For Black women, student debt cancellation is core to an equitable and just economic recovery
OPINION: With the student debt crisis hitting Black women hardest, U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Color of Change’s Arisha Hatch call on President Biden to use his executive authority to cancel $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the authors’ own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
This month marks two years since the national student loan repayment pause. Millions of borrowers have pleaded with the Biden administration to ensure student loan cancellation is addressed before the repayment period begins. Black women, especially, have been disproportionately affected by the constraints of student loan debt. From elected officials to advocacy leaders, we understand the detriments of student loan debt firsthand. The time for President Biden to act on the student debt crisis is now.
On the campaign trail, President Biden was an early supporter of student debt cancellation, pledging to cancel at least $10,000 in student loan debt per borrower. In recognition of the crushing economic burden of student loans, President Biden has extended the pause on student loan payments—not once, but twice—over the course of the pandemic, providing millions of workers and families temporary relief.
The Biden administration has also provided loan forgiveness for borrowers defrauded by for-profit colleges, disabled borrowers and eligible borrowers under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. This is notable progress, but the reality is that these targeted efforts have only scratched the surface of the total $1.7 trillion crisis. More must be done.
In less than three months, President Biden will once again have the choice to allow student loan payments to resume or finally follow through on his promise to cancel student debt and provide sweeping relief to the diverse and multigenerational movement that elected him.
The stakes have never been higher and the choice has never been clearer. In order to truly build back better and lay the groundwork for an equitable and just economic recovery from this pandemic, President Biden must use his executive authority to cancel $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower. Researchers have pointed to the positive economic impact of cancellation, showing that it would boost gross domestic product (GDP), create jobs and increase consumer spending, help folks purchase a home or start a small business and help close the racial wealth gap.
The student debt crisis is one that uniquely affects Black women, who are the most educated and indebted demographic group in our country. Generations of policy violence and discriminatory policies like redlining and predatory lending have denied our families the opportunity to build wealth and have forced us to take on crushing amounts of debt that have severely limited our economic futures. Black women owe 22 percent more than the average student debt load of white women and are the most systematically underpaid—earning just 64 cents to every dollar earned by white men. The disparate impact of the pandemic has only exacerbated these inequities.
As Black women, this issue is personal to us. We have struggled with student loan debt for many years and we are deeply familiar with the mental and emotional strain associated with such an unprecedented crisis.
For Arisha Hatch, it was the more than $1,000 in monthly student loan payments that kept her living paycheck-to-paycheck for years. It wasn’t until her father’s passing that the loans taken out in his name received any kind of forgiveness underscoring a common frustration to many, that death is the only way to receive relief for loan repayment.
For Congresswoman Pressley, it was the defaulted student loan debt that led to years of financial distress. While this debt is now repaid, Congresswoman Pressley remembers all too well the anxiety and trauma that come with the never-ending debt collection calls.
Enough is enough. Student debt cancellation is a racial and economic justice issue, and it is time to address it head-on.
While sweeping student debt cancellation would impact everyone who calls America home, Black women have the most to gain. It would enable us to buy a home, start a family, save for retirement and finally begin to build the generational wealth our communities have been denied for too long. We have seen many historically Black colleges and universities use federal relief funds to cancel student debt for their graduates and students. These universities understand the effectiveness of student debt cancellation in improving the livelihoods of their graduates and Black communities broadly, and we believe that President Biden should follow their lead.
In addition to being good economic policy, student debt cancellation is also good politics. A recent survey conducted by Color of Change found that 84 percent of Black voters supported student debt cancellation, and more than half said they would not support a candidate that did not support student debt forgiveness. A separate poll released this month by Data For Progress found that 63 percent of likely voters want the federal government to cancel some or all student debt for borrowers. With the midterm election fast approaching, failing to cancel student debt would be political malpractice.
Student debt cancellation by executive action is our opportunity to deliver real, impactful change to the millions of Black and brown voters who mobilized in record numbers to deliver Democrats the House, Senate and White House. It is our chance to repair decades of hurt and harm disproportionately felt by Black communities. And perhaps most importantly, canceling student debt would not require one single vote in Congress—President Biden can do it with a stroke of a pen.
By canceling student debt, President Biden can single-handedly transform the lives of nearly 50 million Americans—particularly Black women. This is his chance to meet this unprecedented moment. Will he listen? We certainly hope so.
Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley is the U.S. representative for Massachusetts’ 7th Congressional District and a leading voice in Congress calling for student debt cancellation.
Arisha Hatch is vice president and chief of campaigns at Color of Change, the largest online racial justice organization in the country. Color of Change helps people respond effectively to injustice in the world around us. As a national online force driven by over 7 million members, we move decision-makers in corporations and government to create a more human and less hostile world for Black people in America. Visit www.colorofchange.org.
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