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Student debt protest

The Too Much Talent Band and local activists attend a protest demanding student debt cancellation on March 15, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for We The 45 Million)

Civil Rights Groups Demand Biden Cancel at Least $50K in Student Debt Per Borrower

Federal student loans payments are currently scheduled to begin again at the end of August, as households across the country face rising prices due to inflation.

Julia Conley

Marking one year since the Biden administration announced its intention to narrow the racial wealth gap and "reinvest in communities that have been left behind by failed policies," 60 civil rights groups on Tuesday wrote to the White House demanding the cancellation of at least $50,000 in student debt per borrower—a step, they said, that would help "alleviate the financial suffering of millions of Americans."

Noting that 45 million Americans carry a total of more than $1.6 trillion in student debt, the groups called the federal student loan payment moratorium—which has been extended multiple times since the coronavirus pandemic began and is currently set to expire at the end of August—"only a band-aid solution."

"Cancellation of $50,000 would provide immediate relief to more than 75% of all borrowers."

With 15 million borrowers at risk of delinquency when payments are set to start again, "we ask you to extend the payment pause and cancel student debt," wrote the groups, including the Student Debt Crisis Center, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Women's Law Center.

The groups pointed out that canceling student debt would help a broad cross-section of the American public. The number of student borrowers over the age of 60 has quadrupled in recent years, for example, with 40% of borrowers over 65 in default as of 2017—putting them at risk of having their Social Security garnished.

Considering President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris pledged a year ago to narrow the racial wealth gap, they added, the administration should consider that "Black students borrow at higher rates and are more likely to struggle during repayment than their white counterparts."

"While a typical white male borrower pays off almost half of their balance within 12 years of starting college, the balance of a typical Black female borrower grows by 13%," the letter reads. "Cancellation of $50,000 would provide immediate relief to more than 75% of all borrowers. Cancelling $10,000 has a negligible impact on the racial wealth gap, as compared to cancelling $50,000 or more."

The groups sent the letter as households across the country are spending an average of $327 more per month than usual on groceries and other essentials, as inflation pushes prices up.

About 36 million families lost the monthly enhanced Child Tax Credit in January after right-wing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) refused to support it, and when federal student loan payments begin again, the average borrower will be paying $460 per month to pay off their debt.

With the entire country facing higher prices, the groups discouraged the administration from means-testing any debt cancellation program, which the president has suggested he would do and which would "miss huge numbers of borrowers in dire need."

Limiting cancellation according to income "will miss huge numbers of borrowers in dire need," reads the letter. "It will also leave millions of borrowers with the exact monthly payment they previously had; thus, negating the purpose of cancellation."

Cancelling only $10,000 in debt per borrower instead of a minimum of $50,000 would also penalize "poor people who have worse debt-to-income ratios," the groups said.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who is among several progressives in Congress who have pushed Biden to cancel substantial student debt, tweeted that there is no reason for the White House to limit the program.

Members of Congress including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) joined labor leaders on Wednesday at the AFL-CIO's roundtable on student loan debt.

"The labor movement's fundamental goal is to create a fairer, more just economy," said Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO. "We can't do that when people are being held back by student debt that keeps them from reaching their full potential—or milestones we used to take for granted, like home ownership and retirement."

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