Day of Action for Biden to ‘Pick Up the Pen’ and Cancel Student Debt Announced

“We’re going to the Department of Education on April 4th to force Biden to cancel student debt,” said the Debt Collective.

By Kenny Stancil.  Published 2-14-2022 by Common Dreams

Progressive organizers on Monday announced an upcoming day of action to pressure President Joe Biden to use his executive authority to wipe out $1.8 trillion dollars in student loan debt.

On the RSVP page for the protest—scheduled to take place on April 4 at 12:00 pm ET at the Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, D.C.—the Debt Collective explained that “debtors and our allies are taking action to say: Pick up the Pen, Joe. Cancel student debt for all 45 million Americans.”

“Biden has said the ‘final’ moratorium on student loan payments ends on May 1, 2022,” said the debtors’ union. “But, we know our communities are suffering.”

“We also know President Biden has the authority to fix it by picking up a pen and issuing an executive order to cancel all student loan debt,” the group continued. “It’s a simple, effective way for him to add billions back into our economy, create jobs, narrow the racial wealth gap, and help everyone in our country, and it’d fulfill a campaign promise that so far he’s broken.”

“Despite our efforts, calls from Congress for him to cancel debt, and a growing number of city resolutions demanding the same—he has made no move to address this economic, racial, and gender injustice,” the Debt Collective added. “The time to cancel student debt is is now.”

The White House’s threat to restart student debt payments in two and a half months “can’t happen,” the group tweeted. “That’s why we’re going to the Department of Education on April 4th to force Biden to cancel student debt.”

Progressive advocacy group Indivisible shared the Debt Collective’s new video and encouraged people to join the upcoming protest.

Since Biden took office over a year ago, borrowers, activists, and lawmakers—including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.)—have been pushing the president not only to follow through on his modest campaign promises regarding student loan relief but to cancel at least $50,000 in debt per borrower.

Biden, who has suggested erroneously that he lacks the executive authority to broadly cancel student debt without legislation, asked the Department of Education (DOE) last April to prepare a memo on the subject.

In October, it was revealed that the Biden administration received the memo on April 5—thanks to documents and internal Education Department emails obtained by the Debt Collective through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus urged Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to release the memo by October 22, but the Biden administration has so far refused to make it public. Last month, 85 Democratic lawmakers demanded that the president share the concealed document.

Despite the White House’s intransigence, legal experts say the Higher Education Act of 1965 clearly empowers Biden to direct Cardona to eliminate student debt for all 45 million borrowers in the United States.

Section 432(a) of the law states that the education secretary has the authority to modify loan terms and “enforce, pay, compromise, waive, or release any right, title, claim, lien, or demand, however acquired, including any equity or any right of redemption”—a provision the DOE has invoked to unilaterally eliminate $15 billion in student debt for hundreds of thousands of borrowers in the past year.

Following weeks of sustained pressure from economic justice advocates and progressive lawmakers, Biden announced in December that his administration would use that very same authority to extend the federal moratorium on student loan payments—which began in March 2020 and was set to expire at the end of January—until May 1.

Biden cited the surging Covid-19 pandemic and continued “economic upheaval” as reasons to extend the payment pause for an additional three months. However, in the final paragraph of his statement, the president indicated that he does not intend to heed demands for broad-based student debt cancellation.

Progressives, meanwhile, have stressed that prolonging the payment freeze only postpones financial hardship for millions of borrowers—many of whom were already struggling before federal lawmakers allowed the child tax credit to lapse amid the Omicron wave—and are imploring Biden to provide much-needed relief.

The Debt Collective, as Common Dreams reported last year, has drafted an executive order for the president directing Cardona to “cancel all obligations to repay federal student loans,” which would save borrowers hundreds of dollars per month and boost the nation’s gross domestic product by more than $173 billion in the first year alone.

With Biden’s push for the Build Back Better Act and the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act at a standstill due to obstructionism by corporate Democrats and Republicans in Congress, progressives have made the case that the president must use his existing executive authority to the fullest extent possible—including by canceling at least $50,000 in student debt per borrower—to deliver material gains for the working-class and stave off an electoral disaster in the midterms.

“What is Biden waiting for?” asked the Debt Collective in its new video. “What are we waiting for? Debtors have power.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).
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