New York, NY—Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) joined with veterans today at Hunter College to call on President Joe Biden to cancel federal student loan debt of up to $50,000 with a “flick of the pen.”
According to Schumer, the President can use existing authority under the Higher Education Act to substantially cancel student loan debt, but when the Majority Leader, along with Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), met recently with the President, the President said he wasn’t sure he could legally could.
“We’ve shown him the research that he can do it. In fact, no student—[paying back] debt is on hold because of COVID,” said Schumer.
“The fact that he could do that, means he could do this. And so, he’s studying it, it’s on the table, and we’re going to push, push, push until we get it done.”
Yesterday during a Congressional hearing, President Biden’s nominee for the Undersecretary of Education, James Kvaal, shed some light on the President’s thinking about loan forgiveness.
He said, for example, there could be “a temporary form of loan forgiveness directed at people struggling with the pandemic.”
There’d also be loan forgiveness for public service workers—employees of a qualifying nonprofit, a government agency, a public university or public school, a fire department and full-time members of the military.
And there’d be loan forgiveness for those with low incomes and high debts, noted Kvaal.
When a reporter asked Schumer about Kvaal’s ideas about the temporary form of loan forgiveness, the Senate Majority Leader responded.
“We want $50,000 for everybody, that’s not good enough.”
Schumer highlighted during the press conference the staggering toll of federal student loan debt just on New Yorkers. There are 2.4 million New Yorkers with outstanding loans with a cumulative debt of $89.5 billion as of March 2020. New York’s average student loan balance was a “startling” $34,600—greater than the national average of $32,700.
Meanwhile, nationally, close to 200,000 service members and vets hold close to $3 billion in debt. To compound that, veterans face a disproportionate share of mental health challenges.
As members of the public service workforce, service members and vets can access loan relief that is available through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, but according to a study Schumer pointed to, only around 2 percent of applicants get relief.
“So, we got to do something about this. We’re asking all New Yorkers and all Americans to send an email, a letter, to call the White House—please support the [Sens.] Schumer and Warren provision to cancel $50,000 of federal student loan debt,” Schumer said.
He introduced a few speakers, including two veterans who are currently burdened by high federal student loan debt.
Antony Watkins hails originally from the United Kingdom, emigrating to the United States when he was 13 years old. After graduating from high school, he joined the military and was stationed in Okinawa. Upon his return to the United States, he enrolled in a SUNY school Upstate. The GI Bill covered most of that, but he wanted to continue his education to earn a master’s degree so that he could teach theater and acting.
So, he enrolled in Pace University and still had some part of his GI Bill funds to cover half of the tuition. But as soon as that ran out, he had to take out loans, incurring about $100,000 in loan debt.
“I still want to teach theater. I still want to teach acting. I’m hoping that President Biden hears our call to forgive federal student loan debt,” said Watkins.
Also, Kyle Bibby, National Campaigns Manager for Common Defense, a veteran’s organization, said that he, too, wanted to go to the best school that he could, and he did. He enrolled in Columbia University, but just like Watkins he too had to take out loans to cover a part of the tuition.
He knows countless other vets in a similar predicament, and a common story among many veterans is that they are targeted by high-fee, for-profit schools.
“We’re asking the President to alleviate at least $50K worth of student loan debt, freeing my generation from a lot of this debt that has not only just come from people who wanted to go to the best university that they could get into from working-class families, but also some folks who fell into predatory institutions that were trying to specifically target them as someone who had a dream for their future,” said Bibby.
In addition, Lucy del Gaudio, Senior Program Manager at the Minority Veterans of America, noted that for many minority veterans, education benefits offer an opportunity to break personal and systemic cycles of poverty.
Too often, however, veterans find themselves navigating a “broken system that prevents them from accessing their due and earned benefits,” forcing them to abandon their education goals or to enter into tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
“Canceling $50,000 in student debt through executive action will undoubtedly make a substantial difference for our nation but will be especially impactful for members of the minority veteran community,” said del Gaudio.
At the conclusion of the press conference, a reporter asked Schumer whether the initiative to cancel federal student loan debt could be accomplished legislatively.
“It could be, but it’ll be a lot harder to get it done. The quickest route is the President’s flick of the pen,” said Schumer.
The reporter followed up with: “What’s the support like from the opposition?
“Not so much Republican support,” added Schumer.
We lived-stream the entire press conference, which can be viewed here.