Oct 08, 2021
More than six months after the White House said it would promptly release information about its authority to cancel student loan debt, Rep. Ilhan Omar informed the Biden administration on Friday that she and other progressives in Congress are done waiting.
The Minnesota Democrat led more than a dozen of her colleagues in writing to President Joe Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, Politicoreported, calling on them to release a memo detailing the extent of the administration's authority.
"Turning student debt payments back on in the middle of a pandemic is an act of policy failure. Cancelling student debt is both the morally right and economically sound thing to do."
White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said in April that the memo would be made public within "weeks." Now, the date when borrowers will be required to make monthly payments again following Biden's extension of the Trump administration's moratorium--January 31, 2022--is fast approaching with no further information about the White House's plans for student loan cancellation.
"Borrowers are anxiously awaiting the administration's actions," wrote the members, who also included Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). "The time has come to release the memo and cancel student debt."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the president have claimed that Biden lacks the authority to cancel student loan debt, but as the lawmakers pointed out in their letter, legal experts say Section 432(a) of the Higher Education Act gives him that power.
Section 432(a) states 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."
"Several legal scholars, including those at the Project on Predatory Student Lending at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, and 80 members of the House and Senate confirm that the administration has the authority to broadly cancel student debt," the lawmakers wrote, adding that the White House has already canceled all interest on federal student loans.
"It would be an exercise in legal gymnastics to suggest that the president had the authority to cancel the interest on student debt on his first day, but lacks the authority to cancel the principal on student debt moving forward," they wrote.
Noting that 45 million Americans currently owe a total of $1.8 trillion in student debt--leading many young people to delay or forgo home ownership, entrepreneurship, and parenthood, according to several studies--Omar and her colleagues wrote that the student debt crisis is a policy failure "even during times of economic normalcy."
"Turning student debt payments back on in the middle of a pandemic is an act of policy failure," the group wrote. "Cancelling student debt is both the morally right and economically sound thing to do."
"With a single signature," the lawmakers added, "you can improve the economy, create new jobs, transform the lives of 45 million Americans, narrow the racial wealth gap, and maintain the trust of voters."
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