Schumer is ‘intent on getting the president to pause student debt’

BY Sydney LakeDecember 09, 2021, 8:59 PM
Sen. Charles Schumer speaks in support of the Build Back Better Act at Hispanic Federation headquarters in New York City in November 2021.
Lev Radin—Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images

There are only 54 days left until student loan forbearance expires. After nearly two years of having the choice of whether to continue to make payments on their student loan debt, borrowers have to start paying once again on Feb. 1, 2022.

The forbearance started in March 2020 with the passage of the CARES Act, a $2.2 trillion stimulus bill intended to serve as an economic lifeline during the pandemic. The pause on student loan payments was then extended several times, but the forbearance expires on Jan. 31, 2022. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, is still pushing for another extension in the wake of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

“We are calling on the administration to continue that pause with the advent of Omicron, the continuation of COVID,” Schumer said during a Dec. 6 press conference. “Students should not have to have this burden placed on their shoulders.”

He didn’t give a suggestion on a new expiration date, but he referred to student loan debt as being a major burden, especially during a pandemic.

“For over 2.4 million New Yorkers, tens of millions of Americans, student loan payments are a huge burden upon them,” he said. “And, unfortunately, the pause that says you don’t have to pay them during the pandemic goes away by the end of January.”

In total, there are more than 43 million student loan borrowers who still owe a mounting $1.7 trillion in debt.

“That’s why we are so, so intent on getting the president to pause student debt because COVID is still here,” Schumer added.

Democrats on student loan forbearance

Schumer is one of several top-ranking Democrats in Congress fighting for both continued student loan forbearance and debt forgiveness. 

Before the extension from Sept. 30, 2021, to Feb. 1, 2022, Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, in June sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to extend the freeze on student loan repayments through March 31, 2022—six months later than originally planned. 

In September, Fortune spoke with several student loan experts to find out whether another extension on the freeze on student loan payments could be expected.

Adam S. Minsky, a student loan lawyer, told us it was “very unlikely,” and Biden and White House officials have also said that this will be the final extension. Student loan experts tend to agree, and the Federal Student Aid office of the Department of Education has also referred to it as the “final extension.”

Democrats on student loan forgiveness

Several top Democrats are fighting for payments to be pushed back even further—and they’re arguing that student loan debt should be canceled altogether. Schumer and Warren say that Biden has the power to do this through an executive order.

“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 said on Oct. 15 during “Scared to Debt,” an event hosted by the University of Southern California’s Casden Institute and School of Cinematic Arts. 

“We don’t actually have to do anything in Congress,” Warren agreed 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.”

Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi disagree, however. 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. Biden also isn’t keen on forgiving as much as other Democrats would like to see. 

“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.

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