Push for Biden to cancel student loan debt could close the racial wealth gap

EXCLUSIVE: Democratic leaders and HBCU presidents speak with theGrio about the potentially life-changing impact of forgiving up to $50,000 in student loan debt

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The student debt crisis has become a top issue for millions of Americans who are on the edge of their seats as they await some level of federal relief. Proposals in Washington for the cancellation of student loan debt are still on the table and up for discussion.

Currently, there is no legislation that has been presented to President Joe Biden. However, Democrats are working feverishly on this matter.

Read More: Democrats call on Biden to cancel up to $50K of student loan debt

In a Feb. 4 tweet, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “The President continues to support the cancelling of student debt to bring relief to students and families. Our team is reviewing whether there are any steps he can take through executive action and he would welcome the opportunity to sign a bill sent to him by Congress.”

On his first day in the Oval Office, after his swearing-in ceremony, President Biden signed an executive order to extend a freeze on federal student loan payments and interest. The broader picture includes affordability, the expansion of income-based repayment programs and loan forgiveness programs for people who have public service jobs.

Biden also backed plans to forgive federal student loans related to costs of tuition for low- and middle-class Americans who attended public institutions, HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions. 

However, the immediate focus is student loan debt relief. On the Hill, there are no bills on the proposed $50,000 student loan debt cancellation championed by Sens. Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren and a House version led by Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar and Mondaire Jones.

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks during a press conference about student debt outside the U.S. Capitol on February 4, 2021 in Washington, DC. Also pictured, L-R, Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY), Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA). (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Read More: Billionaire Robert F. Smith initiative aims to ease student debt for HBCU students

Still, conversations about the cancellation of student loan debt are underway and the support is mounting. 

Meanwhile, the White House has signaled if legislation hits the president’s desk with a monetary number of student loan cancelation higher than $10,000, President Biden will consider it. There is a $40,000 difference between both sides on the issue. 

The White House has already said if President Biden gets a bill that cancels $10,000 of student loan debt per borrower, he will sign it into law. The White House looks at any student loan debt relief as urgent economic relief.

U.S. President Joe Biden signs several executive orders directing immigration actions for his administration as Vice President Kamala Harris looks on in the Oval Office at the White House on February 02, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

The student loan debt relief work between Hill lawmakers and White House officials is underway. The high-level conversations on the student loan debt cancellation are reminiscent of what happened years ago between President Lyndon B. Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as President Biden suggested to Senator Chuck Schumer and others to get support for their plan and make him do it (sign the $50,000 debt relief into law). 

President Johnson in the mid-’60s told Dr. King to ‘make him do it’ when it came to getting support for the Voting Rights Act. King ultimately got that bill signed into law. 

Read More: 7 inconvenient truths white people must understand about Martin Luther King Jr.

Schumer’s student loan debt relief plan has the support of House Majority Whip Congressman James Clyburn.

Schumer gave theGrio the inside details from his meeting with Biden. The New York senator said Biden, “told us he says he’s thinking seriously about it. We said we’re going to mount a campaign. He said ‘go right ahead.’ So, I would urge your listeners, if they believe in this, to email, write, call the White House and simply say, please get rid of fifty thousand dollars of debt.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) finishes brief remarks before reporters on the second day of former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial at the U.S. Capitol on February 10, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Senator Schumer emphasized that canceling student debt would also help close the racial wealth gap. “This is a huge civil rights issue as well as an equity issue for our young people,” Schumer said, “And it applies to the parents. If they took over the debt, too, with the flick of a pen, Joe Biden could say $50,000 of debt is forgiven and it would remove debt from 73% of all people and a higher percentage of African Americans.

There are more stark differences racially in the financial pain of student loan debt. “20 years out of college, only 6% of whites have student debt [compared to] 95% percent of Blacks. Let’s get rid of it,” Schumer added.

From average citizens to high-profile figures, many have been saddled with student loan debt from former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama to Stacey Abrams and Jaime Harrison. This is a more than familiar scenario for many. 

Read More: Stacey Abrams nominated for Nobel Peace Prize for voting rights work

However, the question is will Schumer get his ask? Harrison, who is the new head of the Democratic National Committee, told theGrio that he doubts student debt cancellation will reach $50,000. 

Democratic Senate candidate Jaime Harrison speaks to supporters after conceding to his opponent, incumbent Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), on November 3, 2020 in Columbia, South Carolina. Graham won a fourth term in the senate with his reelection tonight. (Photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

“At the end of the day … the legislative sausage grinder will work its will and we’ll come up with some type of bill that we can get to the president’s desk, hopefully, and then give people some relief,” Harrison told theGrio.

He added, “For the first time in America, you have young people who are starting off life with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt tied around their legs to start off. And it’s forcing them to make decisions that other generations have not had to make.

Read More: DNC Chair Jaime Harrison says he cried after watching impeachment trial video

“They’re getting married later, if at all. They’re staying at home later with their parents because they can’t afford to be off on their own because of this burden of student loan debt. People are buying homes later and renting more. And so we really have to figure out as a nation, how do we curb this, because this phenomenon is not happening in other countries.”

Dr. Glenda Glover, president of Tennessee State University, has similar thoughts as Harrison telling theGrio she “is happy they are considering the cancellations of loan debt.

“It is a game-changer for HBCU students who will be so saddled in debt,” said Glover.

Tennessee State University President Dr. Glenda Glover (Photo: Tennessee State University)

President Glover goes on to say with the debt cancellation that HBCU graduates will be, “better positioned to make the wisest professional decisions.”

Morgan State University President Dr. David Wilson said $30,000 would be a great place to land. The average undergraduate student loan debt is around $32,000.

”Anything of significance to reduce the loan debt burden on our graduates would be of tremendous benefit to our economy,” said Wilson.     

Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley is working with Senator Schumer on this matter. Pressley says, “We got a mandate from the people for [Biden] to honor the promises he made on the campaign trail. Yes, we are calling for the cancellation of $50,000 worth of debt, which is critical to adjust an equitable economic recovery from this pandemic.”

Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-MA)(Photo by Tom Williams-Pool/Getty Images)

Pressley added,”it’s a racial justice issue.”

“Black student borrowers. Eighty-five percent of them take out loans because they don’t have any other choice — I was exactly like that,” she added. “And then we’re more inclined to default; five times more likely — which I did do — than our white counterparts. And that ruins your credit score and completely determines the trajectory of your life.”

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