Chuck Schumer: Biden’s $9.5 billion student debt cancellation is ‘not enough’

BY Sydney LakeSeptember 21, 2021, 7:40 PM
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wears a face mask that reads #CancelStudentDebt, as seen April 2021. (Photo by Caroline Brehman—CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images)

Since taking office in January, President Joe Biden has canceled $9.5 billion in student loan debt for borrowers with total and permanent disabilities, and for those people who attended now-defunct schools deemed as having deceived students. Proponents of mass student debt cancellation say it’s a step in the right direction, but the fight isn’t over yet.

What Biden has done so far to handle the student debt crisis is “not enough,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday during the Student Debt Crisis Center’s State of Student Debt Summit. “We need to do more.”

The cancellations thus far account for less than 1% of all federal student loan debt. There are more than 43 million borrowers holding a collective $1.7 trillion in federal student loan debt.

Schumer is one of the most outspoken advocates of large-scale student debt cancellation, along with his colleague Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts. They’ve both been pushing for Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt per borrower. But Biden says he’s only “prepared to” cancel $10,000 per borrower.

Schumer regularly tweets the following: “Today would be a great day for President Biden and Vice President Harris to #CancelStudentDebt.”

How Schumer thinks student debt cancellation can be done

Not only do Schumer and Biden disagree on the amount of student loan debt that should be canceled per borrower, but they also don’t see eye to eye on how to accomplish forgiveness. Schumer argues that Biden can solve the student loan debt crisis with “the flick of a pen,” but Biden believes otherwise

“I don’t think I have the authority to do it by signing” an executive order, Biden said during a February 2021 town hall.

Instead, Biden, along with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, stand firm that it will take an act of Congress to accomplish mass debt cancellation. 

“President Biden on his own, without any congressional action or approval, could provide millions upon millions of student loan borrowers with a new lease on life,” Schumer said during Tuesday’s summit. 

What about the payment freeze?

The 43 million federal student loan borrowers have had the option to freeze payments on their federal student loans during the COVID-19 pandemic, but that provision is set to expire at the end of January 2022. While this has been a welcomed reprieve during a financially challenging time, student debt cancellation advocates argue that forbearance just kicks the can down the road; borrowers will eventually need to pay.

Amid their fight for mass debt cancellation, however, Warren and Schumer made multiple attempts to extend the forbearance into the spring. On June 23, the politicians sent a letter to Biden urging him to extend the freeze on student loan repayments through March 31, 2022. The freeze first began in March 2020 when the U.S. Department of Education, under CARES Act provisions, issued a temporary suspension of loan payments and a 0% interest rate.

Ultimately, Biden announced in August that payments would resume in February and says it will be the final such extension. Although the reprieve will continue for the next few months, Schumer argues that it’s not the ultimate solution.

“Students don’t need their debt paused,” Schumer said Tuesday. “They need it erased.”

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