Personal Finance

Student Loan Forgiveness: ‘We’re Going To Win’ Says Top Democrat, As Poll Shows Broad Support For Debt Cancellation

The push by student loan borrower advocates and top Democrats to convince President Biden to enact widespread student loan forgiveness continues.

“We’re going to win,” said Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) at a virtual event last week organized by the Debt Collective, a debtor’s union advocating for student loan borrowers. “Student debt is an anchor bringing our people down. We ask President Biden with the flick of a pen, cancel student debt.”

Will Biden Enact Student Loan Forgiveness Using Executive Action?

Schumer has become a leading proponent of student loan forgiveness, and has frequently joined with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and other progressives in a year-long campaign to persuade President Biden to cancel $50,000 or more in federal student loan debt for every borrower by using executive action.

Biden promised support for student loan forgiveness during his presidential campaign in 2020. Specifically, Biden had proposed a program to cancel the undergraduate federal student loan debt for borrowers with incomes under $125,000 per year who attended public institutions or historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and private minority-serving institutions (MSIs). He also said he would support initiatives to cancel $10,000 in student loans for borrowers.

But Biden has stopped short of supporting larger amounts of student loan cancellation, and expressed opposition to the $50,000 figure proposed by leading advocates. Biden and White House officials have consistently expressed uncertainty about whether he would have sufficient legal authority to cancel student loan debt unilaterally through executive action, rather than signing a bill passed by Congress. The White House has said he would sign such a bill, but no student loan forgiveness bill appears to be forthcoming, and broad student debt relief was not included in Biden’s sweeping “Build Back Better” proposal, which stalled last year.

Borrower advocacy groups, student loan legal experts and scholars, and key members of Congress — including Senator Schumer — have argued that key provisions of existing federal law governing the higher education system, such as the Higher Education Act and the HEROES Act of 2003, contain clear enough language that vests broad powers in the Secretary of Education to wipe out borrowers’ federal student loan debt. But that opinion is not universally held, and other scholars and legal experts, including several former Education Department officials and attorneys, have argued that this interpretation is incorrect and that Congress never intended these statutes to allow a President to simply cancel federal student loan debt on such a mass scale.

White House officials have been unclear on Biden’s intent, stating only that the administration is preparing for borrowers’ return to repayment this May, after the nearly two-year long hiatus on student loan payments finally comes to an end. Biden and his Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona, have highlighted the administration’s efforts to enact more “targeted” student loan forgiveness by expanding access to existing programs, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

New Poll Shows Public Support For At Least Some Amount Of Student Loan Forgiveness

While the debate over student loan forgiveness continues in Washington, a new poll released this week by the Student Borrower Protection Center and Data for Progress found broad support for student debt cancellation, with 63 percent of likely voters supporting a federal initiative to cancel at least some student loan debt for borrowers.

While only one in four respondents supported cancelling all outstanding student loans for every borrower, the poll did find broad support for at least some form of widespread student loan forgiveness. 61 percent of respondents without a college degree expressed support for debt cancellation, as did 58 percent of respondents who do not owe student debt, and 57 percent of voters over 45. At the same time, less than a third of respondents indicated that the federal government should not cancel any student debt at all. Advocates have framed student loan forgiveness as a matter of racial justice, and nearly 9 in 10 Black respondents to the poll supported at least some student debt cancellation.

“These findings make clear that student debt weighs on the minds and pockets of everyday, hard working Americans, and that student debt cancellation could offer President Biden a political win through relief for millions of Americans,” said Ethan Winter, Senior Polling Analyst at Data for Progress, in a statement.

Advocates Also Push Biden Administration To Enact Other Student Loan Reforms

Advocacy organizations for student loan borrowers aren’t just pushing for widespread debt cancellation. They are also calling on the Biden administration to take signifiant steps to reform the student loan system going forward. Advocates are pushing the administration to relax a Department of Education policy universally opposing borrowers seeking to discharge their federal student loans in bankruptcy. And they are also suggesting that the administration take sweeping executive action to overhaul the federal income-driven repayment plan system.

Further Student Loan Reading

One Million Borrowers May Benefit From Expanded Student Loan Forgiveness Starting This Month, Says Biden Official

Untangling Student Loan Forgiveness: Who Qualifies For Three Complicated Programs For Public Service Workers

Is Student Loan Forgiveness Taxable In 2022? It’s Complicated.

Biden May Be “Making A Decision Now” On Student Loan Cancellation, Says Key Senator

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