President Joe Biden is feeling the heat when it comes to relieving student loan debt. On Monday, the former VP told reporters that a decision was near.
Since entering the White House, proponents of student loan forgiveness have been urging the White House to employ its executive power to fix a critical issue for millions of Americans. Student loan debt was one of the more prominent issues on the campaign trail and has been a ballooning problem for years. This week sixty civil rights, faith community, and advocacy organizations published an open letter to the president and Vice President Kamala Harris, insisting that the administration do something now.
“The undersigned civil rights, student, community, and consumer advocacy organizations, along with faith leaders from across the country, urge you to use the authority of executive action to cancel $50,000 of federal student loan debt per borrower to stimulate the economy, bridge the racial wealth gap, and alleviate the financial suffering of millions of Americans, including Black women,” the letter, signed by the NAACP, BGLOs, HBCUs and others reads. “While women carry around two-thirds of student debt, Black women are more than twice as likely as white men to owe more than $50,000 in undergraduate student loan debt.”
Though Biden has thrown around the $10,000 figure for months, those who signed the letter believe it’s simply not enough. For an economy-shifting change, they say the administration must go far beyond that.
“The Biden-Harris administration announced almost exactly one year ago that it was taking steps to ‘narrow the racial wealth gap and reinvest in communities that have been left behind by failed policies.’ Canceling $50,000 in student loan debt is the minimum needed to begin addressing the racial wealth gap,” said Jaylon Herbin, policy and outreach manager and student loan lead at the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL). “Student debt most negatively impacts those historically marginalized through systemic inequalities that have only continued to grow. President Biden can and should use the authority of executive action to uphold the administration’s commitment to helping communities of color and women, who deserve the ability to build their American dream.”
Advocates have often highlighted the benefits of cancellation to all borrowers, but say that for Black and women borrowers particularly, the debt burden has been a heavy load to bear. The letter highlights this by pointing to the fact that Black students borrow at higher rates and are more likely to struggle during repayment than their white counterparts. Also, because of the racial wealth and wage gap that persists in this country, they find it more difficult to repay their loans. Currently, Black women are more than twice as likely as white men to owe more than $50,000 in undergraduate student loan debt.
“The job is not done until President Biden cancels at least a minimum of $50,000 in student loan debt,” said Wisdom Cole, national director of NAACP Youth & College in a statement shared with EBONY. “Failing to do so would ignore the urgent needs of both low-income Americans and predominantly Black communities. The goal for President Biden must be the most amount of relief for the most amount of borrowers. $10,000 in cancellation is just bad public policy and a devastating political mistake.”
Black organizations have championed the administration and worked in tandem with the White House on most, if not all, of the administration’s key policies. But with student loan debt reaching $1.7 trillion, these same entities are drawing a line in the sand. They say the burden of student loans prevents millions of borrowers of color from attaining wealth, reaching middle-class stability and investing in their futures or in their communities.
In addition to cancellation, the letter also urges the administration to lower interest rates to zero percent and to extend the payment pause, to which President Biden has been agreeable. They say, “Combined, these actions would set the stage for building the economy, bridging the racial wealth gap and would help all Americans be able to realize their own version of the American Dream.”