Commentary

Biden should forgive $50,000 per borrower in student debt

Do Colorado’s congressional representatives support executive action on student loan relief?

October 20, 2021 4:45 am

The facade of Norlin Library on the campus of the University of Colorado Boulder, as seen on Aug. 14, 2021. (Quentin Young/Colorado Newsline)

On Feb. 4, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer and Rep. Ayanna Pressley led the reintroduction of a bicameral resolution to address student loan debt. In it they called for President Joe Biden to use executive action for the cancellation of up to $50,000 of student loan debt per borrower. They were joined by dozens of colleagues.

Nothing happened.

Nearly 10 months later, we’re still waiting.

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The growing cost of higher education has been an issue for decades. Over 43 million Americans are saddled with a collective $1.73 trillion in federal student loan debt, a rate that is growing six times faster than the nation’s economy. Current totals now hover at nearly twice that of 2011, with the total student loan debt growing by 8.28% during COVID-19. 

Those who hold the most student loan debt are historically disadvantaged. The majority is held by women and Black individuals, with the highest amount of debt among those in their mid-30s — a likely link to the Great Recession, which impacted many upper-aged millennials more than most. 

These populations have routinely been shown to experience significant wealth gaps. This has led to decreased home buying, delayed family growth and generally weakened earnings and spending projections over the lifetime. The increasing disparity and concerns for long-term implications has prompted hundreds of civil rights and advocacy groups to call on Biden to use executive action accordingly.

To date, Biden has declined to act on these calls.

This isn’t to suggest Biden has taken no action on student loans — he has. Throughout the year he’s authorized more than $10 billion in student loan forgiveness, a fantastic start. The beneficiaries are largely the permanently disabled, victims of fraud and military members who were deployed in war zones.

It’s also important to remember that Biden has only been in office for less than a year. During this time he has faced the fallouts of several challenges including an unprecedented deadly insurrection, an unsuccessful coup, and an ongoing global pandemic to name only a few. Any of these alone would be tough enough for anyone, and perhaps it’s simply a matter of time. 

Then again, he’s already signed 65 executive orders. Would one more with a focus on millennials, women and Black students really be so hard?

Warren, Pressley and Schumer say no. I happen to agree.

In Colorado, however, it’s less clear which congressional representatives — if any — intend to actively join in the same cause for bold executive action on student debt relief. This might come as a surprise to the 800,000 Coloradans who are estimated to hold an average of $35,000 each in related debt.

While some reps openly support some type of reform, according to the February release by Warren’s team, not a single Colorado representative or senator — Democratic or Republican — was listed as being in support of the resolution. There’s also zero mention of any Coloradans on the congressional tracker for the House resolution.

During the presidential campaign, The Washington Post reported that Colorado’s current two senators — who were then running on opposing campaigns in the presidential primary — approach the topic differently. Sen. Michael Bennet appeared to express support more aligned with Warren and Schumer for at least some cancellation. Then-Gov. John Hickenlooper appeared to prefer other forms of lowering the debt burden, although it’s not entirely clear what the preferred measures would be. 

Still, neither seems to be taking a particularly vocal role on the matter.

In lieu of policy or value differences, some might simply suggest any hesitancy could be due to legal scuffles over whether Biden has the authority to swipe his pen on the matter. Yet in January 2020, Warren received an affirmative legal review for her policies from the Harvard Law School in a letter cosigned by Director Toby Miller of the Project on Predatory Student Lending helping to alleviate concerns.

It’s also true that forgiving student loan debt now does little to stop the amassing of new debt, and undoubtedly additional measures should be taken accordingly. But it remains an eerie quietness from Colorado reps regarding the millions of Americans struggling right now — particularly given the Senate majority leader is helping to lead the calls. 

This raises a critical question: Are any of Colorado’s congressional representatives willing to actively advocate alongside Warren and Schumer for executive action on up to $50,000 student loan forgiveness per borrower?

I know I would.

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Trish Zornio
Trish Zornio

Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation's top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado.

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