U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), as well as Representatives Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), led a letter to President Biden signed by 126 members of Congress reaffirming their support for his administration’s federal student debt relief plan. The lawmakers also outline how the administration’s plan would advance racial equity by ensuring that the relief goes to the loan holders with the highest economic needs to help narrow the racial wealth gap.
“We write to express our strong support for your efforts to provide student loan relief to more than 40 million low-to-middle-income borrowers as they recover from the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic. Today in America, tens of millions of Americans are drowning in more than $1.6 trillion in student debt, leaving them less likely to become homeowners or save for retirement,” wrote the lawmakers.
“Cancelling student loan debt will help make progress towards addressing this racial wealth gap. Further, under the Administration’s plan, about a quarter of Black borrowers and half of all Latino borrowers would see their debts cleared entirely. As our Nation recovers from the pandemic, your cancellation plan will provide critical relief to millions of families and help avert a sharp rise in delinquencies and defaults,” continued the lawmakers.
26 million Americans have already applied to receive relief through the President’s plan. The plan would directly impact the 2.3 million borrowers in California who applied for the relief and the 1.4 million who were already approved. While the economy recovers from the pandemic, Americans are looking to get back on the right track and allowing this plan to move forward would help millions achieve a more stable financial future.
About 4 million Californians hold an average student loan debt of $37,783, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Nearly 90 percent of the relief dollars would go to those earning less than $75,000 per year. Of the 40 million Americans who are eligible for relief, more than 60 percent are Pell Grant recipients who are eligible to receive up to $20,000 in debt cancellation. 71 percent of Black and 65 percent of Latino loan holders are Pell Grant recipients.
Senator Padilla has been a consistent advocate for students and increasing higher education accessibility, and previously urged the President to provide meaningful student debt cancellation. Padilla cosponsored the College for All Act to make college tuition-free and debt-free for working families and introduced the Basic Assistance for Students in College (BASIC) Act to ensure college students are able to meet their basic needs while pursuing their education. He introduced the Student Debt Forgiveness for Frontline Workers Act, which would forgive student and professional training loan debt of frontline health care workers and honor their resilience and sacrifice during the COVID-19 pandemic, and cosponsored the Loan Forgiveness for Educators Act of 2022 to expand federal loan forgiveness for educators. Padilla cosigned a letter to strengthen the Department of Education’s proposed rules to expand and improve student debt relief programs and sent multiple letters to the administration, urging that they extend the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Waiver.
Full text of the letter is available here and below:
Dear Mr. President:
We write to express our strong support for your efforts to provide student loan relief to more than 40 million low-to-middle-income borrowers as they recover from the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic. Today in America, tens of millions of Americans are drowning in more than $1.6 trillion in student debt, leaving them less likely to become homeowners or save for retirement.
The consequences of the student debt crisis are devastating. Many young people no longer see college as a tool for economic and social mobility; instead, they fear leaving school with enormous amounts of debt that they may never be able to pay off. To make matters worse, college enrollment for all students decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, and progress in the national college completion rate has stalled altogether. Such a deterrent is one we cannot afford as we continue to see workforce shortages in the most essential professions, such as teaching and nursing. This is a tragedy not only for these young people but for our Nation as a whole, because a well-educated population is critical for the strength of our economy and for the health of a prosperous Nation.
Students and families from working- and low-income backgrounds should not be punished for pursuing an education and developing skills needed for a 21st-century economy. And if every student in this country is provided the opportunity to go to college or seek additional postsecondary training without being burdened by massive debt, that will have a profound impact on the future of our country.
The student loan debt crisis not only negatively impacts young people, but it has an adverse impact on borrowers of all ages. More than one third of borrowers eligible for student loan debt cancellation are age 40 or older. Nearly three million people over the age of 62 hold more than $100 billion in Federal student loans, and senior citizens all over this country are having their Social Security benefits garnished to pay down their student loan debt. In fact, many Americans cannot afford to retire because of unaffordable student debt.
Your efforts to cancel student loan debt will help narrow the impact of such debt on the racial wealth gap. For example, one study found that its debt cancellation proposal would reduce the Black-white racial wealth gap from 12:1 to 5:1 among young Americans. Black student loan borrowers are more likely to borrow to go to school, take on higher levels of debt, and disproportionately struggle with repayment compared to their white peers.
In addition, borrowers of color are more likely than their white peers to face loan default—the most harmful consequence of student debt. Studies show that 37.5 percent of Black borrowers default on their student loans, compared to 12.4 percent of white borrowers. While Latino borrowers often have lower loan balances compared to their white peers, Latino borrowers still default at higher rates. Black and Latino students are also less likely to complete their postsecondary degree compared to white students, leaving these former students without the increased earnings potential that accompanies a college degree to repay their debt. Cancelling student loan debt will help make progress towards addressing this racial wealth gap. Further, under the Administration’s plan, about a quarter of Black borrowers and half of all Latino borrowers would see their debts cleared entirely.
As our Nation recovers from the pandemic, your cancellation plan will provide critical relief to millions of families and help avert a sharp rise in delinquencies and defaults. Congress granted the Secretary of Education the authority under the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (HEROES) Act of 2003 to provide relief to borrowers affected by a national emergency. For the last 3 years, borrowers have had Federal student loan payments, interest, and collection obligations suspended using HEROES Act authority—first invoked by former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Secretary Miguel Cardona has found that ending the pause without additional relief would cause delinquencies and defaults to spike above pre-pandemic levels as working- and middle-income borrowers, who are still recovering from the economic fallout of COVID-19, struggle to make payments they have not made since March 2020.
Given that your Administration’s debt relief plan falls squarely within your administrative authority, we expect the legal challenges to the plan will fail, and 40 million Americans will be able to have their debts reduced or eliminated as they return to repayment. Through your action, approximately 20 million borrowers will have no remaining balance, and nearly 90 percent of relief dollars will go to those earning less than $75,000 a year. In the less than 4 weeks that the application for debt relief was available and before the U.S. Department of Education (the Department) was required to stop accepting applications as a result of lawsuits from opponents of the program, 26 million people applied to the Department to be deemed eligible for relief. Of such applicants, most are living in lower-income and majority-minority zip codes, suggesting debt relief will not only help individual borrowers but will also have a positive impact across communities that need it most. Over 16 million of those borrowers’ applications were fully approved by the Department and sent to loan servicers.
Overall, the debt relief program will help so many borrowers as they continue to recover from the financial distress of the pandemic. We applaud the steps your Administration has taken to effectively reduce the risk of delinquency and default, particularly for our most vulnerable communities. We strongly support your debt relief plan and look forward to partnering with you to ensure every eligible borrower receives it.