By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter
The White House has reportedly had a long-awaited memo outlining its potential authority to forgive student loan debt for months, but has yet to publicly release the full memo despite calls from Democratic lawmakers to do so.
The existence of the heavily redacted memo was first reported by the New Yorker late last week, and though the memo doesn’t contain much information regarding President Joe Biden’s executive authority to unilaterally wipe out student loan debt for millions of borrowers without legislation from Congress, it does show that the White House has had the memo for more than six months.
A first draft of the memo, titled "The Secretary's Legal Authority for Broad-Based Debt Cancellation," has existed since April 5, just weeks after the memo was first requested and days after White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain announced the White House had asked the Department of Education (ED) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to review Biden’s legal authority to cancel student debt.
The memo consists of almost completely redacted pages, and internal emails obtained by the Debt Collective along with the memo show ED officials on April 3 saying ED would "likely be preparing an updated version of the memo prepared in February." White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki in February said for the first time that the administration was reviewing its legal authority to cancel student loan debt and that the White House had requested a memo on the matter.
Virtually the only portion of the memo left unredacted refers to the authority Education Secretary Miguel Cardona possesses that allows him to extend the interest-free payment pause on federal and federally-held student loans.
Democratic lawmakers have for weeks been pressuring the White House to release the memo. In a letter sent to Biden and Cardona last month, a group of Democratic House lawmakers — led by Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) — urged them to release the long-awaited memo.
The newfound existence of the memo and the knowledge that it has existed for months has renewed activists’ and progressive lawmakers’ calls for Biden to offer widespread student debt forgiveness for millions of borrowers “with the flick of a pen.”
Up to this point, however, both Biden and Cardona have said they are still reviewing the matter. With student loan payments set to resume in February following a nearly two-year pause on payments due to the coronavirus pandemic, those pushing for debt forgiveness see the months before the payment pause ends as the best — and last — chance to achieve student debt forgiveness.
Publication Date: 11/5/2021