Democrats in Congress urge Biden to extend pause on student loans

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Photo Getty Images by Catherine Lane.

More than 100 congressional Democrats are urging the White House to extend the pause on student loan repayments past the Aug. 31 deadline.

In a letter to President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona on Thursday, US Senate and House Democrats say that due to inflation and an ongoing coronavirus pandemic, student borrowers should obtain an extension of the suspension of repayments of their loans.

“This much-needed break has helped many borrowers keep a roof over their heads, provide childcare and buy food, healthcare and medicine during a pandemic that is responsible for the deaths of over a million people in the United States,” they wrote.

“For the first time, many borrowers have had the opportunity to pay down their debts, open a savings account, buy a home and save for their retirement – none of this would have been possible without payment break.”

The Maryland lawmakers who signed the letter were Senator Chris Van Hollen and Representatives Anthony Brown and Jamie Raskin.

Lawmakers did not give another deadline for the start of refunds in their letter to the president. The pandemic is still ongoing and the United States has exceeded one million COVID deaths.

“Despite significant declines over the past month, gasoline prices are still high and many borrowers still have to pay exorbitant sums every week to get to work,” the lawmakers wrote. “Food prices remain high as suppliers grapple with supply chain issues and the war in Ukraine.”

The lawmakers in their letter, led by Senator Bob Menéndez of New Jersey and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, also argued that “[l]Low-income borrowers, black and brown borrowers, and women borrowers continue to face severe financial hardship as COVID-19 continues to infect individuals across the country and exacerbate existing inequalities.

They added that if the Biden administration resumes student loan repayments, it would create confusion for some borrowers who are awaiting a decision from the Department of Education’s civil service loan forgiveness waiver, which “pardons the remaining balance on your direct loans after making 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer.

“Currently, many borrowers are in limbo as they await further action from the Department or their Federal Student Loan Officer – either through the Public Service Loan Repayment Waiver (PSLF) , or through the one-time account adjustments announced by Ed on April 19, 2022 that would count past periods of forbearance or deferment,” the lawmakers wrote.

In a press gag with reporters, the president said June 21 that he would make a decision at the end of August on extending the pause on student loans.

The Biden administration decided in April to extend the pause on refunds until the end of August. At the start of the pandemic, in March 2020, the Trump administration declared an emergency pause on student loan repayments, which has now been repeatedly extended by both administrations.

But lawmakers pushed Biden to write off student loan debt of up to $50,000 through an executive order, arguing he has the ability to do so because the Department of Education owns about 92% of that student loan debt.

Biden has said he will only forgive up to $10,000 in student loan debt, and only if Congress passes legislation to do so.

The Federal Reserve estimates total US student debt to be over $1.75 trillion.

Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.

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