By Jessica Corbett / Common Dreams
Student debt relief campaigners on Tuesday welcomed U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to yet again extend a temporary pause on federal loan payments in response to Republican lawsuits targeting his cancellation plan.
“I’m completely confident my plan is legal. But right now it’s on hold because of these lawsuits. We’re not going to back down though, on our fight to give families breathing room,” Biden said in a video, noting his administration has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in.
Stressing that “it isn’t fair to ask tens of millions of borrowers eligible for relief to resume their student debt payments” while waiting on a court ruling, the president explained that Education Secretary Miguel Cardona is extending the freeze to no later than June 30, 2023. Payments would restart 60 days later.
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Unveiled in August, Biden’s plan would cancel up to $10,000 in debt for federal borrowers with incomes below $125,000 for individuals or $250,000 for households. Borrowers who received Pell Grants would have up to $20,000 forgiven.
After the GOP responded with a flurry of lawsuits, the Department of Education earlier this month stopped accepting applications for the relief program. However, tens of millions of Americans have already sent in their information, and the administration has pledged in emails to borrowers that “we will discharge your approved debt if and when we prevail in court.”
Echoing Biden’s confidence that the relief plan will ultimately take effect, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday that the pause “gives student loan borrowers more opportunity to pay down their debt and reach important milestones in life like opening a savings account, purchasing a home, and saving for retirement.”
Student Borrower Protection Center executive director Mike Pierce similarly stressed that “this extension means that struggling borrowers will be able to keep food on their tables during the holiday season—and the coming months—as the administration does everything it can to beat back the baseless and backward attacks on working families with student debt.”
Pierce added that “the Republican politicians set on keeping their constituents in debt should take note: Borrowers made this happen and borrowers will continue to fight until student debt cancellation is won.”
Accountable.US spokesperson Liz Zelnick also celebrated the administration’s extension—which came amid growing calls for one—while slamming the right-wing interests attempting to kill the program.
“President Biden’s repayment pause is a weight off the shoulders of millions of Americans dealing with crushing student debt,” she said. “This is a welcome step towards stimulating the economy and providing some economic relief to millions of Americans.”
“The baseless political lawsuits attacking the administration’s relief policies could not come at a worse time as corporate greed continues to drive up prices and the economy heads towards a recession,” she continued. “As President Biden prioritizes average Americans in this moment of economic uncertainty, conservative judges and politicians are doing all they can to protect the bottom line of greedy special interests.”
Student Debt Crisis Center president Natalia Abrams praised the extension and warned of the expected impacts of resuming payments.
“Restarting student loan payments is simply not affordable for millions of Americans,” she said. “Federal student loan payments must not resume during this critical time—and the pause should continue until the president’s student debt cancellation plan is secured.”
“We applaud the president for doing the right thing. Too many borrowers, parents, and students have yet to recover from the financial harm caused by the pandemic and the possibility of a winter surge in Covid-19 cases is proof that this crisis is not over,” Abrams noted, calling cancellation “essential to helping borrowers recover from the pandemic.”
Braxton Brewington, a spokesperson for the Debt Collective, said that “the least the Biden administration could do is not collect on a debt they promised they would cancel.”
“This pause extension is necessary, but also the bare minimum,” Brewington added. “What 45 million borrowers truly need is a Biden administration that won’t allow fringe lawsuits and right-wing courts to undermine economic relief that’s already been approved.”