Joe Biden Unveils Plan to Forgive Student Debt and Expand Medicare Eligibility As Unemployment Soars

Former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday unveiled new plans on health care and education in an effort to unite the moderate and liberal wings of the Democratic party.

As unemployment continues to soar amid the pandemic, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee laid out his proposals to lower Medicare eligibility to 60 and forgive student loan debt for low-income and middle class Americans who have attended public college.

In a Medium post, shared this afternoon, Biden reached out to the supporters of his former progressive rival Bernie Sanders, who dropped out of the race yesterday. Many of Sanders' supporters have long-been skeptical of Biden's centrist policies.

"Senator Sanders and his supporters can take pride in their work in laying the groundwork for these ideas, and I'm proud to adopt them as part of my campaign at this critical moment in responding to the coronavirus crisis," Biden wrote.

Under the Medicare expansion proposal, Biden would allow Americans to opt into Medicare when they turn 60, rather than the current 65. "This would make Medicare available to a set of Americans who work hard and retire before they turn 65," Biden wrote, "or who would prefer to leave their employer plans, the public option, or other plans they access through the Affordable Care Act before they retire."

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks about the coronavirus outbreak, at the Hotel Du Pont March 12, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. Drew Angerer/Getty

While the coronavirus pandemic has displaced millions of Americans from their jobs, the former vice president acknowledged that even after the crisis ends, older individuals will find it more difficult to secure employment. The option, he says, will be funded out of general revenues to protect the Medicare Trust Fund.

Under the student debt forgiveness proposal, Biden seeks to cancel the federal student debt held by low-income and middle class people who attended undergraduate programs in public colleges and universities, and private Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs).

Recipients will be eligible if they fall under one of those categories and earn up to $125,000 per annum. The federal government will assume the borrower's monthly payments, Biden says, until the "forgivable portion" of the debt is paid off.

"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.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, causing job losses across the U.S., 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, according to the Labor Department. Over 17 million individuals have now filed over the past four weeks, the department reported.

Newsweek reached out to Biden's campaign for comment.

The new proposals come one day after Sanders suspended his presidential campaign, essentially handing the nomination to Biden.

"As you all know, we have never been just a campaign. We are a grassroots, multi-racial, multi-generational movement which has always believed that real change never comes from the top on down but always from the bottom on up," Sanders said in a virtual address to supporters. "While this campaign is coming to an end, this movement is not."