A Little College Student Debt Relief Goes a Long Way

Democratic proposals for student loan forgiveness have so far come in two sizes: Big and bigger.

President Joe Biden campaigned on a plan to provide $10,000 of federal student loan forgiveness per borrower (though he ultimately left the idea out of his proposed budget). Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat, has called for blanket forgiveness of up to $50,000 in federal loans per student, while Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has proposed the cancellation of all student debt, at an eye-popping cost of $1.6 trillion.

But as an innovative effort by a group of Detroit-area colleges is proving, even modest student-debt relief can have a big impact, especially if it’s coupled with a second shot at college completion for those who have discontinued their studies. Programs like Wayne State University’s Warrior Way Back and Eastern Michigan University’s Eagle Engage Corps are offering former students a combination of loan forgiveness with a chance to finish their degrees. It’s a smart – and purposeful – approach to student-debt relief that could benefit hundreds of thousands of students nationwide. Most importantly, it won’t cost trillions, and schools don’t need to wait for Congress to act.

Read more at Washington Monthly

Pell Grants Should Cover Short-term Worker Training Programs

At just 22 years old, Christian Couric is already an experienced professional welder. A specialist in pipeline welding, Couric has worked in paper mills, commercial refrigeration facilities, as well as petrochemical plants in Kentucky, Texas and Louisiana. Currently, he’s in Reno, Nevada, helping to build a biofuel plant that will process the city’s garbage into jet fuel. He says he earns between $35 and $50 an hour, often working 60 to 70 hours a week. Industry magazines say skilled pipeline welders like Couric can clear as much as $5,000 weekly.

Couric doesn’t have a four-year degree or even an associate’s degree. What got him his start were three eight-week classes in welding from Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, where Couric grew up. It was enough to earn him a welding certificate and his first job at a local fabrication shop. “This is absolutely way more viable than any college degree I could have gotten for sure,” says Couric. “The guidance counselors and career coaches would always say, ‘Go to college, go to college, you have to go to college, you’re not going to amount to anything if you don’t go to college,’ but they were wrong.”

Couric is living proof that short-term, career-focused educational programs—provided they are high-quality courses for in-demand fields—can put workers on track to high-paying jobs. Most of these programs don’t, however, qualify for federal financial aid through the Pell Grant program, putting them out of reach for workers who are low-income or unemployed. 

Read more at Washington Monthly….

Joe, you forgot about lowering the Medicare age

For middle-income older Americans who have lost their jobs and no longer get health insurance through work, buying coverage through Obamacare is often unaffordable. 

Medicare at 60 would solve many of the health care problems facing this suffering cohort. It would make about 23 million Americans newly eligible for the program, including about 2 million who are currently uninsured.

Read more at Washington Monthly….

How earmarks can strengthen Congress

When I was a staffer working in Congress, a good part of our time was spent on the annual appropriations process – including on earmarks for specific projects in the district the Congressman I worked for represented. If memory serves, the earmark requests the office submitted were for items like research funding for veterans’ health care; money to fund a new freezer at a local food pantry; or funding to build a new health care clinic in a disadvantaged part of district. They weren’t for “pork” – like the famed “Bridges to Nowhere” that earmark critics like to mock.

Earmarks have gotten an undeserved bad rap. And, as I argue, earmarks could be key to bringing back a working – and civil – Congress. Read more here at Washington Monthly.

The phony conservative attacks on child tax credits

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed by Congress has groundbreaking provisions to provide an expanded child tax credit – on a monthly basis – to all American families with children.

Some conservatives don’t like the idea of unconditional cash transfers to parents because they claim it would reduce “work.” What they’re really saying is that the hard labor of raising a child isn’t worthy of recognition, a stance I find infuriating.

Read more here at Washington Monthly.

It’s time for a federal mask standard

I admit – I’m obsessed with masks. I have three-layer cotton ones from Old Navy; two-layer cotton ones with a filter sewn inside; blue disposable masks bought in bulk from Costco; a precious stash of KF94s sent via my mom from relatives in Korea; and stylish nylon masks that promise “breathability” but seem a little too flimsy for comfort.

I have no idea which of these masks works. Lately, I’ve been double masking, as the CDC recommends, but are my two masks really effective? Some consumer labeling would be nice, as I argue here in Washington Monthly.

How Robots Will Make Our Jobs More Human

Any number of books in recent years have tackled the “future of work.” Many have been unrelentingly pessimistic, predicting mass unemployment as robots take over an increasing number of jobs now held by humans.

I for one am an optimist. There will always be a role for “human work,” as Lumina Foundation President Jamie Merisotis puts it – provided that workers are prepared to take on the tasks that robots cannot. Here’s my review of Merisotis’s terrific book, Human Work. Merisotis’s view of the future of work is both inspiring and aspirational, but also eminently achievable.

Read more here at Washington Monthly.