36 civil rights organizations urge Biden to cancel $50,000 in student debt per borrower

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden. AP Photo/Alex Brandon
  • In a letter, 36 civil rights organizations called on Biden to cancel $50,000 in student debt per person.
  • The letter said the student debt burden falls disproportionately on women and Black and Latino borrowers.
  • They want Biden to extend debt cancelation to all borrowers, including those with private loans.
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The American student-debt problem encompasses 45 million people with a combined $1.7 trillion of debt, and much of the burden falls on communities of color. Civil-rights organizations want President Joe Biden to change that by canceling $50,000 in student debt per person.

On Monday, 36 civil rights organizations, led by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, released civil rights principles for student debt cancelation in an effort to encourage the Biden administration to act on racial, gender, disability, and wealth disparities in the country. They said these disparities have left borrowers “on the brink of financial devastation” simply because they sought a higher education, and the only solution is to cancel $50,000 in student debt per person.

“As we navigate the concurrent crises of systemic racism, a global health pandemic, and the resulting economic recession, it is more important than ever that we take bold action that benefits everyone, especially communities of color,” the organizations said. “Student debt cancellation will help Black and brown borrowers build wealth and enable our economy to move forward as millions of Americans are able to start families, buy homes, and set up small businesses.”

The letter, which was signed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), outlined five principles that student debt cancelation should abide by:

  1. Debt cancelation must extend to all borrowers, including those with private loans.
  2. Debt cancelation should extend to all sectors of institutions, including public, private, and for-profit schools.
  3. The debt cancelation process must be easy to navigate – if it’s too difficult, many borrowers will not be able to access relief.
  4. Debt cancelation should not negatively impact borrowers’ credit scores.
  5. Debt cancelation should come with policies to increase access and affordability in the US higher education system.

The letter noted that upon graduation, Black borrowers typically owe 50% more than white borrowers, and four years later, Black borrowers owe 100% more. Canceling $50,000 per borrower would eliminate student debt for 75% of all federal borrowers, including full cancelation for 85% of Black borrowers and 96% of Latino borrowers in the lowest income quintile.

Biden’s Education Department has already taken some steps to cancel student debt for certain groups of borrowers. On March 18, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona canceled $1 billion in student debt for about 72,000 borrowers defrauded by for-profit schools, and on March 29, Cardona canceled student debt for 41,000 borrowers with disabilities.

And to build on Biden’s payment pause on all federal student-loan payments through September, on March 30, Cardona expanded the pause to borrowers with loans under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, helping 1.14 million borrowers with private loans.

Biden has asked the Justice Department and Education Departmentt to review his ability to use executive powers to cancel $50,000 in debt per person. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in early April that Biden has not ruled out canceling that amount, although Biden had said in February that he “will not make that happen.

But Democratic lawmakers like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts remain adamant that Biden can and must use his executive powers to cancel $50,000 in student debt per person.

“I have legislation to do it, but to me, that’s just not a reason to hold off,” Warren said in a press call last month. “The president can do this, and I very much hope that he will.”