Union coalition urges Biden to immediately cancel student debt

By Matt Berg

Members of the Western Massachusetts Area Federation of Labor voted unanimously on Jan. 10 to pass a resolution calling on President Joe Biden to forgive all student debt using executive power.

More than 55% of Massachusetts residents have student loan debt, average over $33,000. In its resolution, the coalition — made up of more than 60 public and private sector unions in Western Massachusetts — argued that canceling student loans would benefit all people of all demographics, help fight for racial justice and spur solidarity. ‘economy.

“Cancelling student debt will relieve and invigorate the household budgets of millions of working people across the country,” said Lydia Wood, executive director of WMALF. “We need President Biden to act now to cancel student loans, revive our economy, and free millions of Americans from a lifelong burden of debt.”

On 43 million people in the United States have student loan debt, and the majority of Americans sustain a certain form student loan forgiveness. Overall, Americans collectively duty approximately $1.6 trillion in student debt.

The crisis is often framed in the mainstream media and political sphere as an issue that primarily affects traditional four-year undergraduates and Ivy League students, said Ian Rhodewalt, a WMAFL delegate who has presented the resolution. But the impact is much greater.

“The people most affected by student loan debt are those who have to borrow the most to go to school,” which includes people who attend vocational school, technical school, associate’s degree programs from two years, community college or a don’t complete a program, Rhodewalt said.

Student debt is also a gender and racial justice issue, as well as an issue for Americans seeking social services as they age.

Nationally, women, especially black women, are disproportionately affected by student loan debt. Two decades after taking out loans, the average white borrower has repaid 94% while the average black borrower still owes 95%, according to a 2019 study report from the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University.

One in five Americans over the age of 50 are still paying off their student loans, Rhodewalt said. If these borrowers fall behind on payments, they may be subject to Social Security garnishment, which is when a portion of a person’s Social Security benefits are withdrawn to pay off a debt. In 2015 alone, 114,000 borrowers were subject to garnishment.

The defenders too to quote research that estimates that canceling student loans would boost the economy by $108 billion a year by freeing up money spent on debt service, closing the racial wealth gap and creating a million jobs in the process.

Proponents of student loan forgiveness argue that under the Higher Education Act of 1965 the President Has the power to cancel federal student loans: the Department of Education has the power “to modify, impair, waive or discharge any right, title, claim, lien or demand, however acquired, including any equity or any redemption rights. Although a straightforward interpretation of the text supports student debt cancellation, opponents argue that it cannot be used to enact large-scale cancellation.

The resolution also called on all labor organizations nationwide and elected officials in Massachusetts to urge the president to cancel student debt. Many state officials, including Reps. Jim McGovern and Ayanna Pressley, as well as Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, have been declared supporters movement for years. The Federation of Labor also specifically called on Rep. Richard Neal and Gov. Charlie Baker, who have not voiced support for the federal student loan cancellation, to urge the president to act.

Advocates across the country often quote a memo sent to Warren in 2020 explaining the legality of the president’s ability to cancel student debt. the note, which was prepared by members of the Legal Services Center at Harvard University Law School, discusses Warren’s proposal to forgive student debt during his presidential campaign. In the plan, the president would ask the education secretary to forgive up to $50,000 in debt for 95% of student borrowers — and any similar action, the memo says, could be upheld.

The Biden administration has used the same legal authority to keep interest from accumulating for borrowers during the pandemic, legal experts have said.

In October, a note from the Biden administration with the subject “The Secretary’s Legal Authority for Large-Scale Student Debt Cancellation” has gone public. Although the memo – which was sent to the Education Secretary in April – was heavily redacted, proponents of debt forgiveness say its very existence proves that administration lawyers considered the cancellation. possibility and determined that Biden had the ability to act.


Matt Berg is a journalism student at UMass Amherst, his work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Daily Beast, MassLive, and other publications. Photo used with permission from The debt collective.

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