Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
At this point, when people are still struggling to make ends meet in the midst of higher prices and historic inflation when the pandemic is primed for yet another surge as a new variant spreads, and when it’s been two years since student loan payments were paused, why is President Biden unclear about whether or not to use his executive authority to deliver on his 2020 campaign promise to cancel at least $10,000 of student loan debt?
It can’t be public opinion and what borrowers are experiencing because 62 percent of Americans support canceling some student loan debt, 93 percent of student loan borrowers are not financially ready to resume payments, and 51 percent of people believe the U.S. economy is in a recession or a depression in spite of all of the historic economic gains the president has realized. President Biden’s inaction and indecisiveness on canceling student loan debt truly make no sense, especially when you consider the ongoing, tangible financial challenges people are facing.
Moreover, as a president who regularly speaks about “giving people a little breathing room,” that sentiment doesn’t seem to fully apply to canceling student loan debt considering how the Biden administration has behaved each time they extended the moratorium on student loan payments. In August 2021, for example, the Biden administration essentially told borrowers this is the final time the pause of student loans there will be extended, as though they were unaware of what people were experiencing financially in real time. The White House also seems to be underestimating the anxiety that comes with each new threat of a due date when student loans payments will resume—including the looming May 1 due date under the current extension.
To make matters worse, the Biden administration is sending mixed signals after asking student loan servicers not to send out payment reminders. The request essentially translates into: Hold on; we just might extend the pause on student loan payments one more time. And while many borrowers would welcome another extension, concrete executive action that would provide long-term relief to student loan borrowers would be the intentional and empathic response, not creating yet another anxiety-inducing extension.
And consider what that long-term relief would mean to people of all ages and backgrounds, especially the Black, Indigenous and Latina women voters who are carrying the most student loan debt. As Representative Ayanna Pressley and Arisha Hatch recently wrote for theGrio, “Black women owe 22 percent more than the average student debt load of white women and are the most systematically underpaid—earning just 64 cents to every dollar earned by white men.”
According to the Roosevelt Institute, canceling student debt would have a measurable impact on closing the racial wealth gap, immediately increasing the wealth of Black Americans by 40 percent. Not to mention, student loan debt is not just an issue for younger populations. I assure you that this is not just another issue that millennials are complaining about as “borrowers aged 50 or older held 20 percent of all student loans outstanding in 2019.” What’s painfully obvious is that when an issue this big is impacting people across age, across race, across all demographics, it typically is one of the easiest political moves to make, especially during a midterm election year when Democratic control of Congress is on the line, and the incumbent party historically struggles.
Like it or not, after his first full year in office, President Biden has come up short in delivering key components of his domestic agenda, including the Build Back Better Act, voting rights, raising the federal minimum wage, immigration reform, police reform and more. But canceling student loan debt is extremely low-hanging political fruit for Biden that would help him with voters of all demographics. Honestly, the most frustrating part of this back and forth about canceling student loan debt is that the president has the power to take action with the stroke of his pen.
That’s right. Student loan debt could be erased with executive action that lies with President Biden, but he hasn’t made the move. It’s unclear what Biden is waiting for, especially when people have been abundantly clear that eliminating student loan debt would be a god-send at a moment when borrowers have not recovered financially, inflation is historically high, and the pandemic continues. As a political strategist, I predict that as November approaches, the White House will extend the pause on student loan payments and take decisive action to cancel student loan debt in the fall. It’s the only reasonable political action for the White House to take on this issue because, at the end of the day, it’s time for the president to quit playing games and cancel student loan debt.
Juanita Tolliver is a veteran political strategist and MSNBC Political Analyst who previously served as National Political Director at Supermajority and Director of Campaigns at the Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter: @juanitatolliver.
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