Congressional Democrats are ramping up calls for the president to extend the current pause on federal student loan repayment and cancel some portion of student loan debt. In a letter dated March 31, Democrats asked President Biden to extend the pause through the end of the year and take steps toward canceling the federal student loans.
“As your administration works towards rebuilding a more equitable and just economy, it should use its administrative powers to address this crisis and permanently relieve the millions of borrowers struggling with this debt,” the letter read. “Canceling a meaningful amount of student debt will provide long-term benefits to individuals and the economy, helping families buy their first homes, open a small business, or invest in their retirement.”
Letter signers include Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Jim Clyburn, Alma Adams, Mondaire Jones, Jahana Hayes, and Hank Johnson. Sens. Cory Booker and Raphael Warnock, the only two Black members of the Senate Democratic caucus, also signed the letter. They were joined by several others, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Alex Padilla, Sheldon Whitehouse, and Mazie K. Hirono.
Common Dream reported that the group also recounted Biden’s campaign promise of forgiving debt for those whose families made less than $125,000 and went to a public university. On Saturday morning, Warren tweeted a poll from Data for Progress showing a likely increase in voter turnout in key states in November the loans were forgiven.
“Student debt relief could be the deciding issue for Democratic voters in November. I’ll keep saying it: Today would be a perfect day for President @JoeBiden to #CancelStudentDebt,” Warren tweeted.
Clyburn previously collaborated with Warren to introduce a bill to eliminate up to $50,000 of federal student loan debt. Warren and others have cited the $50,000 threshold as providing full relief for 75 percent of those with student loan debt.
In a roundtable discussion with Black journalists, Schumer and Warren said people need to share their support for debt forgiveness with the president.
“We’ve got a chance to make a little justice in this country over the next month,” Warren said. “We can do this now.”
While there is some disagreement about the proper path forward, there is a general understanding of the burden student loans have placed on millions of Americans of all ages. And even though the president has previously drawn a line between those who went to a public university and those who went to private colleges or Ivy League schools, the debt burden is universal. The Ivory Tower doesn’t benefit all alumni equally despite the impression students were given when trying to choose a place to attend.
A recent NPR investigation points out how a repayment program that was supposed to help borrowers struggling with repayment had failed many when it came to promised cancellation after 20-25 years. The investigation found that most people making payments under federal income-drive repayment plans have not received proper credit for payments made toward cancellation.
According to the investigation, the first income-driven repayment plans were unveiled in the early 1990s, but only 32 people out of 4.4 million borrowers had their loans canceled decades later. Citing documents revealed that in 2021, mismanagement of borrower records has been attributed to mismanagement by loan servicers and the U.S. Department of Education.
More than half of Black borrowers making payments on the income-driven repayment plan qualify for a $0 payment. The major requirement is having an income less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level. A family of four with less than 150 percent of the 2022 federal poverty level is an annual income of less than $41,625. The income-driven repayment plans cap repayment at 10-15 percent of annual income for qualifying borrowers with higher incomes.
The National Consumer Law Center stated on Wednesday, March 30, calling out a major federal student loan servicer for failing to inform borrowers of Federal Family Education Loans of their eligibility for the public service loan forgiveness program. This latest information adds to the list of issues with the management of student debt repayment and the cycle of never-ending repayment millions of borrowers find themselves trapped in.
“Public Service Loan Forgiveness is often a bellwether for other problems within the student loan system. For years, federal student loan servicers have failed to provide information about Income-Driven Repayment (IDR) options to borrowers who couldn’t afford their monthly payments,” the statement read. “Instead, borrowers were pushed into forbearances – which offered only temporary payment relief at a cost: mounting interest and lost time towards IDR cancellation.”