President campaigned on promises to make higher education more affordable for middle-class families
Students pull a mock ball and chain representing student debt, at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri. Photograph: Paul J Richards/AFP/Getty Images
Lauren Aratani Thu 21 Jan 2021 (theguardian.com)
Thousands of student debtors have launched a campaign urging Joe Biden to enact full student loan cancellation within the first 100 days of his presidency.
The Debt Collective, which has more than 9,300 members, has tapped 100 debtors to be a part of the “the Biden Jubilee 100” – 100 people going on a debt strike, one representing each day during Biden’s first 100 days. Many have over $100,000 of student debt.
“It’s the right thing to do as the first step to ensuring a fairer higher education system,” said the collective in a petition to Biden. “Even before Covid-19, one million new student debtors were defaulting on their student loans every year. Student loans defaults are hitting women, Black, Indigenous and brown borrowers the hardest.”
Biden campaigned on promises to make higher education more affordable for middle-class families, including debt-free community college and making tuition at public institutions free for families who earn under $125,000 a year.Janet Yellen says Biden must ‘act big’ with coronavirus relief packageRead more
While Biden fell short of promising to cancel student debt, as the Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren had pushed for during her campaign, he promised to halve student loan payments by implementing a program where anyone making over $25,000 will pay 5% of their discretionary income – which does not count taxes or necessary spending like housing and food – to pay for their loans. Anyone who has paid loans for more than 20 years will have their loans forgiven.Advertisement
About 45 million Americans have student debt worth over $1.5tn. The Federal Reserve has reported that 43% of adults who went to college, about 30% of all adults in the country, took on debt to pay for their education. Race also plays a big role in who has debt: Black and Hispanic Americans with student debt are more likely to be behind on their loans than their white peers.
Last week Biden officials pledged to extend the nearly year-long pause on federal student loan payments on “day one” but the administration’s plans for tackling the debt mountain remain unclear.
The Covid-19 pandemic, which has left millions of Americans unemployed, has worsened racial economic disparities and has made it more difficult for borrowers to pay back their loans.
When commenting on the first coronavirus stimulus bill that was passed in March, Biden urged Congress to provide some student loan relief.
“We should forgive a minimum of $10,000/person of federal student loans, as proposed by Senator Warren and colleagues,” Biden wrote on Twitter. “Young people and other student debt holders bore the brunt of the last crisis. It shouldn’t happen again.”
The $2tn Cares Act ended up having a pause on some federal student loans and a waiver on interest for others, both of which were extended through 2020.
Relief for student debt was not included in the $1.9tn coronavirus stimulus proposal Biden unveiled last week, though the president-elect has signaled some relief for borrowers. A Biden aide told reporters in early January that Biden will ask Congress to cancel $10,000 of debt for borrowers, and his team has indicated a continuation of the pause of federal student loans will be one of a handful of executive orders Biden will enact in his first 100 days in office.
Debt Collective says canceling $10,000 will not be enough given the scale of student debt, and top Democrats have urged Biden to do more with his executive power. The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, said in December that Biden can “forgive $50,000 of debt [per borrower] the first day he becomes president” without Congress. Biden has pushed back on this call to action, saying that kind of executive power is “arguable” and that he is “unlikely to do that”.