Senate, House Democrats urge Biden to extend loan pause, ‘cancel student debt now’

More than 90 Democrats in the House and Senate are calling on President Biden to extend the moratorium on federal student loan payments through the end of the year, ramping up pressure on the White House for further action just weeks before the pause is set to lapse.

Top Democrats in both chambers joined in making the request to Biden in a letter Thursday, including Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.). Others such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) as well as Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) also signed on to the letter.

In the letter, the lawmakers echoed calls made by other Democrats in recent days for the administration to push back the May 1 deadline, when the current suspension on student loan payments is set to expire, saying Biden should extend it until “at least the end of the year.” They also urged him to “cancel student debt now,” reiterating calls for widespread cancellation for borrowers.

The loan payments were first paused in early 2020 under a moratorium set in place by the Trump administration at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The hold, which also extends to interest accrual, has been extended several times under the previous and current administration. Biden last extended the pause in December amid growing calls from Democrats to keep the moratorium in place.

Meanwhile, the lawmakers on Thursday signaled growing pressure on the president to push for broader debt cancellation. The group of lawmakers called widespread cancellation “one of the most powerful ways to address racial and economic equity issues,” citing data underscoring racial disparities facing Black and Latino borrowers in the student loan system. 

“The student loan system mirrors many of the inequalities that plague American society and widens the racial wealth gap. Black students in particular borrow more to attend college, borrow more often while they are in school, and have a harder time paying their debt off than their white peers,” they wrote. 

“They are more than three times as likely to go into default within four years on their federal loans as white borrowers — and face wage garnishment, tax refund withholding, and federal benefit offsets,” they continued. “While Latino borrowers often have lower loan balances than their white peers, they are more likely to struggle in repaying their loans, and have some of the lowest post-education earnings among all racial or ethnic groups.”

Lawmakers also pointed to additional burdens borrowers face in the economy, like the “skyrocketing costs for necessities like food and gas,” saying “restarting repayment will financially destabilize many borrowers and their families, and will cause hardship for many who could not afford repayment.”

Last year, the White House said it requested a memo from Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to determine whether he had the power to unilaterally cancel student loans across the board. 

In the months since, progressives have led a push calling for the memo to be released publicly as patience wears thin among borrowers awaiting the outcome.

The Hill has reached out to the White House for comment on Thursday’s letter.

So far, the Biden administration has provided about $16 billion in loan discharges since January 2021. But that relief only extends to certain borrowers, including those with total and permanent disabilities or who attended now-defunct schools.

In their letter Thursday, lawmakers applauded such relief efforts, including “targeted relief for disabled borrowers, victims of for-profit colleges, and others as well as working to fix existing programs like Public Service Loan Forgiveness.” But they also noted the “efforts still leave the majority of federal student loan borrowers out.”

The Federal Reserve estimated last year that roughly $1.7 trillion in student loan debt had been racked up by tens of millions of borrowers nationwide.

“Right now, your administration has a historic opportunity to repair the damage caused by decades of policy failures, government mismanagement, and industry abuses by extending pandemic relief and canceling student debt,” the lawmakers wrote Thursday. 

“Given the fast-approaching deadline for borrowers to resume payments, your administration must act as quickly as possible to extend the pause and make clear to the American public your intention to cancel a meaningful amount of student debt. We look forward to supporting your administration in getting it done,” they added.

Tags Biden Charles Schumer Elizabeth Warren James Clyburn Joe Biden Student debt

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