In just a few months Joe Biden will be faced with a political decision that is incredibly consequential for millions of people in this country. That question? Whether or not his administration will restart federal student loan payments.
Some 43 million borrowers account for the over $1.8 trillion dollars of student loan debt currently outstanding in this country. Since COVID began Trump and then Biden used their power as the president to unilaterally pause student loan payments and bring interest rates temporarily down to 0. However, as has been the case with all COVID relief, the question now becomes whether or not the Biden administration will continue the policy once the January 31st 2022 deadline previously set hits. It’s worth noting that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic.
It’s also worth noting, the president doesn’t have to do this, in fact he could do the exact opposite and cancel all student loans, which is what he should do, but if that’s asking too much at the very least he should appreciate restarting payments is the wrong move and could be politically disastrous.
Millions of people have hundreds of extra dollars each month because student loan payments are paused. Whether or not people tie it to Biden or not, Biden will be directly responsible for that money once again coming out of their bank accounts. And that’s on top of not delivering on a previous promise to cancel student loans. It started at $50,000 in cancellation, backed by Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren, it seemed there was some real pressure. Disappointingly Biden backed down and reduced it to $10,000 which is kind of a joke in the face of the relief $50,000 in cancellation would provide, but I guess it’s better than nothing. That $10,000 doesn’t even seem plausible now, and in the face of no debt relief at all, they’ve decided to turn payments back on.
Politically it makes absolutely no sense. There is no need to take that money from millions of working people and there is a perfect opportunity to punt that decision and at the very least put it on Republicans and make them responsible for the decision when the loans are restarted. And need I remind you we’re still in the midst of the pandemic so the justification for the original pause is still in play and perfectly valid. It’s also worth noting the president has unilateral authority to do all of this, so it’s not even a question of procedure or possibility, but instead one of political will and it simply seems Biden does not have it.
There isn’t much else to say other than the whole political construct that are student loans is gross and an indictment on our entire economy. That we let 40 million plus people slowly slip into debt peonage should alarm us all and inspire at the very least some political action. And to be fair it has, movements like Debt Collective are trying to raise awareness on the issue and let people know that it doesn’t have to be this way. However, until the people in the halls of power agree, it seems we’re stuck with student loans, and in a few months, student loan payments.
There is some indication that the squad and left most faction of the Democratic party are going to try and stop the restart. Perhaps similar to Cori Bush’s political action in the face of the eviction moratorium, where she camped out on the Capitol steps and almost single handedly saved the moratorium (until the Supreme Court later struck it down). Maybe they’ll have some traction because it seems fairly obvious that restarting the payments is bad politics. We’ll see when the time comes in late January but I hope for my own sake, and the sake of millions of other borrowers, Democrats make the right choice and keep the payments paused.