Attorneys General Press Congress On Student Debt Cancellation, Citing ‘Defrauded Students’

A commencement ceremony for a private, for-profit educational institution. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)
A commencement ceremony for a private, for-profit educational institution. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)
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February 19, 2021 1:25 p.m.

Attorneys general from 17 states addressed a letter to congressional leadership on Friday boosting a call for President Joe Biden to immediately cancel up to $50,000 in federal student load debt for borrowers as part of pandemic relief.

“Broad cancellation of Federal student loan debt will provide immediate relief to millions who are struggling during this pandemic and recession, and give a much-needed boost to families and our economy,” the attorneys general wrote.

“The current options for borrowers have proved to be inadequate and illusionary,” they added.

The two-page letter was addressed to Senate leaders Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

The group suggested on Friday that borrowers were plagued by insurmountable debt amid a vicious churn of what they called “predatory for-profit colleges that lure students with false promises.”

“When borrowers are unable to manage their Federal student loan repayment, the consequences can be catastrophic,” they added, detailing how wage garnishment, and the seizure of Social Security retirement and disability income often come crashing down on borrowers struggling to make payments. 

The letter comes as the White House has defended its hesitancy over canceling student debt beyond $10,000 over concerns that Biden may not have the authority to do so. 

“I’m prepared to write off a $10,000 debt, but not 50,” Biden said during a CNN town hall on Tuesday, adding, “I don’t think I have the authority to do it by signing the pen.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that the plan would require counsel from the Justice Department to make a recommendation on Biden’s legal authority.

“In the meantime, if Congress moves forward and sends him a package that provides $10,000 of student debt relief, he would be eager to sign that,” she said.

Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had reissued a call on Wednesday months after introducing a resolution that demanded the next president use “existing executive authority” under the Higher Education Act to wipe out up to $50,000 in Federal student loan debt.

“The administration has broad authority to immediately deliver much-needed relief to millions of Americans,” the senators said of Biden’s power over federal student debt on Wednesday, arguing that similar actions had been taken under former administrations of Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump. 

The attorneys general on Friday also called Biden to action on behalf of “defrauded students,” pressing him on a point of racial justice, which he has said will be among the aims of his administration.

“Student debt cancellation can substantially increase Black and Latinx household wealth and help close the racial wealth gap,” they wrote.

Amid broader considerations for reigniting the economy during the pandemic, the attorneys general suggested the proposed measure “would help remedy predatory practices that have disproportionately harmed people of color, boost our struggling economy, and create a viable future for millions of Americans.” 

Read the full letter from the attorneys general below:

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