Biden's Education Dept. just hired Elizabeth Warren's student-loans expert, who studied predatory lending at Harvard

Biden's Education Dept. just hired Elizabeth Warren's student-loans expert, who studied predatory lending at Harvard
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elizabeth warren
Sen. Elizabeth Warren. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
  • The Education Dept. just hired Toby Merrill, founder of the Predatory Student Loan Project.

  • Elizabeth Warren cited Merrill's research saying the president can legally cancel $50,000 in student debt.

  • She was hired as deputy general counsel under Education Sec. Miguel Cardona.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

A new hire at the Education Department is another in the growing number of experts who have fought alongside Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren to reform the student-loan debt system.

Toby Merrill, founder of the Project of Predatory Student Lending at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, was hired as the Education Department's Deputy General Counsel in the Office of the General Counsel on Tuesday, according to a press release.

The Project represents low-income student-loan borrowers in predatory lending cases against for-profit schools, and according to its website, Merrill has represented borrowers in cases that resulted in almost $1 billion in student-debt cancellation. Notably, her work has caught the eye of Warren, a prominent Democrat pushing for President Joe Biden to cancel more student debt.

Another Warren ally - Richard Cordray - joined in May as the head of the Federal Student Aid office, and while he has not publicly commented on cancelling student debt, he has, like Merrill, shared much of Warren's agenda throughout his career.

During her presidential campaign, Warren proposed to direct the Secretary of Education to cancel $50,000 in student debt per person, and Merrill, along with Eileen Connor and Deanne Loonin from the Project, wrote a letter to Warren in 2020 affirming her legal ability to cancel student debt using executive action.

"In assessing your proposal, we have consulted the statutory and regulatory framework governing federal student loan programs administered by the Department of Education, as well as the framework and controlling interpretations of the budgetary structure of these programs," Merrill, Connor and Loonin write. "We conclude that your proposal calls for a lawful and permissible exercise of the Secretary's authority under existing law."

They added that "the power to create debt is generally understood to include the power to cancel it."

Under the Higher Education Act, as Merrill, Connor, and Loonin explained, Congress gave the Education Secretary the unrestricted authority to create and cancel or modify federal student debt, and although Warren did not win the presidency, she has been urging Biden to follow through on her proposal and provide borrowers with $50,000 of student debt relief.

Whether Biden will use the authority Warren and Merrill believe he has is unclear. Although he campaigned on cancelling $10,000 in student debt, he has said he does not think he has the authority to cancel $50,000 of it, but he has asked the Education and Justice Departments to review his ability to do so.

"It's time for President Biden to #CancelStudentDebt," Warren wrote on Twitter. "People need this. Our country needs this. And one of the best ways to create a 21st-century economy is by investing in people who have invested in their own education."

Do you have a story about trying to cancel student debt? Reach out to Ayelet Sheffey at asheffey@insider.com.

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