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Student loan protest

Activists and artists call on President Biden to not resume student loan payments and to cancel student debt on December 15, 2021 in Washington, D,C. (Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for We, The 45 Million)

Calls Mount to Cancel Student Debt as Biden Weighs Longer Payment Pause

"We need immediate student debt relief, and deferring payments again is a great step, but we need to do more," says Congresswoman Marie Newman.

Jessica Corbett

After a White House official confirmed this week that President Joe Biden is considering further extending a pandemic-related pause on student loan payments, lawmakers and activists renewed calls for debt cancellation.

"We have reached a student debt crisis of epic proportions."

While payments are due to resume on May 1, White House Chief of Staff Ronald Klain suggested on a popular podcast that the president may extend the pause and is still sorting out whether he will take further action on the student debt crisis.

"This is a GOOD idea!" the group Bold Progressives tweeted with a video of Klain on "Pod Save America."

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a key advocate of student debt cancellation in Congress, agreed, also tweeting Klain's comments.

In response to HuffPost's reporting on Klain's remarks, Congresswoman Marie Newman (D-Ill.) said Saturday that "pausing student loan payments during Covid has allowed Americans to get by."

"We need immediate student debt relief, and deferring payments again is a great step, but we need to do more," she added.

Noting that "education is a pathway to greater opportunity and economic security, yet many Americans simply can't afford it or become crushed by student loans," Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) told Biden on Saturday that "we must cancel student debt."

Rep. Jesús "Chuy" García (D-Ill.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) also pressured the president to take action on the issue Saturday:

Pressley and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who have been leading the fight in Congress with Schumer, participated in a Friday roundtable about how student loan debt impacts Black communities, particularly business owners, entrepreneurs, and other professionals.

Advocates of debt cancellation often argue that it is necessary to help address the racial wealth gap in the United States.

Also on Friday, the Debt Collective announced a nationally coordinated refusal to make payments if Biden refuses to step in before they resume in May.

"If President Biden resumes illegitimate student debt payments in May, we will facilitate as many student debtors as possible to safely pay $0 a month to the Department of Education," declared Debt Collective co-founder Astra Taylor.

"Whether it's filing a borrower defense or enrolling in an income-driven repayment plan, we are politicizing our refusal to pay as part of our escalation on President Biden," Taylor said. "He has the authority to cancel all federal student debt with the flick of a pen. He can end this manufactured crisis today."

Debt Collective spokesperson Braxton Brewington emphasized that "we want to be clear—a student debt strike is not intentionally defaulting on your loans, but politicizing and collectivizing your refusal to pay by using the tools the Department of Education already provides to student borrowers."

"The Debt Collective's Student Debt Strike is an important campaign to help build the mass movement we need to resist and abolish student debt."

"The federal government doesn't need our student debt payments to function, and the last two years have proved that," Brewington added, "but they do need our cooperation—and they certainly won't have that."

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) expressed support for the planned strike, noting that "the road to student debt cancellation is long and hard, and a key aspect is building solidarity amongst students and graduates with debt."

"The Debt Collective's Student Debt Strike is an important campaign to help build the mass movement we need to resist and abolish student debt, and there are so many ways to support it without putting yourself in financial jeopardy," she said. "I stand with Student Debt Strikers and encourage everyone—whether you have debt or not—to join us."

As Common Dreams reported last month, polling shows student debt cancellation is popular with the American public, even among people who don't have higher education loans to repay.

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