On Friday, House representatives Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Alma Adams sent a public letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy urging them to include student debt cancellation and loan relief in the next COVID-19 relief package. The letter was signed by an additional 28 members of Congress, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Joe Kennedy III.
While the CARES Act, the first relief package, postponed payments for some federal student loan borrowers until September 2020, the congresswomen argue that more relief is needed to match the severity and longevity of the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.
“Public health experts and economists alike have estimated that our nation will feel the economic impact of this pandemic for up to 18 months,” reads the letter in which the congresswomen advocate for student debt relief through 2021. “Short-term relief from student loan debt payments simply does not reflect that reality.”
The congresswomen proposed three solutions to the crisis facing student loan borrowers. The first and most aggressive is the one-time cancellation of at least $30,000 for all federal student loan borrowers. “Robust student loan debt cancellation will have a disproportionately positive impact on our most vulnerable borrowers potentially eliminating the loan balance of millions of low-income people and borrowers of color,” the letter reads.
While the CARES Act postponed payments for some federal student loan borrowers, it excludes one in five borrowers—namely those with commercially held FFEL loans or Perkins Loans. Omar, Pressley, and Adams’ letter urges Congress to include long-term payment relief for all federal student loan borrowers. “All student borrowers deserve extended relief and Congress must not allow for broad exemptions that exclude 20% of borrowers,” they wrote.
In addition to all federal student loan borrowers, the letter urges Pelosi and McCarthy to expand protections to those with private loans as well through “cancellation, a suspension of payments and involuntary collections, as well as the opportunity to refinance any outstanding balance at lower interest rates.”
Throughout the letter, the congresswomen point out that people of color, specifically Black and Latinx communities, are not only experiencing the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, but also face an unequal burden when it comes to student loans. “The unequal burden of this debt has fallen most heavily on low-income workers and families, communities of color, seniors, and even veterans who attended for-profit colleges,” they wrote.
The bill for the next COVID-19 relief package is expected next week.