Is Student Loan Cancellation In The Stars?

View of space and stars

 

“Either a) they’re going to resume repayments right before the election, which would be suicidal, or b) they’re going [sic] forgive loans right before the election, which would be brilliant.” ~ Michael Love

What’s it gonna be? I saw the tweet above and couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Going back several decades gives some clarity on how we got here with student loans. From many articles that I’ve read, it goes back to President Reagan. A “Common Dreams” piece is especially illuminating.

“Before Reagan became president, states paid 65 percent of the costs of colleges and federal aid covered another 15 or so percent, leaving students to cover the remaining 20 percent. Today the numbers are pretty much reversed.

As soon as he became president, Reagan went after federal aid to students with fervor. Devin Fergus documented for The Washington Post how, as a result, student debt first became a widespread thing across the United States during the early 80s:

‘No federal program suffered deeper cuts than student aid. Spending on higher education was slashed by some 25 percent between 1980 and 1985. … Students eligible for grant assistance freshmen year had to take out student loans to cover their second year.’

It became a mantra for conservatives, particularly in Reagan’s cabinet. Let the kids pay for their own damn ‘liberal’ educations.”

An article on President Reagan’s budget that was published by the American Association of University Professors discusses the reduction in student assistance back in the early 1980s. I was a freshman in college in 1982. I had a mixture of grants, work study and loans. However, I remember in my junior year losing a lot of grant money and having to take on more loans than anticipated. I didn’t understand what was happening and remember being shocked.

The article goes on to say, “With rare exception, every college campus would be affected by the proposed cuts beginning in academic year 1981-82. The degree of impact would vary depending on the current numbers of students utilizing federal student assistance programs and the income status of students and their families. We do not know at this time the impact on the size of the freshman classes of academic years 1981-82 and 1982-83.”

Well, I don’t know the impact on the size of the classes, but it was the beginning of a decades long student loan debt problem. President Reagan also contributed generally to consumer loan debt problems for those with middle and lower incomes. With the Tax Reform Act of 1986, credit card interest and other forms of personal interest were no longer tax deductible. We now know what the theory was really trickling down.

Credit Scores & Debt

Money itself means nothing. It’s a tool created by humans so that we can exchange goods and services in a way that is easier than bartering.

We reduce people to a credit score based on whether they are deemed “worthy” of credit.  Buying a home is supposed to be the American dream, but most people have to go into debt to get it. Credit scores are looked at by employers and can impact one’s ability to get employment. Unless you have other income, you can’t pay back debt without a job. It’s a truly vicious cycle.

Credit shouldn’t be needed to get the basics in life like housing, transportation, education, health care and literal freedom. Many if not most Americans go into debt to obtain at least a few of these. Most obtain mortgages to buy a house. People use loans to finance cars. Student loans are used for education. After receiving health care, many are often saddled with medical debt. For those unlucky enough to be arrested without sufficient monetary resources, if they cannot pay bail, they may remain incarcerated.

Library Fee Debt

There seems to be a collective recognition that the idea of debt is wrong and things can be different. Everything that we have in life materially, like cars, phones, houses, money, unless it already existed in nature like plants and water, all the systems in place in society (like debt and taxes) were created, built, and manufactured by people. It didn’t have to be like this from the beginning and we don’t have to continue down this path now. Things can change.

My local public library stopped collecting late fees for overdue books and many other libraries are doing the same. There never had to be late fees to begin with. It became a debt for borrowing a public book. How many people were not able to borrow books because they owed money? 130,000 just in San Diego according to a November 2021 article by the Public Library Association. So people were prevented from using a resource to gain knowledge because of debt. Does that seem right? The pandemic zeitgeist allowed the idea of pausing library fines and a collective shift to thinking that these fees are wrong.

A March 2022 New York Times article followed-up on the elimination of late fees across New York’s public library system. A flood of overdue items were returned to the branches and visitors increased as well. Debt cancellation has a positive effect. It gives power back to the people burdened by it.

The Rich & Debt

There’s a reason why Elon Musk and Jamie Dimon are feeling “super bad” about the economy. Maybe because broad debt cancellation would impact companies and other institutions whose sole purpose is to make money off of student loan debt. There would be a massive reshuffling of the economy. Mitt Romney, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, has proposed legislation to prevent President Biden from cancelling student loan debt. The mega rich are not happy about the prospect.

The pandemic turned life upside down in just about every way possible. As things begin shifting toward a new normal, we can observe how things will land and hopefully imagine a different and better way.

Debt is a fundamental system in our market based economy intentionally put in place in the United States to favor the rich and control those who are not. The tax system favors debt held by the wealthy, but not debt held by others.

According to the Education Data Initiative, 43.4 million people have federal student loan debt. The average balance owed is $37,014.00. If you include private student loan debt, the amount is closer to $41,000.00. In total, the federal government is owed over $1.606 trillion dollars in student loans. Research from Insight Into Diversity states that two-thirds of the people holding this student loan debt are women and most of these women are Black.

The government spends money by incurring debt all the time and forgives it too. But this country seems to fundamentally disagree with who deserves money and who doesn’t. Business need is favored over personal need. It also disagrees with whose debt should be cancelled. According to Pandemic Oversight, many PPL loans were forgiven.

“More than 11.8 million Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans were issued as of June 30, 2021, with 708 borrowers receiving the maximum loan amount of $10 million. Of the total number of loans, 4.1 million have been forgiven. The average dollar amount forgiven was $95,700. Of the borrowers receiving the maximum amount, 323 loans have been partially or fully forgiven.”

PPL loans were issued to businesses on the premise that the money would be used to save jobs. That these companies could not pay their workers otherwise. When I heard that Tom Brady’s health and wellness company received close to a million dollars from this program, I had thoughts. Between his wealth and Gisele’s, they couldn’t otherwise afford to pay their employees? Hmmm.

Many companies didn’t have to pay back the money. The PPL program has also been called “the biggest fraud in a generation” based on the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on luxury items and not employee paychecks.

The difference in outrage between what is shown toward PPL loan forgiveness and the idea of student loan forgiveness is stark and monumental.

Who Has Student Loan Debt?

Yet, most likely voters favor student debt cancellation. Just days ago, hundreds of organizations jointly called on President Biden to keep his campaign promise and cancel student loan debt, stating that it will “strengthen the economy, tackle racial disparities, and provide much-needed relief to help all Americans weather the pandemic and record inflation.” Recent headlines state that President Biden may forgive $10,000.00 per student borrower. However, that’s just a drop in the bucket and would do nothing for anyone with debt larger than that. Myself included. Why? Interest capitalization.

From what I see personally with my own student loans, every July, the interest capitalizes. So whatever progress was made during the year in paying towards the loan, the unpaid interest is added again and the loan keeps growing. This happens every year. So the principal keeps getting exponentially bigger. It is a never ending pit. A trap. Unless you have a lot of money and can make very large payments, the loan will never be paid off. When I took out my student loans, I understood that there was interest, but not how much the interest would be repeatedly added to the principal. This issue is very personal to me and I cannot even pretend to be neutral.

So many people are caught in the student loan debt trap. It’s very difficult to make large payments unless you accumulate a certain amount of wealth or someone helps you. President Obama and Kerry Washington were both unable to pay off their student loans until they started making the kind of money that comes from fame.

Things do seem to be changing. Over the past few months on Twitter, I’ve noticed people exclaiming that their student loans were forgiven. Mostly through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF). Over the years, graduates sought to have the loans forgiven, but virtually nobody was ever eligible. The Biden Administration has been taking another look at the programs to see the flaws in the system. Actually those flaws seem intentional. Keeping people in debt seems to be a thing with this country. Debt is as American as mass shootings.

However, the momentum shift by the federal government seems to be only for piecemeal cancellation. Forgiveness for students who attended certain for-profit schools is part of that trend.

Broken Student Loan System

Most recently I’ve read that President Biden is forgiving loans for 28,000 student borrowers who attended for-profit Marinello Schools of Beauty and 560,000 student borrowers of for-profit Corinthian Colleges.

If in the past you tried to get your loans forgiven through PSLF, try again. It’s now working for some people. Hundreds of thousands of people could be eligible to have those loans forgiven. The Twitter celebrations of newfound freedom from student loan debt are beautiful. Maybe the tide is changing.

President Biden extended the pause on federal student loan payments for the 7th time since the pauses began in March 2020. This time the pause is through August 31, 2022. The student loan system is broken and exactly how broken is becoming more clear.

A recent NPR investigation reveals that the federal student loan system has been badly mismanaged. Those tasked with managing the loans have not always kept track of payments made on those loans. Often student loans are eligible for cancellation after a certain number of years or payments. But those servicing the loans don’t always have systems in place to let borrowers know when they have reached eligibility. The system is a mess and the burden of endless years of debt falls on those who can least afford it. Revelations in the article are stunning, including the portion below.

Before the days of multiple loan servicers, there was simply one. From 1992 to 2009, ACS Education Services managed the entire federal student loan portfolio.

But when the federal government ended its contract with ACS and the company began transferring borrowers’ profiles to other servicers, it became clear that ACS had made a dizzying number of errors — more than 5 million according to a 2020 report.

ACS has also faced allegations of mismanaging IDR, misleading borrowers and of taking months, even years in some cases, to correct and update borrowers’ records.

Nearly every borrower who could be eligible for cancellation under IDR in the next few years was serviced by ACS at some point. That means their current records, including the count of their progress toward cancellation, could be built on the sand of erroneous data.

This matters now more than ever, after several servicers have ended their federal contracts and more than a quarter of all borrowers have been — or soon will be — transferred to new servicers.

Broad Student Loan Cancellation?

But will President Biden’s willingness to cancel student loans ever extend to a broader group of people? Millions are bogged down with student loan debt. Not just young people, middle aged and elderly as well. And yes, still me. Some people even lose their social security benefits because of it. An AARP article detailed the problem.

“In fiscal year 2015 alone, almost 114,000 borrowers age 50 and older had Social Security benefits seized to repay defaulted federal student loans, according to a 2016 Government Accountability Office report. Half of those were receiving Social Security disability payments.”

People give money here and there to patch up problems for the moment or maybe a season. But not a lifetime. The Debt Collective, which is the nation’s first debtors’ union, recently “purchased purchased $1.7M of unpaid tuition bills that Black women previously owed to Bennett College — and canceled it all.” That’s a private organization trying to patch up the holes in a bigger system.

A Washington Post article examined how the student loan pause has greatly helped Black women especially, because we as a group, hold a disproportionate share of student loan debt. The pause has allowed some to purchase homes, accumulate savings and catch up on bills. For me, I’ve been able to catch my breath for a bit. But I’m still waiting for the full exhale.

Systemic change is necessary to change a person’s lifetime — not just a moment in time. Full student debt cancellation would change the system and right wrongs impacting generations. It would begin a fundamental shift in the underpinning of American society.

The Current Astrology

I’m certainly not an astrologer, but I believe there is something to astrology. For thousands of years, humans have looked to the sky for guidance. After all, many believe that three wise men followed a star to find a special newborn baby. I follow a few astrologers on social media and have noticed some trends.

Mercury just stationed direct yesterday and generally what was hidden from sight may now be revealed. So the time may be right for getting answers on the big picture with student loan cancellation. According to a podcast by Chani Nicholas, “Mercury retrogrades point out what has never worked. What has been broken for awhile or what is completely unsustainable.” Mercury helps us to realize exactly how problematic things are.

Pluto Return Of The United States

Nations have astrological birth charts just like people. At different times, planets travel to the same places they were located when someone was born. Some planets travel faster or slower than others. The moon travels through every astrological sign within a month. The sun travels through every sign over a year. Instead of wishing people “Happy Birthday!,” some say “Happy Solar Return!” Which is the day and time each year when the sun is in the same spot as it was when you were born.

There are other planetary returns too. Cycles are different for each. If we live to be 84 years old, we could experience a Uranus return. Many people talk about our first Saturn return at around 29 years of age. Depending on how long we live, we could have two or three Saturn returns.

Now Pluto is another story. A Pluto return is 248 years. No human will experience a Pluto return. But a nation can. And the buzz about the Pluto return of the United States has been ever increasing over the last few years.

Astrologer Chani Nicholas was interviewed on a podcast about this important time that we’re living through. Her interview starts around 21 minutes into the show. She says that the Pluto return started in 2008 and makes us reckon with everything. It all gets exposed and we have to heal from the past.

According to what Pluto impacts, it was no coincidence that during 2008, we were in a financial crisis and that we elected President Obama as the first Black president. The unsustainable housing market was exposed for what it was. Shaky at best. Racism that has always been a part of this country became louder and uglier.

Nicholas says that Pluto asks what we have learned about our resources and what are we going to do about it. It’s a reckoning point.

An article by Astrologer Whitney Will also states that the impacts of the Pluto return started in 2008 and that there are “three exact hits” that happen in 2022.

“At the time of the signing of the Declaration, Pluto was toward the end of Capricorn at 27 degrees, falling in the part of the chart that relates to resources, how they are acquired and how one manages finances. In this position, Pluto describes a fixation or complex that the United States will and does have with economics, and a difficulty in relating to this topic with any kind of moderation. When it comes to money, the United States as an entity is likely to relate in compulsive ways and with a great deal of psychological shadow involved. When Pluto comes back around, we will have to reconcile with the darker parts of our history.”

The Hoodwitch refers to the Pluto return of the United States as a “historic event that will rock the country and change our lives.” She continues.

“The foundation of the U.S. has many cracks in it, which is why we can expect to see it being rebuilt in a better way in which the people hold the power. The government has to be accountable and responsible for the wrong doings of its past — particularly the racist and misogynistic roots that the country was founded on. The time and reckoning has come for the country to make reparations and redefine the culture that its founders built. A restoration is necessary.”

It’s no revelation to most that Nancy Reagan had an astrologer that she often consulted. A PBS article about the death of the astrologer, Joan Quigley, says that neither President Reagan nor his wife ever admitted to using astrology to make policies or decisions. However, Quigley denied that. In the end, we’ll never know.

Astrology doesn’t give definite answers or predict the future. But it can help with the timing of things that we are trying to accomplish and guide us in other ways. Wouldn’t it be quite cinematic, if the astrology for this country could help undo the decades of damage done by America’s first actor president?

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Image Credit: ESA/NASA

I Did A Podcast!

Podcast with Dr. Robin

Things are getting more interesting on this blog! Last week, I spoke about my blog as part of an author series. A few weeks before that, I did a podcast that you can now listen to!

The podcast is called Leadership Purpose with Dr. Robin. The host, Robin L. Owens, Ph.D., is a college professor, speaker, author and leadership purpose coach. On her weekly podcast, “she interviews experts who give helpful advice to address issues facing high achieving women leaders today.” She also shares her own stories and life lessons along the way.

It was so much fun doing the podcast and I think it sounds great! Of course I’m biased with my own episode, but I’ve enjoyed listening to all her other episodes as well. They’re inspiring! And I always learn something new and benefit from hearing different perspectives on many life issues that we all face.

On the podcast, I speak with Dr. Robin about my favorite quote, which is also my blog motto, and about my writing and legal careers. And Free Yoga Boston too!

I hope you listen to the episode and enjoy it as well! You can listen on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

Pandemic Surrender

thinking about surrender

During the last year and a half, I’ve done a lot of thinking about surrender. That’s why I chose surrender as my word of the year.

I believe that surrender is not about giving up, but making peace with reality. Because I’ve learned that what you resist persists and the fighting is emotionally exhausting.

A few days ago, I did a selfie photo shoot of my new look. Normally I’m not one to share many pictures of myself. But I do change up my photos on this blog and my social media every year or so. This change is dramatic, so I thought I’d blog it too.

My hair has been thinning for years and has been a constant source of stress and anxiety. Society places so much importance on thick long luxurious hair. What do you do when you don’t have that no matter how hard you try?

You do the best you can with what you have. You try to overlook comments that people make about other people’s hair while wondering what they think of yours.

Then you just get exhausted by the whole thing. Because life is short and what’s the point of worrying. I can’t control other people’s thoughts — only mine. I need to be comfortable with myself. I’m 56, soon to be 57, and want to age gracefully. Wigs, weaves and braids have never been my style, so I started looking at the other end of the spectrum.

Several of my aunts have embraced the bald look and some well-known glamorous women like Christine Platt and Ayanna Pressley rock it as well. Ayanna Pressley is such an inspiration and powerhouse that I’ve especially taken strength from her and see her as an expander. I don’t have alopecia, but many women in my family have thinning hair, so it’s almost certainly genetics.

My mom had a stroke at the end of February and I’ve been helping her get back to her life. It’s been a long journey for both of us. Through all this, we both were vaccinated. PSA — Get vaccinated!

The day before I became fully vaccinated (two weeks after the second dose) was also the day that I picked up my mom from rehab and brought her home. It’s also the day that I got most of my hair chopped off. I only have so much physical and emotional energy and focusing on my hair is not how I want to use it.

The pandemic has given many of us time to think about what’s important and what’s not. At the beginning of the pandemic, I vowed to myself that if I survived it, I wasn’t leaving it the same way I went in. None of us will. Intentionally or not. Time will reveal other changes that I probably can’t imagine yet.

What about you? How are you leaving the pandemic differently than you went in?

Quote of the Week: Amanda Gorman

“We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace.

In the norms and notions of what just is

isn’t always justice.

And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it.

Somehow we do it.

Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken,

but simply unfinished.”

~ Amanda Gorman

Watching the inauguration this past Wednesday was a breath of fresh air — a spiritual cleansing for the nation.

The previous two Wednesdays featured an insurrection and then an impeachment. It was heartbreaking. While our democracy is still in a very fragile state, it feels good knowing that our current president, unlike the previous one, is not actively seeking to harm our country.

So I will bask in the balm of Amanda Gorman’s words. This amazing young woman, the National Youth Poet Laureate, is helping us move in the right direction.

Sea Us Now & Black Beach Culture

Photo from Sea Us Now

As a Virgo Sun and Taurus Rising, my astrology is deep into the earth. That may explain why I love my plant babies so much!

But some of the best times in my life take place near water. Not long ago, I learned that I’m a Scorpio Moon, which adds some water to my chart. Growing up on the East Coast may have a lot to do with it too. Living in Quincy, Massachusetts, I’m just a couple of miles from the beach. When I open the windows in the summer and the wind blows just right, I can smell the salty air — one of my favorite scents.

There was a pool in the apartment complex where I grew up, so I swam a lot. I loved doing handstands under water and playing Marco Polo. I lounged by the pool almost everyday during the summers and played ping-pong in the cabana. As children, my brother and I took swimming lessons at the local college. Our parents brought us to the beach for picnics and lots of swim time on the Cape. As a young teenager, I even went to marine science camp.

It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized many considered it unusual for African Americans to swim. When you think about movies showing beach culture, often focused on surfing, someone like me usually isn’t there. But things are changing.

On Instagram, I found a group of Black women surfers calling themselves Textured Waves. Their website describes who they are and their goal.

Textured Waves [w]as created to propagate the culture and sport of women[‘]s surfing towards women of color and underrepresented demographics through representation, community and sisterly camaraderie. We value integrity, inclusion and advocating diversity in the water.

In the early summer, Textured Waves premiered a short film called Sea Us Now, which was created in collaboration with Seea, a progressive women’s surf brand. The film itself is extremely short, but the conversation around it is fascinating and worth watching.

It reminded me of the importance of creating something for the future. Documenting that yes, Black women surfers are out there enjoying life right now. Their existence shows a roadmap for the next generation. The conversation alludes to the precarious history of African Americans and water. Our African ancestors were brought to this country in ships. Many suffered horrifying deaths at sea and those who lived witnessed it. There is also a strong history of racial discrimination at public swimming pools in this country. If we look at the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, even our drinking water is harmful. African Americans have ancestral and current trauma involving water that needs healing.

The joy of Sea Us Now starts that aquatic healing. It feels like a daydream. The women of Textured Waves in colorful bathing suits catching the waves. The sound of moving water, peaceful music and driving in a vintage car by the seashore. Carrying their surfboards. Palm trees and ice cream. Short vignettes of style, beauty and warm weather. Flowering trees blowing in the breeze along with their natural hair. Sisterhood. A carefree afternoon. Time for reflection and dreaming. The gift of exercise on the beach. Black health and wellness.

They describe the film as “a re-imagining of our history with the coastline and the sea” and “a love letter to our past and our future.”

If you want to skip right to the film, it starts a little after 25 minutes and goes until almost 30 minutes. But I do hope you watch the conversation.

It’s quite striking that the timing of the film’s release was in the midst of the protests after George Floyd’s death. Watching the video of his murder made me physically hurt. This film is like a balm for the body and soul. In the midst of everything, we can still find happiness and peace. We always have. That’s how we’ve survived.

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Screenshot: YouTube