Sen. Tina Smith, pictured here in a Getty file photo, signed on to the letter, along with Rep. Ilhan Omar.
WASHINGTON — More than 100 congressional Democrats — including Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith and Rep. Ilhan Omar — are urging the White House to extend the pause on student loan repayment beyond the Aug. 31 deadline.
In a Thursday letter to President Joe Biden and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, U.S. Senate and House Democrats argue that due to inflation and an ongoing coronavirus pandemic, student loan borrowers should get an extension on pausing their loan payments.
“This much needed pause has helped many borrowers to keep a roof over their heads, secure childcare, and purchase food, health care, and medicine during the course of a pandemic responsible for the deaths of more than 1 million people in the U.S.,” they wrote.
“For the first time, many borrowers have had the opportunity to pay down debt, open a savings account, purchase a home, and save for retirement—none of which would have been possible without the payment pause.”
They did not give another deadline for repayments to begin in their letter to the president. The pandemic is still ongoing, and the U.S. surpassed 1 million COVID deaths.
“Despite significant decreases over the last month, gas prices are still high, and many borrowers still have to pay exorbitant amounts each week in order to commute to their jobs,” the lawmakers wrote. “Food prices remain high, as suppliers contend with ongoing supply chain issues and the war in Ukraine.”
Lawmakers in their letter, led by Sen. Bob Menéndez of New Jersey and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, also argued that “[l]ow-income borrowers, Black and Brown borrowers, and women borrowers still face severe financial hardships as COVID-19 continues to infect individuals throughout the country and exacerbate existing inequities.”
They added that if the Biden administration resumed student loan payments, it would create confusion for some borrowers who are waiting for a decision from the Department of Education’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness waiver, which “forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you have made 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 upcoming actions from the Department or their federal student loan servicer — either through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) waiver 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.
During a press gaggle with reporters, the president said on June 21 that he would make a decision at the end of August on extending the pause on student loans.
The Biden administration in April decided to extend the pause on repayments until the end of August. In the beginning of the pandemic, in March 2020, the Trump administration issued an emergency pause on student loan repayments, which has now been extended several times by both administrations.
But lawmakers have pushed Biden to cancel student loan debt of up to $50,000 through an executive order, arguing that 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 cancel up to $10,000 in student loan debt, and only if Congress passes legislation to do so.
The Federal Reserve estimates that the total U.S. student loan debt is more than $1.75 trillion.
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