Cities Offer Dire Warning: Resuming Payments Without a Path to Broad-Based Student Debt Relief Would Cause Catastrophic Wave of Borrower Distress and Local Economic Instability
September 21, 2023 | WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, a diverse group of 20 cities and counties representing more than 1.2 million people with nearly $50 billion in student loan debt sent a letter to President Biden applauding him for his announced intentions to use the Higher Education Act to enact a new broad debt relief plan. Importantly, these local elected leaders call on the President to swiftly deliver on his promised student debt cancellation, alleviating the enormous negative impacts on individual borrowers, families, and local economies wrought by the out-of-control $1.7 trillion student debt crisis.
A copy of the letter is available here: https://protectborrowers.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Cities-Counties-Biden-Letter_9-23-2023.pdf
Mayors and other elected officials caution in their letter:
America’s cities are on the front lines of the $1.7 trillion student debt crisis… Relief is urgently needed to help alleviate the financial burden on residents, helping families cover rising costs and invest in our local economies and their own future… resuming loan payments this fall without first providing broad-based student debt relief would result in a catastrophic wave of borrower distress, dealing a punishing blow to millions of families in our communities while destabilizing our local economies and increasing demand for public benefits and services.
Cities are uniquely positioned to engage and assist local student loan borrowers, leveraging local insights and existing social service programs and channels, as well as direct services… But we cannot do this alone. We cannot bring borrower outreach and assistance to scale without adequate funding and support from federal and state governments. And we cannot ensure financial stability for borrowers and communities without broad-based relief from this crushing debt.
The letter comes as Americans brace for the return of student loan payments after a three-and-a-half-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic— – the impacts of which continue to ripple through local economies. The resumption of payments comes amid a change in debt servicing companies for millions of borrowers and unprecedented customer service shortfalls.
When President Biden announced his plan to restart student loan payments, a key part of the plan was to implement broad debt relief first to adequately protect borrowers and families from financial distress. In January 2033, an historic coalition of cities, states, experts, and advocates filed amicus curiae briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the Biden Administration’s student debt relief program. Among these cities were St. Louis, Kansas City, Little Rock, and more than 3 dozen other local governments across the country.
On June 30, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with right-wing special interests and formally blocked President Biden’s plan to use emergency powers to cancel up to $20,000 for student loan borrowers in the wake of the COVID-19 emergency. In doing so, the Court ignored the letter of the law, which gave the President clear authority to provide debt relief via the HEROES Act, and ripped away critical relief from more than 40 million borrowers and their families.
Hours after the Supreme Court’s ruling and in response to organizing and mobilizing from borrowers and advocacy organizations, President Biden announced a new plan to cancel student loan debt using the Higher Education Act, which provides broad authority to the Secretary of Education to “compromise, waive or release loans.”
While President Biden will continue fighting for borrowers by enacting debt relief through an alternative authority, the President chose to do so via a formal rulemaking process that can take anywhere from a few months to a year to complete. The first step of the process—public comment—ends on July 20, 2023. All public comments “must be submitted through the Federal eRulemaking Portal at regulations.gov.” After the Department reviews all public comments, it will announce a negotiated rulemaking committee plan.
In response to the rulemaking deadline, borrowers and advocacy groups launched a drive to submit public comments. Within just a few days, borrowers submitted 14,839 letters and counting in support of cancellation. Millions of borrowers have already waited nearly a year as partisan lawsuits blocked debt relief in the courts.
Amicus Curiae filed with the Supreme Court on behalf of more than three dozen cities in support of President Biden’s debt cancellation plan: https://protectborrowers.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Biden-v.-Nebraska-Local-Govt-Amicus-Brief-01.11.23-final.pdf
About Student Borrower Protection Center
The Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) is a nonprofit organization focused on alleviating the burden of student debt for millions of Americans. The SBPC engages in advocacy, policymaking, and litigation strategy to rein in industry abuses, protect borrowers’ rights, and advance economic opportunity for the next generation of students.