Advocates Renew Pleas as Student Loan Reprieve Sunsets

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46

That’s how many days are left until the pandemic-era reprieve for federal student loan borrowers is scheduled to end, though it’s unclear if any more government relief could be coming.

The White House has said the pause on federal student loan obligations started in March 2020 will end on Jan. 31 (even making clear the fourth extension back in August was the final one), though recently Press Secretary Jen Psaki did note that it was “assessing the impact of the omicron variant” of COVID-19 even as it prioritizes “a smooth transition back into repayment.”

But officials have been much more vague about what, if anything, will be done to fulfill President Joe Biden’s campaign pledge to cancel $10,000 of student loan debt for every borrower—a question that is becoming more pressing as the repayment deadline approaches. Lawmakers who advocate for student loan forgiveness have said restarting payment obligations without cancelling debt would undermine the progress borrowers have been able to make in paying down other debt or building up emergency savings.

Department of Education officials participating in a webinar hosted by student loan relief advocates Thursday wouldn’t be pinned down on the status of student loan forgiveness proposals. 

“There’s an ongoing policy process around the issue,” said Julie Morgan, a deputy under secretary of the department. “But that’s really all I can say about it.”

But when asked about it earlier in the week, Psaki signaled it was up to Congress. Advocates in the progressive wing of Biden’s party have been pushing him to use what they contend is his legal authority to cancel debt without the say-so of lawmakers, particularly because such a proposal would face an uphill battle in a narrowly-divided Senate. 

“If Congress sends him a bill, he’s happy to sign it,” Psaki told reporters at a press briefing Tuesday. “They haven’t sent him a bill on that yet.”

The Biden administration has already taken action to forgive student loans for some limited groups, including for borrowers who were allegedly misled by their colleges and borrowers with disabilities. It also overhauled a program that offers student loan relief to public servants, retroactively making it far easier to qualify for. 

“We can’t truly build back better without freeing millions of the economic burdens of student loan debt,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts said Thursday during the webinar. “And thankfully, with the stroke of a pen, President Biden has the legal authority to do just that.”

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