Miguel Cardona

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona answers questions during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C. on August 5, 2021. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Progressives Say Student Loan Moratorium Extension 'Not Enough' in Call for Debt Cancellation

"Student debt cancellation is one of the most significant actions that President Biden can take right now to build a more just economy and address racial inequity."

As the U.S. Department of Education announced Friday that it would extend a moratorium on federal student loan payments through the end of January 2022, Democratic lawmakers and progressive advocacy groups urged the Biden administration to go even further and cancel at least $50,000--or even all--outstanding student loan debt in service of economic and racial justice.

"We must continue fighting to cancel student debt and make public colleges and universities tuition-free and debt-free."
--Sen. Bernie Sanders

The Education Department announced what it called a "final extension of the pause on student loan repayment, interest, and collections"--implemented during the Trump administration in March 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic and extended by President Joe Biden on his first day in office--until January 31, 2022.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona called the moratorium a "lifeline that allowed millions of Americans to focus on their families, health, and finances instead of student loans during the national emergency."

"As our nation's economy continues to recover from a deep hole, this final extension will give students and borrowers the time they need to plan for restart and ensure a smooth pathway back to repayment," Cardona added.

However, Democratic lawmakers urged Biden--who while campaigning for president promised to cancel $10,000 in student debt and forgive debt for students from historically Black colleges and universities and public colleges--to forgive at least $50,000 in student debt, with some progressives calling on the administration to erase all outstanding loan balances.

"This extension is important and will bring much-needed relief to millions. But we can't stop here," tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). "We must continue fighting to cancel student debt and make public colleges and universities tuition-free and debt-free."

Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) said the moratorium extension "will provide much-needed relief for millions of families," but Biden "must now use this same authority to cancel student debt."

Rep. Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (D-Ill.) called the extension "good, but not good enough," adding that Biden "has the authority to cancel student debt, so why not relieve millions of individuals and families from crushing debt while boosting our economy at the same time?"

In a joint statement, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said: "While this temporary relief is welcome, it doesn't go far enough. We continue to call on the administration to use its existing executive authority to cancel $50,000 of student debt."

"Student debt cancellation is one of the most significant actions that President Biden can take right now to build a more just economy and address racial inequity," the lawmakers' statement added.

At a Friday news conference at the U.S. Senate, Pressley said, "As someone who grew up in a red-lined community and like 85% of Black student borrowers, I felt I had no choice but to borrow in order to pursue higher education."

"In light of the fact that Black families, because of policy violence, were deprived of the ability to build generational wealth, and Black student borrowers default at five times the rate of our white counterparts, that's not abstract for me, that is personal," she continued.

"The White House has continually... expressed a commitment to racial justice," Pressley added. "This is an easy lever to pull... as part of a recovery strategy to jump-start the economy, to alleviate a burden for families, and also gets us one step closer to actualizing racial justice."

Advocacy groups echoed the progressive lawmaker's calls for Biden to go further.

"This is an enormous relief for the millions of people who have been dreading the end of the pause on student loan repayments, but it isn't enough," the ACLU said. "The only way to end the student debt crisis is for Biden to cancel at least $50k per borrower. He must take action now."

"Extending the pause on student loan payments only kicks a $1.8 trillion can down the road," said Braxton Brewington, spokesperson for the advocacy group Debt Collective, which earlier this year worked with leading scholars to write a draft executive order to cancel all federally held student debt.

"Rather than cancel federal student debt for every single borrower--which would boost the national economy, narrow the racial wealth gap, and deliver critical [Covid-19] relief for 45 million borrowers and their communities--Biden is failing to keep his campaign promise," Brewington continued.

"Tens of millions of Americans are putting off starting a family or struggling to afford a home because they're saddled with debt they cannot afford to pay," he added. "Biden should immediately use his executive authority and eliminate this uniquely American burden, the same authority that permits him to extend the moratorium."

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