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White House press briefing addresses college affordability, mental health

The Biden-Harris administration hosted a virtual press briefing to address mental health, college affordability and environmental concerns among university students. (Wikimedia Commons Courtesy photo by Matt H. Wade)

By Maya Vibhakar and Constanza Montemayor

Oct. 2, 2023 7:19 p.m.

This post was updated Oct. 3 at 11: 55 p.m. 

The Biden-Harris administration hosted its first virtual campus press briefing of the academic year Sept. 25 to address student concerns in higher education.

After the Supreme Court ruled against the administration’s student loan forgiveness plan in June, a primary concern among students is taking out and repaying loans, said Ben LaBolt, the White House communications director. In the wake of that decision, LaBolt said the administration is pursuing alternative paths to debt relief and added that students can expect more announcements regarding loan forgiveness in the coming weeks.

[Related: Supreme Court rules against Biden’s plan to forgive student loans]

He also said the Biden-Harris administration has reached the largest monetary increase in Pell Grants – a form of need-based financial aid requiring no repayment – in more than a decade.

“President Biden understands the importance of higher education,” LaBolt said. “That’s why he’s been focused on fixing the broken student loan system, and making college more affordable for students and families.”

LaBolt also discussed the Saving on a Valuable Education Plan, which was launched by the Biden-Harris administration at the end of August. For borrowers using the SAVE plan, LaBolt said loan payments are calculated based on family size and income, meaning borrowers who make under $30,000 a year are exempt from monthly payments.

[Related: White House announces plan to forgive $39 billion in student loan debt]

However, with a government shutdown possibly impending and Congress appearing more unlikely to pass a funding plan before the deadline of Oct. 1, debt relief programs may be affected, LaBolt added. A prolonged shutdown of more than a few weeks could significantly disrupt borrowers’ services, he said.

Additionally, LaBolt said the Biden-Harris administration has invested $12 billion in community college infrastructure through the recent Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Bharat Ramamurti, the deputy director of the National Economic Council, added that under the SAVE plan, borrowers who attended community college could have their debts forgiven more quickly than those who attended public or private institutions, since those borrowers typically have smaller debts.

“Folks who may have smaller initial loan balances around $10,000 … have an accelerated pathway to getting their entire debt forgiven,” Ramamurti said. “For most people, it’s 20 years of payments. For folks with smaller balances, it’s only 10 years.”

In addition to the student loan forgiveness plan, the Supreme Court also blocked the use of affirmative action in college admissions decisions over the summer. LaBolt said the Biden-Harris administration strongly denounces this decision and has since released guidance for universities looking to mitigate a loss of diversity. These recommendations include implementing opportunities for applicants to share adversities they have experienced throughout their lives, he said.

[Related: Supreme Court overturns affirmative action in 6-3 decision]

Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, added that the Biden-Harris administration also remains committed to maintaining historically Black colleges and universities. According to the White House, the administration has invested more than $7 billion in support for HBCUs and more than $25 billion in minority-serving institutions as a whole.

[Related: UCLA community expresses dissatisfaction with the end of affirmative action]

The press briefing also addressed concerns regarding climate change and mental health.

LaBolt said Biden has taken action to reduce national emissions and protect the environment, including passing the Inflation Reduction Act, which seeks to reduce emissions dramatically by 2030. He added that the president has also established the American Climate Corps, a job training program that aims to prepare and mobilize 20,000 young people to work to alleviate the climate crisis.

“The president sees (the climate crisis) as really the one existential threat to humanity and existential threat to the United States,” he said.

[Related: President Joe Biden delivers speech on infrastructure improvements in Westwood]

LaBolt said Biden also aims to treat mental health concerns with the same urgency as physical health. He said the administration has invested in the national suicide and crisis hotline and also pointed to the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which became law in June 2022 and set aside a billion dollars to help individuals access mental health care over the next five years.

He also said the administration understands some insurers have created barriers to accessing mental health care and added that it has proposed a new regulation to strengthen insurance providers’ requirement to provide access to mental health care, although the plan is not yet finalized.

LaBolt said the administration would be working further to inform students on progress toward achieving their priorities throughout the year.

“The president’s hope is that all of these plans and all of these actions reassure students, reassure alumni, that the president … won’t stop fighting to bring the promise of affordability to more students and families,” he said.

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Maya Vibhakar
Constanza Montemayor | News senior staff
Montemayor is a News senior staff reporter for the Bruin. She was previously the 2022-2023 News editor, the 2021-2022 features and student life editor, a News reporter, Photo contributor for the news beat and Arts contributor. She is also a fourth-year global studies student at UCLA.
Montemayor is a News senior staff reporter for the Bruin. She was previously the 2022-2023 News editor, the 2021-2022 features and student life editor, a News reporter, Photo contributor for the news beat and Arts contributor. She is also a fourth-year global studies student at UCLA.
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