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70 organizations, NAACP included, ask Biden’s Education Dept. to retool student debt plan to help people of color

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Pressure is mounting on President Joe Biden and his administration to retool an alternative student debt relief plan so it provides targeted assistance for borrowers who have faced hardship. 

According to Bloomberg, the NAACP, the American Federation of Teachers, the Urban League and the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network were among the nearly 70 organizations and labor groups that signed a letter maintaining that the modifications would support key blocs for Biden’s reelection campaign, such as young people and people of color.

The letter — coordinated by Young Invincibles, a student advocacy group, and the Student Borrower Protection Center — requested that the Education Department call another meeting during its rule-making process to allow interested parties to voice their concerns regarding the agency’s draft proposal. 

Student loan borrowers and advocates gathered in Washington last February for the People’s Rally to Cancel Student Debt during the Supreme Court hearings on student debt relief. (Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

“Failing to finalize a proposal to provide relief for borrowers experiencing hardship would result in millions of borrowers — including most recent graduates, many low-income borrowers, borrowers of color, and borrowers with disabilities— being left out of the necessary debt relief,” per the letter, addressed to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona. “This cannot be an option.”

Bloomberg reported that “hardship” is drawn explicitly from the Higher Education Act, which gives the education secretary broad authority to waive federal student loans.

The Department of Education said before its most recent rule-making meeting that it would consider relief opportunities for borrowers experiencing financial difficulties not addressed by the present loan system. However, officials later admitted that it would not be “defining hardship” in the proposed rule.

Currently, the plan provides student loan cancellation to specific groups of people, including people with balances exceeding their initial principal debt, those duped by for-profit or unaccredited institutions, and individuals not yet enrolled in qualified programs.

It’s far more limited than Biden’s original plan, which would have forgiven up to $20,000 in student debt for an estimated 40 million Americans.

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In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Biden’s initial proposal to forgive billions of dollars in debt, civil rights organizations, labor unions and progressives are making their latest attempt to put more pressure on the White House to extend a new program that offers relief to student loan holders.

The president’s reelection campaign is at risk over the effort, with surveys indicating that support for him is declining among young, Black and Hispanic voters.

According to Bloomberg, the Education Department reports that the White House has eliminated about $132 billion in student loan debt for 3.6 million students, primarily by revising existing programs. 

Since most federal programs require payment for at least a decade before cancellation eligibility, middle-aged borrowers have benefited most, leaving younger voters doubtful that Biden is following through.

Education Department spokesperson Shin Inouye confirmed the agency received and would review the letter.

“The Department’s priority is to support students and borrowers,” said Inouye, Bloomberg reported. He added that the department is “moving as quickly as possible to provide student debt relief to as many borrowers as possible, including through the regulatory process.”

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