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March 23, 2020

Reps. Pressley & Omar Introduce Bold Plan to Cancel Student Debt Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) introduced the Student Debt Emergency Relief Act, legislation that provides immediate monthly payment relief for federal student loan borrowers, cancels at least $30,000 in outstanding student loan debt per borrower, and shields borrowers from any involuntary payments and garnishment during the public health crisis. This legislation will provide debt relief for the 45 million workers and families who are being crushed by student debt during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation follows calls by Congresswoman Pressley and Senator Warren calling for student debt cancellation in the emergency stimulus package and a letter led by Congresswomen Pressley and Omar along with  27 colleagues in support of this measure. . A plan was later unveiled by Senate Democratic leaders proposing a minimum of $10K in student debt cancellation per borrower and immediate relief from monthly payments.

“During this unprecedented crisis, no one should have to choose between paying their student loan payment, putting food on the table or keeping themselves and their families safe and healthy,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “Our $1.6 trillion student debt crisis stands in the way of any meaningful economic recovery effort during and after this pandemic, which is why we must cancel student loan debt in order to jumpstart the economy.  My bill, the Student Debt Emergency Relief Act, will provide immediate relief for workers and families crushed by the financial and emotional burden of massive student debt. We must prioritize debt cancellation for the 45 million student loan borrowers who are struggling to pay off their debt during this difficult time.”

“Student debt was a crisis before the coronavirus. And it’s an even deeper crisis now,” said Congresswoman Omar. “There are over 750,000 student loan borrowers in Minnesota—and they owe a whopping $34,932 on average. We must not force Americans to choose between putting food on the table and paying off exorbitant student loans. Minnesotans and people across the country need relief and they need it now.”

Across the United States, millions of borrowers—predominately low-income people, seniors, people of color and those who were preyed upon by the predatory for-profit college industry—are facing financial ruin after falling behind on their student loans. The Student Debt Emergency Relief Act would support these borrowers by:

  • Cancelling at least $30,000 in outstanding student loan debt per borrower,
  • Providing immediate monthly payment relief for federal student loan borrowers by requiring the Department of Education to assume payments, and
  • Shielding borrowers from any involuntary collections or garnishments during the COVID-19 public health crisis.

The Student Debt Emergency Relief Act is endorsed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Women’s Law Center, American Federation of Teachers, Student Debt Crisis, Americans for Financial Reform, National Education Association, National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low income clients), Student Action, Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), Hispanic Federation, OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates and the Center for Responsible Lending.

“Too many people in America were facing an affordability crisis before this pandemic hit —now, as the COVID-19 crisis takes its toll on the health and economic well-being of this country, student loan borrowers run the risk of missing payments and spiraling further into debt,” said Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers. “At this point, people need their government to step in a protect them so they can focus on their own safety and on meeting basic needs—not making loan payments to the Department of Education. The Student Debt Emergency Relief Act would allow borrowers to do just that, and simultaneously will provide a necessary boost to the nation’s economy by having the federal government make monthly payments on behalf of student loan borrowers, paying down a minimum of $30,000 of student loans for each borrower, and halting wage, tax refund, and Social Security garnishments during this crisis. Any economic stimulus package needs to put the needs of people before a bailout of industry — as we navigate this crisis’ long-term impact, a plan to help borrowers navigate their student debt obligations without going bankrupt is critical.”

“The growing economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic requires bold solutions that can reduce expenses to Americans in the midst of labor shocks,” said Alexis Goldstein, Senior Policy Analyst, Americans for Financial Reform. “Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s bill is a powerful and efficient way to immediately relieve pressure on distressed borrowers. Rep. Pressley’s legislation would free up needed money to go to food and other essentials. Instead of wages being garnished to cover student loans, borrowers would pass the savings right back into the economy by spending to meet day-to-day needs.”

“We failed to address student debt in the last recession and we cannot afford to make this same mistake again,” said Seth Frotman, former Student Loan Ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Student loan companies are shutting their doors and turning off their phones in response to the coronavirus pandemic, cutting off borrowers from access to critical protections. If borrowers have nowhere to turn to get help, lawmakers must immediately cancel student loan payments for all Americans with federal student loans. Congresswoman Pressley’s legislation achieves this important goal, while also taking as a major step toward ending the student debt crisis.”

“Today, the stakes could not be higher for Americans already crushed by student debt,” said Natalia Abrams, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Student Debt Crisis. “The Coronavirus crisis is an economic disaster for student loan borrowers that threatens their livelihoods in the most fundamental way. Representative Pressley’s plan would help borrowers shoulder the costs of this unprecedented crisis and will ensure families can put food on their tables, provide a safe roof over their heads, and afford healthcare that is more critical today than ever. If the federal government can generate trillions of dollars of aid to big businesses, let us not forget the vulnerable communities that carry a disproportionate student debt burden and are now facing the brunt of the financial impact of this pandemic. Black and brown students who carry more student loan debt than any other group are now hit with the bulk of lost hours and layoffs. Older Americans who are at the greatest risk of defaulting on their student loans and are now unable to access the basic needs they depend on every day. Representative Pressley’s plan fights for them and millions of every day.”

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