By Jessica Corbett / Common Dreams
As millions of Americans prepare to start making student loan payments again in October, nearly 180 organizations on Wednesday pressured U.S. President Joe Biden to immediately enact a new plan to deliver on long-promised relief for federal borrowers.
After the U.S. Supreme Court’s right-wing majority ruled last month that the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students Act “does not authorize” the president’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 in debt for millions of borrowers, the administration initiated what is expected to be a drawn-out process that instead relies on the Higher Education Act.
“Due to the crushing nature of the student debt crisis and the fact that millions of workers and families have already had to wait in economic limbo for nearly a year as partisan lawsuits blocked transformative relief in court, we urge you to continue the necessary work to deliver on your promise of up to $20,000 in student debt relief and enact your new debt relief plan as swiftly as possible,” 179 groups, led by Student Borrower Protection Center, wrote to Biden on Wednesday.
“The Supreme Court’s decision to ignore the clear letter of the law and strike down your life-changing debt relief plan is further evidence of its willingness to put politics and special interests before the American people,” the groups argued. “The recently signed Fiscal Responsibility Act which suspends the debt ceiling until 2025 while codifying the end of the student loan payment pause—a crucial economic lifeline for millions—has made it all the more urgent to act now to cancel student debt before payments resume.”
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The coalition warned that “while the administration has announced notable steps to mitigate the harshest economic consequences for borrowers—including shielding borrowers from negative credit reporting, delinquencies, and defaults should they fall behind—restarting the fundamentally broken student loan system without first delivering on the relief promised to borrowers remains a grave mistake, and will only exacerbate already dire economic situations for millions of American households.”
The organizations stressed both the popularity and necessity of student debt relief, pointing to polling and the fact that after Biden unveiled his long-awaited initial plan last year, “26 million borrowers applied for debt relief and 16 million were approved during the short window of time that the application was open to the public.”
The new letter comes after Biden’s U.S. Department of Education announced last week that it will soon begin wiping out the federal student loan debt of about 804,000 borrowers after implementing fixes to income-driven repayment plans—which also provoked calls for more sweeping relief.
Student loan payments for federal borrowers were initially halted under former President Donald Trump, in response to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Trump and Biden administrations repeatedly extended the pause over the past few years. Following the recent court ruling, interest is set to resume on September 1 and payments will be due starting in October.
Policies on student debt are widely expected to influence next year’s presidential and congressional elections. Biden—who continues to refuse to support expanding the Supreme Court—is seeking reelection, and Trump is leading in the polls for the GOP’s 2024 nomination, despite his legal trouble and arguments that his incitement of the January 6, 2021 insurrection disqualifies him from holding public office again.
Meanwhile, Protect Borrowers Action has launched a campaign targeting 13 U.S. House Republicans in battleground districts who signed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to strike down the president’s first student debt relief plan and backed an unsuccessful congressional resolution that would have killed the policy.
Jessica Corbett is a staff writer for Common Dreams.