Over 80 Democrats Push Biden to Release Memo on Student Debt Cancellation

By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter

A group of more than 80 Democratic lawmakers from both chambers of Congress are once again calling on President Joe Biden to release a memo outlining his legal authority to unilaterally cancel student loan debt for borrowers.

In a letter to Biden this week, the group of lawmakers, led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), asserted that publicly releasing the memo “outlining your existing authority on cancelling student debt and broadly doing so is crucial to making a meaningful difference in the lives of current students, borrowers, and their families.”

With another extension of the pause on student loan payments in place through May 1, ensuring borrowers will not have made a student loan payment for more than two years due to the coronavirus pandemic, Democratic lawmakers are again using the moratorium to up the pressure on Biden.

“We urge you to use every tool at your disposal to deliver relief to the millions of families inspired by your proposal to make a debt-free college degree within their reach by eliminating up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt for all families before payments resume,” the letter states.

The memo the lawmakers are referring to is believed to have been in the hands of the Department of Education (ED) since April 5, 2021, according to the letter.

The existence of a memo was first reported in November by The New Yorker and seemingly showed that the White House had the memo for months. Biden last February first requested the Department of Justice and ED to put together a memo to determine his authority to broadly cancel student debt through administrative action.

The memo published by The New Yorker was heavily redacted and didn’t shed much light on whether Biden had the authority to cancel large swaths of student loan debt for borrowers without having to go through Congress. 

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.

Up to this point, the Biden administration has opted to not publicly release any memos about its legal authority to cancel student loan debt. A smaller group of mostly progressive lawmakers previously sent a letter to Biden in October calling on him to release the memo by no later than Oct. 22, 2021.

While Democrats didn’t include a date they would like to receive a memo by in the latest letter, the recent extension of the pause on student loan payments and interest accrual has emboldened progressives and activist groups to continue the pressure campaign for debt forgiveness.

The payment pause extension announced in August — billed by the administration as the final one — led progressives to believe it was their best chance to push Biden to use his executive authority to issue widespread student loan forgiveness. They have argued it would serve as a boon among voters ahead of the midterm elections and could aid the recovering economy. 

Progressive lawmakers in the letter repeat their belief that Biden does in fact have the legal authority to cancel student debt, and with student loan payments expected to resume in less than 100 days, they argue time is of the essence.

“Restarting student loan payments without this broad cancellation would be disastrous for millions of borrowers and their families,” the letter adds.


Publication Date: 1/27/2022

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