President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday additional student debt cancellations for 125,000 borrowers.
While student loan advocates applaud the action, the NAACP calls for the Biden-Harris administration to go a step further to bring equitable relief to Black borrowers.
The announcement, which cancels up to $9 billion in student loans for eligible borrowers, comes as part of the White House’s continued efforts to bring relief to millions of borrowers despite the major setback to his broader student loan debt cancellation program after it was struck down by the Supreme Court this year.
The new student debt relief will be granted for borrowers in three categories: $5.2 billion in additional relief for 53,000 borrowers under Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs; nearly $2.8 billion for nearly 51,000 borrowers through fixes to income-driven repayment (qualified borrowers must have payments for 20 years or more); and $1.2 billion for nearly 22,000 borrowers with total or permanent disability.
In total, the Biden-Harris administration has canceled $127 billion for nearly 3.6 million borrowers since the Supreme Court’s ruling.
“This kind of relief is life-changing for individuals and their families. But it’s good for our economy as a whole as well,” President Biden said during remarks inside the Roosevelt Room about his latest actions on student debt relief.
He continued, “Freeing millions of Americans from the crushing burden of student debt…means they can go and get their lives in order. They can think about buying a house, they can start a business, they can be starting a family…it matters in their daily lives.”
A day before the White House rolled out its latest student debt relief efforts, NAACP President Derrick Johnson and Wisdom Cole, the group’s national director of Youth & College Division, sent an open letter to U.S. Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, requesting he expand the administration’s new SAVE student debt income-driven repayment program.
The program reduces payments for eligible borrowers to 5% of their disposable income.
While the legacy civil rights organization commended the Biden-Harris administration for its “laudable efforts to provide student loan debt relief to millions of borrowers,” it needed to act “swiftly” as “millions of Black borrowers may face default in the next few months, with disastrous consequences for the Black community and the American economy.”
The letter notes that increases in the cost of higher education caused more than 3.7 million families to take out $104 billion in federal Parent PLUS Loans, which come with “less generous” terms than other federal student loans.
“The options for payment reduction and forgiveness are much more limited,” said the NAACP, which expressed an equity concern as the “families of low-income Black families have taken up a larger percentage of Parent PLUS loans.”
“When young people go to school, parents are also taking on those responsibilities that come with going to school, which includes student loan debt, and so we also want to make sure that we see relief for them,” Cole told theGrio about why he and Johnson made the recent request to the Biden administration.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told theGrio that she did not have “any policy announcements to make” related to the letter from the NAACP. However, she added the administration is “focused on making sure that we continue to give relief to borrowers.”
Part of that work will come from the White House’s yet-to-be-announced Plan B for broad student loan debt cancellation under a different law than the HEROES Act, which the Supreme Court ruled was unconstitutional. The administration said the new program would be announced after several months of undergoing a rulemaking process under the Higher Education Act.
Cole told theGrio that he will serve as lead negotiator for the NAACP to join other civil rights groups during the public feedback portion of the rulemaking process. He said he hopes the administration acts swiftly to the NAACP’s request to extend Biden’s SAVE income-driven plan.
“Our goal is the economic liberation of all borrowers, and that begins with making our current plans more inclusive,” said Cole.
The organization will also continue calling for broad-based cancellation, which Cole said “is still on the table.”
Jean-Pierre emphasized Biden’s commitment to bringing relief to communities, telling theGrio, “That is part of the multiple announcements that you’ve seen since the SCOTUS decision.
“The president is always committed to trying to find a way to give American, in this case borrowers, a little bit of a breathing room,” she added. “He talks about…making sure people have dignity so that they can provide for their family. And this is what you’re seeing from his student debt relief program.”
As millions return to the reality of repaying their student loan debt, Cole said his message to Black borrowers is: “NAACP is here fighting for you. “
“I myself have over $30,000 in student debt, and also worried about this return to repayment as well. And so it’s important that we continue this fight,” he said.
“We continue to talk about the impact that student debt has on our lives and continue to fight for a more equitable tomorrow.”
Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.
TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV. Please download theGrio mobile apps today!