It should startle most that reports state that over 45 million Americans together owe over $1.7 trillion with a T in student debt.
Who holds the debt? Head-of-households juggling school debt and parenting; brand new students, and professionals and un/under-employed people who left school decades ago; people with single or multiple degrees; self-employed, and general grafters trying to live their best lives providing for themselves and families.
Excited were 20-30-40-50 and 60-something former and current students when then-presidential candidate Joe Biden was bounding around the nation promising to help wipe out student debt.
Forty-five million or so people dreamt about what they could do with that now liberated $300 or whatever monthly loan repayment they are obligated to make.
A house, a car, an adulting big purchase was now a definite possibility.
Those were campaign promises. Nothing to do with reality it seems.
Thus, current and former students are set to descend upon the Midtown Manhattan 3rd Avenue office of Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer on Saturday, April 30, to persuade Biden to cut them some slack, fight the stereotype of a say-anything-to-win politician, and do what he said he would do.
“I’m going to make sure that everybody in this generation gets $10,000 knocked off of their student debt as we try to get out of this God-awful pandemic,” Biden professed on the campaign trail in 2020.
Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, who embodies if anyone the House Democrat who walked close-to-not-winning Biden into the White House, told The New York Times, “If executive orders can free slaves and integrate the armed services, it can eliminate debt.”
There have been a series of meetings in Brooklyn with students and activists calling on President Biden to fulfill his campaign promise and go further and cancel student debt, to relieve 45 million students and former students who are still paying massive amounts for student loans. Hence, the rally this weekend at Senator Schumer’s office.
“The December 12th Movement supports the April 30th rally of the Cancel Student Debt Coalition,” said Roger Wareham, attorney and international secretariat of the December 12th Movement.
“The burden of student debt falls disproportionately on working class, poor students of color. Particularly on Black women. President Biden can address this historic inequality by issuing an executive order canceling student debt. This is the simplest and most equitable solution and avoids the smoke and mirrors of the partial and gradual programs the president and other elected officials have put forward. We contrast the government’s stalling and hesitancy in addressing the student debt with the urgency it continues to display in funneling billions of dollars of aid to Ukraine to address a situation which the U.S. has provoked. We will be at Senator Schumer’s office on Saturday to urge him to support our campaign and deliver our message to the president.”
“I am paying back my $11,000 student loan at $300 a month,” 2021 college graduate Osato told the Amsterdam News. “I am happy that I have a job and I was able to move back home. So it is tough, but with payments being suspended for now it helps, but the burden is still there. One of the reasons me and my friends voted for Biden was because he said he would cut student loans. They bail out everyone else, what about students or former students?”
Meanwhile, Schumer is among other so-titled progressives such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders pushing Biden to use his executive power to cancel $50,000 in student debt for all those carrying the bill.
They disagree with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s assessment that it is not within the president’s power to do so.
For his part, during his presidential campaigning Biden said he would offer $10,000 in federal student loan forgiveness. That hasn’t happened though. Instead, he pledged he would expand portions of the current loan forgiveness programs.
The Amsterdam News reached out to Schumer to get a response about the scheduled rally, but his office sent statements referring to his support for student loan relief.
Back in December 2020, Schumer, then Congressman-elect, Jamaal Bowman, Mondaire Jones, Ritchie Torres, and local students held a presser calling on Biden “to cancel student loan debt; nearly 2.4 million New Yorkers owe $89.5 billion in federal student loans. Canceling student loan debt will relieve a huge burden on NY’s young people, particularly people of color and families; student debt accounts for substantial percentage of racial wealth gap.”
Schumer, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Raphael Warnock, Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar, and House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn recently released a statement on an extension of the federal student loan payment pause:
“Last week, we led nearly 100 members of Congress in urging the president to extend the pause on student loan payments. Today, President Biden heeded our calls and delivered critical relief to millions of Americans. Since the start of the Biden-Harris administration, no American has had to pay a dime on their federally-held student debt, and more than 700,000 borrowers have had over $16 billion in student debt canceled. While the extension is welcome, a looming restart of student loan payments in September underscores the importance of swift executive action on meaningful student debt cancellation. We continue to implore the president to use his clear legal authority to cancel student debt, which will help narrow the racial wealth gap, boost our economic recovery, and demonstrate that this government is fighting for the people.”
U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand stated, “Student debt is a huge burden on New Yorkers, which is why I have worked on legislation that would offer economic relief to thousands of New York borrowers. Without debt relief, students and graduates will continue facing additional and unnecessary financial strains that hold both our statewide and national economy down. As we emerge from the pandemic, it is essential that Congress take bold action to help New Yorkers find their footing and thrive.”
With two thirds of loans being held by women in America, another angle here is the fact that Black women are hit hardest by the national student loan crisis. The American Association of University Women said, “Americans now hold over $1.7 trillion in outstanding student loan debt. The skyrocketing cost of college has forced more students to borrow money to obtain a degree. Women take on greater debt than men to start, but when women graduate, loan payments collide with the gender pay gap. The compounding effect puts a tight squeeze on women’s budgets.”
Black women, they add, are subjected to the highest level of student debt, calculating an undergraduate bill of $41,466, and a graduate school number as high as $75,085, a year post graduation.
“Education and debt go hand in hand,” said the United States Census Bureau. “Non-Hispanic Black adults were particularly likely to have student debt…
“In 2017, for example, rates for some non-Hispanic Black groups were twice as large as for non-Hispanic white adults and Black adults were more likely than white adults at every educational attainment level to have student loans.”
The Amsterdam News contacted Biden’s press team to ask for comment on the issue.
Kelly S. Leon, U.S. Department of Education press secretary, said the government is “continuing to assess what administrative actions can be taken to offer relief.”
At a White House briefing on Monday Jen Psaki said, “I don’t have anything to preview for you in terms of any authority and how—or how it would work. What I would tell you is that not a single person in this country has paid a dime on student, federal student loans since the president took office. And what we have said is that he would make a decision about any cancellation of student debt before the conclusion of that pause on student loans, but I don’t have anything to preview for you at this point in time.”
Asked if the White House views this “as a racial equity issue?”
Psaki replied, “Well, again, I think the president views student loan relief, debt relief as something that impacts—yes, it is a racial equity issue, but it is also an issue that impacts many individuals—young people, middle-aged people, of all races. It is something that he has, he has played, it has been a vital priority to the president, which again is why not a single person has played—paid a penny, a dime, a dime or a penny in student loans since he took office.”
Earlier this month, the Department of Education announced steps “that will bring borrowers closer to public service loan and income-driven repayment (IDR) forgiveness by addressing historical failures in the administration of the federal student loan programs.”
Federal Student Aid (FSA) estimates that these changes “will result in immediate debt cancellation for at least 40,000 borrowers under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program.” They added, “Several thousand borrowers with older loans will also receive forgiveness through IDR. More than 3.6 million borrowers will also receive at least three years of additional credit toward IDR forgiveness.”
“Student loans were never meant to be a life sentence, but it’s certainly felt that way for borrowers locked out of debt relief they’re eligible for,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “Today [April 19, 2022], the Department of Education will begin to remedy years of administrative failures that effectively denied the promise of loan forgiveness to certain borrowers enrolled in IDR plans. These actions once again demonstrate the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment to delivering meaningful debt relief and ensuring federal student loan programs are administered fairly and effectively.”
These actions, they determine, are part of the Department’s “commitment to address historical failures in the administration of the federal student loan program and support student loan borrowers through the pandemic. They also help address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on borrowers with lower incomes and high debt loads.”
Their statement continues that the steps will “help restore the promise of IDR plans by ensuring that borrowers have an affordable and effective path out of debt.
“Beyond the immediate corrective actions announced today that will provide relief to borrowers harmed in the past, FSA will take action to ensure that borrowers receive these benefits in the future.”
Not enough to stop the call for overall relief it appears, however.
Bed Stuy Brooklyn’s Assemblywoman Stefani L. Zinerman said, “There are so many talented and educated New Yorkers drowning in a sea of debt for the very education meant to empower and enable them. American education must evolve so that anyone who wants to improve themselves can without the burden of student loans. I am witnessing the fight to stay afloat for so many individuals in my district—a struggle I know well. People of African descent and those from marginalized communities need educational reparations to repair the historic wrongs. We must prioritize higher education to compete on a global stage and contribute to the economic evolution of our society as potential homeowners and business owners. It is imperative for our collective survival as a nation for President Biden to bail out students the way we bailed out banks.”