Say it with us: #CancelStudentDebt.
When the coronavirus pandemic first struck the United States in 2020, the federal government quickly suspended student loan payments. As millions of Americans lost their jobs, the relief was welcome — but only temporary. Next year, after a few deferments, student loan payments are set to resume. Now, Democratic lawmakers are once again pushing President Biden to cancel student loans, pointing to the new Omicron variant that signals the pandemic is far from over.
In the U.S., student loan debt comes in at a staggering $1.73 trillion, with the average college graduate owing nearly $30,000. During his presidential campaign, Biden made promises to cancel $10,000 in student debt per borrower. According to data from the Education Department provided to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), over 15 million people’s debts would’ve vanished with that pledge. But Biden hasn’t followed through.
The same lawmakers who have been holding Biden to task over his unkept promises are increasing pressure on the president. On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) tweeted, “More than 2.4 million New Yorkers and tens of millions of Americans across the country are struggling under the crushing burden of student loan debt.”
“President Biden can use his existing legal authority to lift this burden with the stroke of a pen and #CancelStudentLoanDebt,” Schumer continued.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that Schumer has tweeted to #CancelStudentLoanDebt. In fact, Schumer has consistently used the hashtag throughout the pandemic, citing the detrimental impact that bringing back student loan payments would have nationwide. And his support has been crucial in bringing student loan cancellation into the mainstream, given he’s not exactly a cutting-edge progressive.
During a news conference Monday, Schumer specifically pointed to the Omicron variant, telling reporters, “This debt is just overwhelming for people. If we don’t extend the pause, interest rates just pile up. Students owe a fortune. And with Omicron here, we’re not getting out of this as quickly as we’d like.”
Other Democratic lawmakers have been pushing to cancel student loans, too. Also Monday, Warren, who has proposed a plan to cancel $50,000 in debt per borrower, tweeted a link to an article on how student loans disproportionately impact Black people. “Student loan debt is keeping Black borrowers from buying homes, saving for retirement, and starting families. It’s exacerbating the racial wealth gap,” she wrote on Twitter, ending with the same hashtag: #CancelStudentDebt.
That same day, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, shared a link to a survey by the nonprofit Student Debt Crisis Center. The survey found that 89% of fully-employed borrowers said they’re not financially secure enough to resume payments on Feb. 1, 2022, when the last deferment is set to end. Jayapal wrote, “The administration can and must cancel at least $50,000 of student loan debt per borrower.” And last week, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) spoke about her personal struggle carrying student loan debt.
It’s clear that the coronavirus pandemic is the early defining aspect of Biden’s presidency. But as calls to completely erase student loans increase both on the streets and on Capitol Hill, it seems that this debate may be something he’s remembered for in the history books, too.