Schumer: Biden can—and should—cancel $50,000 in student debt

BY Sydney LakeOctober 20, 2021, 6:04 PM
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at a press conference in October 2021.
Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

There have been incremental moves to cancel student debt since President Joe Biden took office, and his administration has already forgiven about $11 billion in loans for hundreds of thousands of borrowers ranging from defrauded students, Americans with disabilities, and public service workers. That amount is barely a blip on the student loan radar, though. More than 43 million student loan borrowers still owe a mounting $1.7 trillion in debt.

Top Democrats have long been pushing for mass debt cancellation from Biden and the Education Department. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Oct. 15 renewed his call for $50,000 in debt cancellation per borrower during “Scared to Debt,” an event hosted by the University of Southern California’s Casden Institute and School of Cinematic Arts. 

“Student debt makes it harder to achieve the American dream—the sacred promise that if you work hard, if you play by the rules, that one day you’re going to make it here in America,” he said during the event. “When people have to pay student debt, they sometimes have to put off buying a home, buying a car, getting married, or even going into the profession they wish to go into.”

Democrats’ stance on erasing student loan debt

Like Schumer, some top Democrats believe that student loan debt is crippling and a hindrance to the American dream. They also argue it’s a diversity, equity, and inclusion issue.

“For generations, higher education has been a ladder up into the middle class, especially for Black, Latino, and Asian Americans,” Schumer said during the event. “But today, student debt is an anchor weighing too many down.”

Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, have been pushing Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt per borrower. They also argue that Biden can achieve this wide-sweeping action through an executive order.

“We don’t actually have to do anything in Congress,” Warren said at a meet-and-greet event in Northampton, Mass., on Sept. 12, according to WWLP, a local news network. “The president of the United States has the power to cancel student loan debt on his own.”

“With the flick of a pen, President Biden could cancel $50,000 in student loan debt and provide millions upon millions of student loan borrowers a new lease on life,” Schumer agreed during the Oct. 15 event. 

However, Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi don’t believe it’s all that easy to erase this debt. Rather, they say that mass student loan forgiveness as suggested by Schumer, Warren, other Democrats, and debt cancellation proponents needs to be achieved by an act of Congress. 

While Biden doesn’t agree with the measures necessary to achieve mass student loan forgiveness, he’s not opposed to it altogether—as is evident in the targeted student loan rounds thus far this year and a statement he made earlier this year.

“I’m prepared to write off $10,000 debt, but not [$50,000] because I don’t think I have the authority to do it by signing” an executive order, Biden said during a February 2021 town hall.

Student loan forgiveness this year

In early October, Biden announced the most recent round of student loan forgiveness—a major revamp of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program. Changes to the program will help 22,000 borrowers, accounting for about $1.74 billion in student loan debt starting this month. An additional 27,000 eligible public service workers could have a combined $2.8 billion wiped out if they meet certain requirements.

Before the announcement of the PSLF overhaul, Biden had forgiven $9.5 billion in student loans via four rounds of cancellations targeting two main groups of borrowers: Americans with total and permanent disabilities and people who attended now-defunct institutions. More rounds of forgiveness for borrowers with defense loan discharge claims—students who attended institutions that took part in deceptive or illegal practices—could be coming down the pike,  Mark Kantrowitz, author of How to Appeal for More College Financial Aid, previously told Fortune. 

“I think it is highly likely that the Biden administration will continue to take action concerning targeted loan forgiveness,” he said. 

Until then, Democrats like Schumer will continue the fight for mass student loan forgiveness. At the Oct. 15 event, Schumer even referenced the origin of his devotion to the fight to end student loan debt.

“My deep grounding in Jewish values informs my actions every day. The student debt crisis is no different,” he said. “We need justice, justice, justice for the millions of Americans shackled to crippling debt.”

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