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February 4, 2021

Pressley, Warren, Schumer, Colleagues: President Biden Can and Should Cancel $50,000 in Federal Student Loan Debt Immediately

Resolution Text (PDF) | One-Pager (PDF)

WASHINGTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), along with Representatives Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Maxine Waters (CA-43), Chair of the House Financial Services Committee, Alma Adams (NC-12), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Mondaire Jones (NY-17) and Ritchie Torres (NY-15) led their colleagues in reintroducing their bicameral resolution outlining a bold plan for President Biden to tackle the student loan debt crisis by using existing authority under the Higher Education Act to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt for Federal student loan borrowers. The resolution calls on the President to use executive authority to cancel student loan debt and ensure there is no tax liability for Federal student loan borrowers resulting from administrative debt cancellation.

Today, over 43 million people in the United States are buried under $1.6 trillion in federal student loan debt. Studies show that cancelling student debt would substantially increase Black and Latinx household wealth and help narrow the racial wealth gap, provide immediate relief to millions of Americans during the pandemic and recession, and provide massive consumer-driven stimulus to our economy. 

Over 325 civil rights, climate, health, labor, consumer rights, and student organizations have called on President Biden to cancel federal student debt using executive action, including NAACP, National Urban League, UnidosUS, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, The Education Trust, Hispanic Federation, Minority Veterans of America, National Women’s Law Center, SEIU, the American Psychological Association, Sunrise Movement, the United States Student Association, and Young Invincibles.

“The student debt crisis is a racial and economic justice issue,” said Congresswoman Pressley. “With this pandemic worsening daily, we need bold and high impact policies that will match the scale and scope of the crisis and truly offer immediate relief for people—this must include across the board student debt cancellation. President Biden has the legal authority to cancel billions in student debt with the stroke of a pen and he must meet the moment by using that authority, which would not only set us on a path to an equitable recovery, but would also help reduce the racial wealth gap.”

“The COVID-19 crisis is worsening the massive inequities in our economy and society, but even before the pandemic the student loan debt crisis was already crushing millions of Americans,” said Senator Warren. “By cancelling up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers, President Biden can take the single most effective executive action available to provide a massive stimulus to our economy, help narrow the racial wealth gap, and lift this impossible burden off of tens of millions of families.”

“Student loan debt is weighing down millions of families in New York and across this country,” said Leader Schumer. “During a time of historic and overlapping crises, which are disproportionately impacting communities of color, we must do everything in our power to deliver real relief to the American people, lift up our struggling economy and close the racial wealth gap. Democrats are committed to big, bold action, and this resolution to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt is one of the strongest steps the president can take to achieve these goals.”

“Millions of Americans can’t afford to put food on the table and feed their families,” said Representative Omar. “The last thing people should be worried about right now is their student loan debt. We need to take immediate action to tackle the student loan debt crisis by canceling student loan debt. I’m proud to join this effort to provide this lifeline to millions of student loan borrowers.”

“The time to cancel student debt is now,” said Congresswoman Waters. “For over a year, people all across this country have been struggling to find work, put food on the table, and keep a roof over their head due to the coronavirus pandemic that has crippled our economy and ravaged our communities. Canceling $50,000 of student debt is the right and just thing to do, and it is well within the Biden Administration’s authority. This action would help to alleviate the burden so many borrowers face after pursuing an education, change their lives, and jumpstart our economy. I thank Representatives Pressley, Omar, and Adams for their work to ensure a more equitable future, and thank Representatives Bowman, Jones, and Torres for joining us in this call to provide relief to those struggling under a mountain of student debt in the 117th Congress.” 

“For every generation before mine, education has offered young people a ticket to the American Dream. Unfortunately, that dream has not materialized for the youth of today,” said Congressman Mondaire Jones. “Forgiving student debt would liberate millions of Americans to meaningfully participate in our economy, especially during an economic recession when working people are struggling to make ends meet. With the stroke of a pen, President Biden can put thousands of dollars back into people’s pockets and we’re calling on him to use his clear authority under the Higher Education Act to do precisely that.”

“The burden of student loan debt threatens to stifle the ambitions of a generation and our national economy. With executive action, President Biden can cancel student loan debt and ensure that a generation of leaders are able to achieve their dreams. I’m proud to partner with Senator Schumer and my colleagues to make student loan debt cancellation a priority of utmost importance in the 117th Congress,” said Congressman Torres.

“Education is about liberation, not oppression,” said Congressman Bowman. “Students shouldn’t be punished with crushing debt, especially during a pandemic. Canceling student debt is a moral imperative for racial and economic justice, and I’m proud to stand with my colleagues as we work to make that happen.”

Congress has already granted the Secretary of Education the legal authority to broadly cancel student debt under section 432(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1082(a)), which gives the Secretary the authority to modify, “… compromise, waive, or release any right, title, claim, lien, or demand, however acquired, including any equity or any right of redemption.” The Department of Education has used this authority to implement modest relief for federal student loan borrowers during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This resolution:

  • Recognizes the Secretary of Education’s broad administrative authority to cancel up to $50,000 in Federal student debt, using the modification and compromise authority Congress has already granted the Secretary in law;
  • Calls on President Biden to take executive action to administratively cancel up to $50,000 in Federal student loan debt for Federal student loan borrowers using existing legal authorities under section 432(a) of the Higher Education act of 1965 and any authorities available under the law; 
  • Encourages President Biden to use the executive’s authority under the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to prevent administrative debt cancellation from resulting in a tax liability for borrowers; 
  • Encourages President Biden, in taking such executive action, to ensure that administrative debt cancellation helps close racial wealth gaps and avoids the bulk of federal student debt cancellation benefits accruing to the wealthiest borrowers; and
  • Encourages President Biden to continue to pause student loan payments and interest accumulation for Federal student loan borrowers for the entire duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Co-sponsors of the resolution include Representatives Nanette Barragan (CA-44), Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Cori Bush (MO-01), Yvette Clarke (NY-09), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Veronica Escobar (TX-16), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (IL-04), Jimmy Gomez (CA-34), Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15), Raul Grijalva (AZ-03), Alcee Hastings (FL-02), Jahana Hayes (CT-05), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Hank Johnson (GA-04), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Al Lawson (FL-05), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Andy Levin (MI-09), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), James P. McGovern (MA-02), Grace Meng (NY-06), Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), Grace Napolitano (CA-32), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (NY-14), Jimmy Panetta (CA-20), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Albio Sires (NJ-08), Bennie Thompson (MS-02), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Nydia Velazquez (NY-07), Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Nikema Williams (GA-05), Frederica Wilson (FL-24), Madeleine Dean (PA-04), Brendan Boyle (PA-02), André Carson (IN-07), Mark Pocan (IN-07), Marie Newman (IL-03, Danny K. Davis (IL-07), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Karen Bass (CA-37), Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), Dwight Evans (PA-03), Tony Cárdenas (CA-29), Katie Porter (CA-45), Terri Sewell (AL-07) and Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawai’i), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).  

“We need to acknowledge that our student loan system is fundamentally broken and the first step to repair it is through across-the-board debt cancellation,” said Ashley Harrington, Federal Advocacy Director and Senior Counsel at the Center for Responsible Lending. “We applaud Senators Schumer, Warren and Representatives Pressley, Omar, Adams, Waters, Bowman, Jones and Torres for introducing this important legislation and supporting the urgent need for administrative debt cancellation. The time has come for a new Administration to prevent further financial devastation for those who are disproportionately struggling the most under the weight of their student debt burden, Black borrowers and communities of color.”

“In addition to the millions of Americans suffering from the devastating and deadly health effects of COVID 19, the economic impact of the Coronavirus has even further exacerbated major problems in our higher education system, such as the predatory student loan debt trap.  At too many junctures in our country, the African American community and other communities of color have been shut out from real economic opportunity, relief and support. Now, the student debt crisis is worsening existing economic disparities. Broad-based student debt cancellation is the best and most effective way to provide relief for the individuals and families suffering under the weight of student loan debt. Anything less is insufficient, especially for those families and communities that have faced decades of structural inequities and discrimination and have, on average, fewer safety nets than their white peers. We must not allow this to be another chapter in the long history of marginalization of these communities in the United States. We have the opportunity to cancel economically debilitating student debt for millions of Americans, giving real opportunity for our Nation to reach an even brighter future.”  said Hilary O. Shelton, Director NAACP Washington Bureau

“Actionable steps to address long-standing inequitable issues are within reach. Within the first 100 days, President Biden can narrow the opportunity gap by hitting the reset button with student loan debt. Families, particularly those of color continue to pay on student loans acquired to further their education, in order to better serve communities in professions of public service. The teacher loan forgiveness program is not even close to enough. It is time for our nation to provide investment language to zero out the neverending payments to student loan debt. The Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents supports the cancellation of student federal loan debt and offers creative solutions to an inequitable issue that is predominantly founded on color and social class.” said Dr. Maria Armstrong, Executive Director, of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents.  

“We applaud Majority Leader Schumer, Senator Warren and Representatives Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Alma Adams, House Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters, Jamaal Bowman, Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones  for their leadership fighting for the economic needs of millions of families,” said Alexis Goldstein, senior policy analyst at Americans for Financial Reform. “No type of consumer debt is more widely held by the government than federal student loans. Cancelling federal student debt is a critical tool the government has to provide more funds for basic household needs when so many are on the precipice of financial ruin.”

“The reality today is that millions of Americans are still suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, they are carrying the extra burden of student debt while making tough choices of economic survival, like putting food on the table, keeping the lights on, and paying rent. President Biden has the power to end this unnecessary suffering by using executive action to cancel $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower immediately. We applaud dozens of members of the Senate and House for introducing resolutions calling for the cancellation of student debt. Lawmakers are sending a clear message- as a nation, we must do everything in our power to provide financial relief for individuals, to boost the struggling economy, and address our dark history of racial inequities during this unprecedented time. President Biden can do so with just the stroke of a pen.” Said Natalia Abrams, Executive Director of the nonprofit Student Debt Crisis

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of people across this country were confronting a student debt burden that made it harder to pay their bills, buy homes, pursue jobs in public service, and participate in any type of future economic recovery. And that burden has a particularly pernicious impact on communities of color. Nearly a year into this public health crisis and ensuing recession, families continue to struggle to afford basic necessities.

 “But the new administration and Congress has made clear they are working to tackle these challenges and put decency, competency and the needs of working people first. Through the Higher Education Act, the president already has the tools he needs to meaningfully address the student debt crisis and forgive a portion of our nation’s student debt. On behalf of millions of borrowers, educators, healthcare professionals and public employees, I am proud to support the senators and representatives introducing this important resolution that calls on the president to take that action and work to provide relief for struggling borrowers” said Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

“Canceling student debt not only would be a lifeline to 45 million people, some of whom are struggling under the weight of their debt, it would help build a more robust economy,” said Remington A. Gregg, Counsel for Civil Justice and Consumer Rights at Public Citizen. “It’s supported by a majority of Americans. And it makes good on the commitment so many leaders have made over the past year to focus on racial equity by working to close the racial wealth gap and giving Black and Brown borrowers a real chance to succeed.”

“From big cities to small towns, one constant is the crushing weight of student debt,” said Student Borrower Protection Center Executive Director Seth Frotman. “With the stroke of a pen, President-elect Biden has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to cancel student debt and improve the lives of tens of millions of Americans.”

“We applaud the bicameral group of lawmakers standing up for millions of borrowers and calling on cancellation of up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt which is caused by a system that has been inequitable and broken for decades. Student loan debt disproportionately burdens Black and Brown Americans and exacerbates the racial wealth gap. Abusive debt collection practices take funds like the Earned Income Tax Credit from borrowers’ safety nets and garnish borrowers’ wages, making it even harder for those who need every penny to put food on their families’ tables and contribute to their local economies. Student debt cancellation is urgently needed,” said Persis Yu, director of the National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project.

“Student Debt cancellation is a racial justice issue since Black and Brown borrowers face the greatest hurdles when it comes to access, affordability, and retention in higher education,” said Tiffany Loftin, National Director, Youth and College Division, NAACP. “In order to make education a right, we need radical policy that addresses the needs of 44.7 million people who are shackled by debt, that starts with cancellation now.”

Congresswomen Pressley, Omar, Waters and Adams originally introduced the House resolution in December 2020.

Congresswoman Pressley has been leading the legislative fight for broad based student debt cancellation. Reps. Pressley, Adams, and Omar have repeatedly led their colleagues in calling on House leadership to take urgent action to combat the student debt crisis by including  student debt cancellation in any COVID relief package. In March, Pressley and Omar introduced the Student Debt Emergency Relief Act, legislation to cancel  student loan debt and shield borrowers from any involuntary payments and garnishment during the COVID-19 crisis.


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