FAA Reauthorization Act’s stealth attack on student loan forgiveness

Inside the bill lies a clause that could effectively pilot a broader campaign against the cancellation of student debts, starting with those incurred for flight training and education.

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Alarm bells are ringing among campaigners and student debt advocates as a seemingly innocuous provision in the 2024 Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act threatens to set a dangerous precedent for student loan forgiveness in the United States. Tucked away within the voluminous pages of the routine bill lies a clause that could effectively pilot a broader campaign against the cancellation of student debts, starting with those incurred for flight training and education.

The Debt Collective, a leading advocacy group for student debtors, has issued a stark warning over the bill’s specific language targeting loans for undergraduate flight education. This clause prohibits executive branch officials from canceling or modifying the terms of federal direct unsubsidized Stafford loans used for flight training, barring an act of Congress.

Deep within the 1,000-page document, under the heading “Prohibition on mass cancellation of eligible undergraduate flight education and training programs loans,” the bill states, “The secretary, the secretary of the treasury, or the attorney general may not take any action to cancel or forgive the outstanding balances, or portion of balances, on any federal direct unsubsidized Stafford loan, or otherwise modify the terms or conditions of a federal direct unsubsidized Stafford loan, made to an eligible student, except as authorized by an act of Congress.”

The Debt Collective points to several high-profile legislators, including Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), as being particularly responsible for this language. “Forty-five million student debtors need to see this and get very, very loud,” the group urges, signaling the potential ramifications beyond the realm of aviation education.

Astra Taylor, co-founder of the Debt Collective and a vocal advocate for student debt forgiveness, expressed concern over the provision’s broader implications. “Make no mistake, this is a test flight,” Taylor stated, suggesting that if Congress can restrict debt relief in one sector, it could extend such prohibitions across the board. Taylor’s call to action urges concerned citizens to voice their opposition to the legislators involved.

Experts and advocates fear that this clause could mark the beginning of a slippery slope, leading to more extensive bans on student loan forgiveness. The Debt Collective warns of a “test run” that could extend to other professions in the near future, impacting nurses, teachers, and social workers, among others.

The campaign against this provision is not just about protecting the rights of student debtors in the aviation field but safeguarding the principle of education as a public good accessible to all. “Student debtors and their allies need to stick together and stick up for each other,” the Debt Collective emphasizes, highlighting the need for a united front against policies that undermine student debt relief efforts.

Former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner pointed out the glaring hypocrisy of some lawmakers who benefited from pandemic-era Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness while advocating for restrictions on student debt relief. “The same members of Congress who had PPP loans forgiven want to make it illegal to cancel student debt,” Turner remarked, drawing attention to the double standards at play.

The FAA bill’s controversial clause comes amid ongoing debates over the executive branch’s authority to cancel student loans. The U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan in June 2023 underscored this legal quandary. Despite this setback, the Biden administration has managed to forgive $143.6 billion in student loans for nearly 4 million borrowers, a fraction of the staggering $1.7 trillion owed by Americans.

As the Debt Collective and other groups rally against this “test flight” for banning student loan forgiveness, the issue transcends flight training loans, touching on broader questions of access to education, fairness, and the role of government in supporting its citizens’ aspirations.

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Alexandra Jacobo is a dedicated progressive writer, activist, and mother with a deep-rooted passion for social justice and political engagement. Her journey into political activism began in 2011 at Zuccotti Park, where she supported the Occupy movement by distributing blankets to occupiers, marking the start of her earnest commitment to progressive causes. Driven by a desire to educate and inspire, Alexandra focuses her writing on a range of progressive issues, aiming to foster positive change both domestically and internationally. Her work is characterized by a strong commitment to community empowerment and a belief in the power of informed public action. As a mother, Alexandra brings a unique and personal perspective to her activism, understanding the importance of shaping a better world for future generations. Her writing not only highlights the challenges we face but also champions the potential for collective action to create a more equitable and sustainable world.

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