Money For Wars But None For Student Debt Relief – OpEd


President Joe Biden’s commitment to continue providing Ukraine with billions of dollars of monetary aid and arming Ukraine with weapons is stark evidence of the current administration’s misaligned priorities and the government’s negligence in helping its students at home. Although President Biden decided to cancel $10,000 per borrower and $20,000 for recipients of Pell Grants, the step taken is limited and has been meeting political hurdles. The average student debt is approximately $37,000 per borrower and $1.7 trillion for all student debt combined. The program promises to offer debt relief to Americans earning under $125,000 per year and $250,000 for married couples or heads of households. According to the Education Department, the relief caps at the amount of the borrower’s outstanding eligible debt. 

The student debt crisis continues to worsen. The rising cost of education is outpacing inflation, as one journalist, Cullen Browder, reported, and no major help is available to students who wish to improve their socio-economic status through higher education. Barmak Nassirian at Veterans Education Success acknowledged that “the problems in the higher education system, namely price escalation and diminishing quality, span way beyond the for-profit sector.” 

$8 trillion was spent in the wars of the last two decades, and the monetary aid for Ukraine has continued. While the money is quickly approved for foreign wars, matters such as the rising cost of education, improving the education sector, and student debt relief are politicized largely. How long have students in the United States been trying to get the federal government to make the cost of education affordable and provide students with debt relief? Why is the matter of improving the education system and aiding students to prosper always politicized? Why does the student loan forgiveness issue grinded through courts and congress while money is easily committed and disbursed for foreign wars? These are some of the key questions that require honest and sincere reflections. Any government that fuels wars and continues to fuel them, over prioritizing education for its citizens while lecturing the rest of the world for not making education accessible, must reconsider its standpoint and credibility. The words of President Lyndon Johnson are forgotten, who stated that education was “no longer a luxury, but a necessity.” The modern world continues to get complex and technologically advanced. For a nation to thrive in the modern world, it needs to prepare its citizens by providing necessary education without burdening its citizens with debt, not by fueling foreign wars. 

Ken Brandmeier reported in “Democrats, and Republicans Say They Will Back Ukraine, Whoever Controls Congress” that “Even with the political control of Congress uncertain Wednesday after nationwide elections, key U.S. lawmakers are vowing continued arms and financial support for Ukraine as it fends off Russia’s invasion, now in its ninth month.” War is a good business for both sides. The last two decades of wars’ cost is $8 trillion. A report from the Costs of War project at Brown University “revealed that 20 years of post-9/11 wars have cost the U.S. an estimated $8 trillion and have killed more than 900,000 people.” Add the monetary aid provided to Ukraine with the $8 trillion already spent on the previous wars. The money spent on wars keeps increasing. To put things into perspective, currently, student debt is at $1.74 trillion.  This amount can help students at home by providing students with an affordable means of education where each student can begin a debt-free career; instead, the U.S. government burns through this cash for wars. 

Congress swiftly approves the money for Ukraine, and the key lawmakers share the same agenda irrespective of the party they belong to. On November 15, 2022, PBS News reported President Biden asked for $37 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine. The news outlet stated it is “a massive infusion of cash that could help support the nation as Russian forces suffer battlefield losses in their nine-month-old invasion.” Initially, the emergency aid was reported as $37 billion, which jumped to $40 billion. The director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Shalanda Young, stated that Congress had approved more than three-fourths of the $40 billion earlier this year. Such a large amount of cash for Ukraine was quickly approved without any political hurdles or court objections. At the same time, the student debt relief program was halted after a Texas court barred the program from moving forward. 

It is not just the Democrats who support the emergency aid for Ukraine. Republicans also have the same agenda. Anisha Kholi provides further detail on this matter. She writes, “the Texas ruling is the second major attempt to strike down the program, coming after a U.S. Appeals court temporarily blocked the program last month to review a case from six Republican-led states.” Betsy Devos, the previous Education Secretary, voiced her opinion on Biden’s student-loan forgiveness and called it “100% illegal.” She did not stop there. She further stated that borrowers have “a lot of tools” to pay off their student debt and urged President Biden to “follow the law” and not to cancel any of it. 

Michael Arceneau, Author, Speaker, and Media Personality, mentions in his article, “Democrats Can Find Money for War But Not the Student Loan Crisis,” that meanwhile, the student debt crisis is at a stall, the “private student lenders are lobbying to get the Biden administration to restart federal student loan payments as the pandemic-related moratorium continues to hurt their bottom line.” Money to support ideological wars, as well as combat wars, is always prioritized. It is well known that the Constitution of the United States allows Congress to control government funds. The president and federal agencies may not spend money that Congress has not appropriated; however, war funding is easily approved. 

The United States Department of Defense reports, “In total, the United States has committed more than $19.7 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden Administration. Since 2014, the United States has committed more than $21.8 billion in security assistance to Ukraine and more than $19 billion since the beginning of Russia’s unprovoked and brutal invasion on February 24.” Additionally, the Department of Defense (DoD) reported the authorization of a Presidential Drawdown of security assistance. The security assistance is valued at up to $400 million to meet Ukraine’s security and defense needs. The Presidential Drawdown authorization, as DoD reports, is “the Biden Administration’s twenty-sixth drawdown of equipment from DoD inventories for Ukraine since August 2021” This is just one administration that has flooded billions of dollars for a foreign nation’s conflict. Where is the financial aid for Ukraine coming from? Suppose the answer is that it is coming through taxpayers’ money. This poses the question: “is the taxpayer helped more when government frees its citizens from the grip of predatory financial corporations and relieves its citizens from the difficulties of debt by making more resources and aid available at home or through funding other nations’ wars?” The taxpayer needs help at home to improve the quality of life at home. 

The White House acknowledges in the “FACT SHEET: President Biden Announces Student Loan Relief for Borrowers Who Need It Most” report that “The skyrocketing cumulative federal student loan debt—$1.6 trillion and rising for more than 45 million borrowers—is a significant burden on America’s middle class.” What has this done for the middle class? It has left the middle-class suffering, appealing to the government to aid and assist with education. As the official White House fact sheet highlights, “Middle-class borrowers struggle with high monthly payments and ballooning balances that make it harder for them to build wealth, like buying homes, putting away money for retirement, and starting small businesses.” The student loan amount continues to mount to trillions of dollars and cannot be defined with any other word than “shocking.” If the White House fact sheet recognizes the problem many Americans face, how does it make sense for the government to flood money into foreign wars?  This is a problem that the U.S. government recognizes itself. Further raising the question, are people in government positions truly acting in support of their citizens, or are they pursuing their own political agenda and pleasing wealthier corporations and individuals who corrupt power with money?

Kathryn Watson, a CBS news contributor, writes about the student debt crisis “in the 2020-2021 academic year, the average price tag for in-state tuition and fees at a four-year public institution was $9,375, and at private four-year institutions, it was a whopping $32,825. With student housing, that cost skyrockets — some schools are charging those who can afford it over $70,000 per year. Further examining student debt statistics and how it amounted to $1.7 trillion, Student Loan Hero, a website that LendingTree owns, reports, “Americans owe nearly $1.75 trillion in student loan debt, spread out among about 48 million borrowers.” 

The further breakdown of the current data on student loans paints a really concerning picture. About 45.4 million of the borrowers have federal debt. Moreover, in the first quarter of 2022, 4.7% of student loans were delinquent for 90 days or more. The average monthly student loan payment was $300. This monthly payment was before the White House instituted a repayment moratorium. Additional statistics are as follows. 

In 2020, 55% of bachelor’s degree recipients graduating from four-year public and private nonprofit colleges had an average student debt of $28,400. The outstanding federal loan balance of $1.617 trillion (now $1.75 trillion) accounts for 92.7% of all student loan debt. The average federal student loan debt balance is $37,787. Add a private loan debt to the student loan debt, and the total average balance (including private loan debt) may be as high as $40,780. The average public university student borrows $32,880 to attain a bachelor’s degree. The average amount from 2020-2022 shows a drastic increase in the amount a student borrows. 

A nation that truly cares for its citizens, protects, and prioritizes the needs of its citizens, and aims to provide a valid form of freedom keeps its citizens free from debt such as student loans. People feel passionate about their right to vote; hence, they give a portion of their trust to the government to act in the interest of its citizens. If the government misuses its power and floods billions of dollars that accumulate to trillions for war, this should be seen as a loud warning sign that something has gone absurdly wrong with the system.  In the last two decades, one finds that large sums of money are used to fight the war of another nation, and in this self-assigned role of policing the rest of the world because of ideological differences, the needs of citizens get neglected at home. Students call out to the federal government to relieve them of the student debt, yet Congress, the key lawmakers, and the President of the United States openly speak of Ukraine more than the student debt. The political hurdles are present for ordinary citizens but absent for lawmakers when they take on the will to enact politically, in some act of self-righteousness. Fighting a war for Ukraine is more important than helping its citizens learn technical and other critical skills so such individuals can positively change the world. Who will protect the students and provide the students freedom from student loans?

Ahsan Qazi

Ahsan Qazi is the founder of One Voice-Pakistan and World Affairs in Sociological Perspective. He was born in Pakistan, but raised in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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