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Advocates protest outside the White House, demanding student debt cancellation.

Advocates display a hand-painted sign in front of the White House to call on President Joe Biden to sign an executive order to cancel student debt on June 15, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for We The 45 Million)

'Time Is Running Out': Progressives Press Biden to Extend Student Loan Moratorium

"These are matters of life and death for people," said Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

Julia Conley

Following this week's victory by progressives, led by Rep. Cori Bush, who pressured the Biden administration to extend the federal eviction moratorium by 60 days, lawmakers are now turning their attention to the student loan payments which have been paused for nearly a year and a half—demanding that the White House act now to avoid creating a new financial hardship for millions amid the ongoing pandemic.

Payments to federal student loan administrators have been paused since March 2020 and the moratorium has been extended twice, with its end date now scheduled for September 30. 
 
With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) eviction moratorium now extended until the end of September, borrowers' union Debt Collective tweeted, student loan payments will now be required for the first time for millions of people just as landlords are again permitted to start eviction proceedings. 
 

The Biden administration has signaled in recent weeks that it could announce another extension of the student loan moratorium, but Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) called on officials to avoid "[going] to the last minute."

"The student loan moratorium ends on September 30, and millions of people won't be able to restart making their payments. Let's act NOW to protect them, before it's too late." —Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)

"These are matters of life and death for people," Jayapal told the Washington Post on Wednesday. 
 
The eviction moratorium was extended by 60 days only after Bush and other progressives spent the weekend on the steps of the U.S. Capitol after many of their colleagues had gone home for August recess, following the House Democrats' failed attempt to secure an extension through legislation.
 
The activism of Bush and her colleagues including Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) kept the moratorium from dying "a quiet death," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) told the Post.
 
Instead of forcing progressives to stage another public action to help millions of student loan borrowers, Jayapal said, "Let's act NOW to protect them, before it's too late."
 
An estimated 42 million people were at risk of falling behind on payments when the moratorium, including a policy setting interest rates at zero, was first announced. As Jayapal said this week, two-thirds of the United States' 43 million borrowers say they would have trouble starting to make payments on October 1. 
 
"Time is running out on the student-loan payment pause," Warren told the Post. "The payment pause gives us a moment to focus on, the same way the eviction moratorium gave us a moment to focus on, what's happening in this country."
 
Looking beyond the payment moratorium, Warren, Jayapal, and other Democrats have repeatedly called on President Joe Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt per borrower. The president has said he supports efforts to cancel just $10,000 of debt; the average U.S. household with student loan debt owes more than $57,000, according to Nerd Wallet's 2020 household debt survey. 
 
Before extending the eviction moratorium until September for much of the country, the White House claimed it didn't have the authority to issue the extension; the president has also claimed he can't legally cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt per borrower—a claim that has been disputed by legal experts and progressives in Congress, who cite Section 432(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965.
 
As Common Dreams reported last month, Section 432(a) states that that the education secretary has the authority to modify loan terms and "enforce, pay, compromise, waive, or release any right, title, claim, lien, or demand, however acquired, including any equity or any right of redemption."
 
"Biden has the authority to eliminate student debt," said Debt Collective. "This would be good for the economy and even better for borrowers suffering during a pandemic."
 
"Today would be a great day for [the president] to cancel at least $50,000 of student loan debt per borrower," said Jayapal on Thursday. "He has the authority to—and must act before the student loan freeze ends next month."

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