Biden Has Power To Nix Student Debt For Millions, NJ Senators Say

NEWARK, NJ — There’s a way to cancel up to $50,000 in debt for millions of people struggling to pay off their student loans, U.S. senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker of New Jersey say.

Menendez and Booker recently joined dozens of their colleagues in Congress and reached out to Democratic President Joe Biden urging him to use his existing authority under the Higher Education Act to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt for federal borrowers.

According to a joint statement from the senators, more than 43 million people in the United States are currently buried under $1.6 trillion in federal student loan debt.

“Studies show that cancelling student debt would substantially increase Black and Latinx household wealth and help narrow the racial wealth gap, provide immediate relief to millions of Americans during the pandemic and recession, and provide massive consumer-driven stimulus to our economy,” Booker and Menendez said.

It’s an idea the pair also supported in September 2020, when they called for then-President Donald Trump to do the same.

“Long before the coronavirus reached our shores, millions of young people throughout New Jersey and the nation were overwhelmed by enormous and crushing student loan debt,” Menendez said.

“President Biden has the authority to alleviate this burden, which would not only provide an immediate shot in the arm to our economy, but reduce the wealth disparities that continue to hurt our minority communities,” Menendez continued. “Canceling up to $50,000 in student loan debt is the right thing to do for our families and the smart thing to do for our economy.”

Booker, who has advocated for other federal programs aimed at attacking the U.S. racial wealth gap such as “baby bonds,” said it’s time to confront a crisis that burdens 45 million Americans, especially as the coronavirus pandemic drags on.

“College students and graduates have been heavily impacted by this crisis and it is crucial that we provide them with relief,” Booker said. “I encourage the president to use his authority to cancel up to $50,000 in student loan debt and make the long economic recovery ahead easier for millions of Americans who need it the most.”

Menendez, Booker and their Congressional colleagues introduced their plea to Biden with a bicameral resolution on Thursday.

The resolution calls on the president to use executive authority to “cancel student loan debt” and ensure there is no tax liability for federal student loan borrowers resulting from administrative debt cancellation.

According to Menendez and Booker:

“Congress has already granted the Secretary of Education the legal authority to broadly cancel student debt under section 432(a) of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1082(a)), which gives the Secretary the authority to modify, ‘… compromise, waive, or release any right, title, claim, lien, or demand, however acquired, including any equity or any right of redemption.’ The Department of Education has used this authority to implement modest relief for federal student loan borrowers during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In addition to Booker and Menendez, the resolution saw support from federal legislators including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Supporters in the House include Reps. Albio Sires and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

Thursday’s resolution also got a round of applause from more than 325 civil rights, climate, health, labor, consumer rights and student organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, The Education Trust, Hispanic Federation, NAACP, National Urban League, UnidosUS, League of United Latin American Citizens, Minority Veterans of America, National Women’s Law Center, SEIU, the American Psychological Association, Sunrise Movement, the United States Student Association, and Young Invincibles.

“The great American tradition of higher education for all has devolved into a debt trap for all,” advocacy group New Jersey Citizen Action wrote last week.

“In New Jersey alone, students and their families owe upwards of $43 billion in student debt,” the group said. “The significant cancellation proposed in this resolution is a critical step in ending the devastating impact that student debt has on the overall economy and on the lives of millions of Americans, young and old. Furthermore, this cancellation serves as urgently needed relief for the COVID-19 crisis. It is an investment in workforce competitiveness, short-term aid, and long-term economic stability.”

Not all New Jersey residents are thrilled about the concept of canceling student loan debt, however.

Both Menendez and Booker have offices in Newark, the largest city in Essex County, where the rising cost of a higher education has caused some local residents to rethink their options in recent years.

Some have opted to continue their educations at Essex County Community College with the help of the state’s Community College Opportunity Grant program, later transferring to larger universities such as the New Jersey Institute of Technology through an inter-school reciprocity program.

Others have chosen to attend trade schools or other professional training, including the Universal Technical Institute campus in Bloomfield.

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This article originally appeared on the Newark Patch

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