemic failures from the various law enforcement agencies that arrived at the scene and that ultimately allowed the gunman to stay holed up in two classrooms for over an hour, leaving wounded students and teachers waiting for help”. 


Erin Ryan: A jury ordered Los Angeles County to pay $16 million dollars to Vanessa Bryant yesterday over the actions of sheriff’s deputies and firefighters following the helicopter crash that killed her husband, Kobe Bryant, and her daughter, Gianna. Those county employees inappropriately shared photos of human remains. Seven others were killed in the crash. And Chris Chester, whose wife Sarah and daughter Payton were among them, was also awarded $15 million dollars for the emotional distress that he suffered. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Moving on, an unfortunate reason why the good flavors of La Croix are lasting longer at the office. [laugh] Long COVID has taken it out of you.


Erin Ryan: I was like, Where is this going? 


Priyanka Aribindi: I was wondering, too, it’s not going anywhere good. Long COVID has taken out as many as 4 million Americans from the workforce, according to a new study by the Brookings Institution. Roughly 10 to 30% of infected people develop long COVID, which is the little understood phenomenon that causes fatigue, brain fog and many other symptoms that can last for years. And Brookings’ new research dovetails with another report that the think tank did in January, which said that long COVID is potentially responsible for 15% of the country’s labor shortage. This is like devastating stuff that many, many people are living with after being infected. 


Erin Ryan: And people have been pointing out that this was a mass disabling event while it was happening. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 


Erin Ryan: And no steps were really taken to address it. So I guess we’re back into reaction mode rather than proactive planning mode. Florida and New York held primaries on Tuesday and the results are in. A few takeaways in New York. The clues that maybe Americans actually like having reproductive choice kept piling up as Democrat Pat Ryan, no relation to me, beat out Republican Marc Molinaro in a House special election. Ryan campaigned heavily on abortion and in the swing district of the Hudson Valley, it paid off. Manhattan, where redistricting created an exciting new batch of headaches for Democrats. Longtime Representative Jerry Nadler beat longtime Representative Carolyn Maloney. Moving down the coast to Florida. Democrats picked former Governor Charlie Crist as their candidate for governor. But he’s not necessarily the type of Democrat you’d want to hit the beach with. He governed as a Republican before switching parties and has a decidedly mixed record on abortion. Still, Florida Dems thought he was the best option to draw independents and moderate Republicans away from devoted soldier in the war on libraries, Governor Ron DeSantis, also soldier in the war on standing like a– 


Priyanka Aribindi: –standing like a normal person. 


Erin Ryan: Normal regular man. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Erin Ryan: Lastly, a threat to congressional boomer’s supremacy as a district that includes half of Orlando set itself up to elect the first ever Zoomer representative. 25 year old progressive and community organizer Maxwell Frost won his primary in that heavily Democratic district. Can I just say, in addition to having good politics. Max Frost, extremely Marvel Universe like name.


Priyanka Aribindi: Cool name. But I got to say, word Zoomer? Feel like I can go my whole life without ever hearing that. Let’s just not. Let’s just put a pin in it right now. Absolutely no. The days of L.A. smog making mountains fully invisible could be numbered because California regulators are announcing a plan today to require all cars sold in the state be electric by 2035. This plan was first announced by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2020. People who have heard him talk will note that this battle is personal for him as his speaking voice seems to show the effects of years spent inhaling car exhaust. 


Erin Ryan: Oh, that’s so mean. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That’s brutal. 


Erin Ryan: That’s so mean. 


Priyanka Aribindi: California’s plan will likely influence other states and to make the transition to electric easier. California will spend $10 billion dollars on vehicle incentives, charging stations and more. 


Erin Ryan: I have a question about that. Does that mean that gas stations will just convert to like roadside snack bars? 


Priyanka Aribindi: That’s sort of how I treat them. At this point now. 


Erin Ryan: I know. Well, they’re not selling gas anymore. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 


Erin Ryan: You can just buy some peach rings or whatever it is you buy on your roadtrips. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Peach rings or taquitos. 


Erin Ryan: And some welcome news for those of us who are tired of falling water levels, turning up skeletons with creepy bugs crawling on them. In Texas, falling water levels have turned up dinosaur footprints. Of course, this news is overall bad since it derives from the devastating effects of climate change. But if we can ignore all that for a second and just focus on the dino feet, they were found in the aptly named Dinosaur Valley State Park in the drive out of a river that is normally filled and they’re estimated to be about 113 million years old. That is so cool. 


Priyanka Aribindi: That’s cool as hell. 


Erin Ryan: One paleontologist noted that they were so well-preserved in limestone that you can see the toenails, again, something that is welcome when it comes to dinosaur prints and extremely discouraged when it comes to human remains in Lake Mead. I have to tell you, Priyanka, when I saw this news story, the first thing I did was text it to my sister in law to let her know she needed to tell my seven year old nephew that they found some really good dinosaur footprints. 


Priyanka Aribindi: What a time to be a kid. This is so fucking cool. Every kid goes through a phase where they are obsessed with dinosaurs. And listen, this is like the absolute coolest thing to happen for a kid who is obsessed with dinosaurs. It makes me want to be a kid again who is obsessed with dinosaurs. This is so exciting. This is really cool. I mean, terrible to how this happened, but it’s so cool. 


Erin Ryan: You can still be a kid that’s obsessed with dinosaurs. 


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s very, very exciting and very excited for these kids who are just in for like the best day of their lives. And those are the headlines. 


Erin Ryan: One more thing before we go. With less than 100 days until the midterms, it’s safe to say midterm madness is setting in. 


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s here. 


Erin Ryan: Oh, it’s here. It has been set in. I’ve got a bad case of it. Right now you can find all new Vote Save America merch in the Crooked store. A portion of every single order on the Crooked store goes to VoteWriters, the leading organization focused on informing citizens of their state’s voter I.D. requirements and helping them secure the documents they may need to vote. So check out for the latest drop, then head to to find out how to get involved and do your part in the lead up to this year’s midterms. [music break]


Priyanka Aribindi: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Leave a footprint if you are a dinosaur and tell your friends to listen. 


Erin Ryan: And if you are into reading and not just the books that still remain in Florida’s libraries like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Erin Ryan. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


[spoken together] And try hot water with lemon Govenor Newsom. 


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s great. I think it’s his trademark at this point. 


Erin Ryan: It’s his trademark. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I didn’t realize this about the man. I have to listen to him speak somewhere before I absolutely, like, slander him on this podcast. [laughter] Oops. [music break] What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein and our executive producers are Lita Martínez and Leo Duran. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.