White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Communications Director Ben LaBolt boosted the Biden Administration's work towards higher education, climate change and mental health efforts during a press briefing with U.S. student media Tuesday.
LaBolt emphasized President Joe Biden’s focus on the student loan system and making college more affordable for students and families.
However, he noted the prolonged U.S. government shutdown would disrupt the effort to resume student loan repayments and the continuous servicing of borrowers despite the Department of Education’s ability to support its borrowers as they return to payment.
“The House really needs to get its act together," LaBolt said. “There's no reason for the government to be shut down. This is not something that the President or Democratic leadership support. Republicans are doing it if extreme ideological demands aren't met, and we'll continue to keep the pressure.”
Pell Grants provide need-based financial aid that students do not have to pay back. Through this, the Biden administration has canceled $117 billion in student loan debt for more than 3 million borrowers, according to LaBolt.
LaBolt said one of Biden’s latest actions for college affordability is the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) plan. An estimated 4 million borrowers are enrolled in the plan with payments depending on income and family size rather than their loan balance, according to LaBolt. Any remaining balance is forgiven.
“We know that many young people are worried about student loans as a barrier to opportunity. The President's hope is that all of these plans and all of these actions reassure students and reassure alumni that the President has your back and he won't stop fighting to bring the promise of affordability to more students and families,” LaBolt said.
Jean-Pierre also spoke on the U.S. Supreme Court’s verdict to overturn affirmative action, branding it a “disappointing decision.”
Biden invested $7 billion in historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to provide opportunity for Black students and advocate for academic achievement, according to Jean-Pierre.
“[Biden] believes that HBCUs [are] certainly the center of academic excellence. You hear him say that all the time,” Jean-Pierre said. She highlighted that HBCUs help students receive academic freedom and “it doesn’t have to matter where you come from.”
LaBolt lauded the Biden Administration’s climate change initiatives, saying the President sees the crisis as an “existential threat to humanity and existential threat to the United States.”
Biden signed into law the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest investment in climate history, according to LaBolt. It will enable the U.S. to cut emissions by half in 2030 and double the amount of solar, wind and batteries the country employs over the next 10 years.
Wind and solar composed 17% of the U.S.’ utility-scale capacity in 2021 but produced only 12% of our electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Moreover, the Biden Administration has protected over 21 million acres of public lands and waters, according to LaBolt. And the President’s recent launch of the American Climate Corps, a new job training program, will create 20,000 jobs for individuals to fight the climate crisis.
The goal of the corps is to restore land, bolster community resilience, deploy clean energy and implement energy efficient technologies, LaBolt said.
Lastly, LaBolt endorsed Biden’s commitment to addressing youth mental health.
The President enacted the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, investing $1 billion over the next five years to increase access to mental health services for young individuals.
States have been using this money to hire and train over 14,000 mental health professionals to work in schools starting this fall, according to LaBolt.
Over two million young individuals have gained health insurance since the President took office. However, LaBolt said the long wait times and limited providers to choose from “isn’t fair.”
“And that's why the administration has proposed a regulation that would strengthen requirements for insurers to provide access to mental health care in the same way that they do for physical health,” he added.
More initiatives on college affordability and climate change will be unveiled in the coming weeks, the White House said Monday.
Ava Menkes is the state news editor at The Daily Cardinal. She has covered multiple stories about Wisconsin politics and written in-depth about nurses unions and youth voter turnout. Follow her on Twitter at @AvaMenkes.