Biden proposes lowering Medicare eligibility age to 60 and more student debt forgiveness as job losses soar

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at his South Carolina primary night rally in Columbia, South Carolina, February 29, 2020.

Elizabeth Frantz | Reuters

Joe Biden rolled out two new plans on Thursday to provide economic relief to struggling Americans as he kicks off his general election campaign against President Donald Trump amid soaring job losses caused by efforts to contain COVID-19. 

The former vice president proposed lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 60 from 65 and bolstered his student debt forgiveness plan hours after the Department of Labor released new data showing 6.6 million people filed initial jobless claims last week.

“These unemployment numbers today are another flashing warning sign that our country and our people will endure enormous economic pain. It is our responsibility to move quickly and effectively to help them,” Biden wrote in the plan. 

The two plans mark an effort to address the current crisis while offering a nod to Sen. Bernie Sanders, Biden’s former rival, who exited the Democratic primary contest on Wednesday after running a campaign that energized the party’s young liberals. Sanders had proposed canceling all student loan debt and making comprehensive health-care free at the point of service. 

The Medicare plan comes on top of Biden’s existing health-care agenda, which calls for a Medicare-like public option. Lowering the age at which people can buy into Medicare is widely popular among both Democrats and Republicans.

Almost nine in 10 Democrats and 69% of Republicans favor allowing those as young as 50 to buy into Medicare, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll from January 2019

Biden has kept himself at a distance from the more costly and comprehensive “Medicare for All” proposal supported by Sanders. He said his plan to lower the eligibility age would benefit older Americans after the immediate economic woes end. 

“It reflects the reality that, even after the current crisis ends, older Americans are likely to find it difficult to secure jobs,” Biden wrote of the plan. 

He said the plan would be financed “out of general revenues to protect the Medicare Trust Fund.”

The second plan calls for the forgiveness of federal undergraduate student debt for those making under $125,000. The forgiveness would apply to tuition-related expenses for public colleges and universities as well as private institutions primarily serving minority populations. 

“I would finance this new student debt proposal by repealing the high-income ‘excess business losses’ tax cut in the CARES Act,” Biden wrote. “That tax cut overwhelmingly benefits the richest Americans and is unnecessary for addressing the current COVID-19 economic relief efforts.”

The new plan follows Biden’s call last month for forgiving up to $10,000 of federal student debt as a response to the coronavirus crisis. 

Neither of the plans Biden released Thursday provided many specifics. He wrote that he had asked his team to “develop a plan” on both issues, and that more details would be forthcoming. 

“But I believe that as we are being plunged into what is likely to be one of the most volatile and difficult economic times in this country’s recent history, we can take these critical steps to help make it easier for working people to make ends meet,” Biden wrote.

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