Progressives urge president to cancel student debt as pandemic pause period nears its conclusion

Progressives urge president to cancel student debt as pandemic pause period nears its conclusion
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With only two weeks before a pandemic-related pause on federal student loan payments expires, progressive lawmakers and organizations on Wednesday reiterated demands for U.S. President Joe Biden to finally take sweeping debt cancellation action.

While Biden only campaigned on forgiving $10,000 per borrower and has reportedly considered setting an income cap for relief, activists and members of Congress have called for canceling at least $50,000 per person—or even all federal student debt.

Noting the rapidly approaching deadline, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), said Wednesday that "we must deliver immediate relief to more than 45 million Americans by canceling student debt."

Similar calls came from Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who declared that "the clock is ticking."

Former Democratic Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner warned that Biden's failure to act on the nation's student debt crisis could hinder Democrats at the ballot box in November's midterm elections—when the GOP hopes to retake Congress.

Turner cited recent polling that shows the number of voters under age 45 who said they would support a Democrat running for Congress in their district notably rose from mid-July to mid-August—which some observers tied to recent successes such as the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

Advocacy groups and leaders also pressured Biden to act on student debt Wednesday.

After Our Revolution executive director Joseph Geevarghese tweeted, "'Medical debt' is simply not a phrase you should hear in a functioning society," the group added, "Same goes for 'student loan debt.'"

Highlighting footage of Biden handing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—who negotiated the IRA with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) after months of blocking bolder packages—a pen after signing the compromise legislation Tuesday, Public Citizen told Biden, "That very same pen could cancel student debt."

Some borrowers are frustrated. "It's just been radio silence from the Biden administration," Scott Heins, a 33-year-old freelance photographer in Brooklyn who owes more than $20,000, told CNBC. "It's frustrating and stressful."

During a Tuesday appearance on "CBS Mornings," U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said that "while I don't have an announcement here today, I will tell you we're having conversations daily with the White House and borrowers will know directly and soon from us when a decision is made."

"The president has been very clear about making sure we're leading with students first, and we've been proud of the $28 billion in loan forgiveness up to this point and the policies that we've changed to fix a broken system," he said. "We recognize that Americans are waiting and we'll be communicating with them as soon as we can."

As the U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday announced $3.9 billion in debt cancellation for 208,000 borrowers who took out loans to attend ITT Technical Institute from January 2005 through its closure in September 2016, Cardona declared that "It is time for student borrowers to stop shouldering the burden from ITT's years of lies and false promises."

"The evidence shows that for years, ITT's leaders intentionally misled students about the quality of their programs in order to profit off federal student loan programs, with no regard for the hardship this would cause," he noted, adding that the administration "will continue to stand up for borrowers who've been cheated by their colleges, while working to strengthen oversight and enforcement to protect today's students from similar deception and abuse."

In a statement from the Debt Collective, several former ITT students shared how they expect the move to positively impact their lives—including Joseph White, who said that "canceling my loans would make me free of this debt trap so I can continue saving for my future."

"Over the past seven years of my debt strike, I was able to save money in my retirement account," White added. "It's up to Biden now to permanently erase student debt for everyone. The country's middle class cannot afford $1.7 trillion dollars in student loan debt."

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