Advocates gathered outside the White House on Tuesday to demand the Biden administration and other elected leaders follow through on their promise to deliver student debt relief for millions of borrowers.
Organizations including the NAACP, Lawyer’s Committee on Civil Rights and Student Borrower Protection Center marched to the White House calling out “end student loan debt now!”
“Right now, the financial fate of Black America lies in the hands of the Supreme Court. Our message to President Biden is clear — failure is not an option, and swift, decisive action is demanded,” said Wisdom O. Cole, national director of the NAACP Youth & College Division. “Young Black borrowers are expecting this president to show up for them in the same way they have mobilized for him.”
Over the past three years, the NAACP has been among many national organizations fighting for comprehensive student loan cancellation as a way to promote economic stability and create concrete pathways for upward mobility for Black borrowers.
“This is more than just a financial gain,” Jenaya Moore, co-adviser of the Virginia Youth & College Division, told The Hill. Instead, she said, debt relief is about “uplifting a whole entire community that has already over centuries been disproportionately disenfranchised especially when it comes to student loans and being able to invest in homeownership.”
“We’re talking about a huge impact and advancement of an entire nation that we have never seen before,” Moore added.
Tuesday’s rally came one day after Juneteenth, which President Biden declared a federal holiday in 2021. Advocates piggybacked off the holiday to highlight the racial disparities in borrower debt.
“Student debt is important because this is an intersectional crisis — not an issue, a crisis,” said Dorien Rogers, president of the Maryland Youth & College Division.
“As we talk about Juneteenth, we’re talking about the ancestors who laid the foundation not just for the pillars of our democracy but the pillars of a people that have been oppressed for so long,” he continued. “And so as we work to ensure the institutional aspects of student debt is canceled we need to ensure we’re matching actions to our words so future generations can own homes, they can own assets and most importantly they can have generational wealth to obtain the mission and value of this great nation.”
Among 2016 graduates, nearly 40 percent of Black students graduated college with $30,000 or more in debt, compared to only 29 percent of white students, 23 percent of Hispanic students and 18 percent of Asian students, PBS NewsHour reported.
“Black borrowers are disproportionately impacted by student loan debt and with payments starting back potentially in October, we need to make it very clear that regardless of what happens with this SCOTUS decision we have to make sure student debt cancellation happens because the Black voters, Black borrowers are the ones who are going to benefit the most,” said Satra Taylor, director of higher education and workforce policy at Young Invincibles.
Student loan repayments have been paused for nearly three years in light of the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, Biden announced a plan to cancel up to $10,000 in federal loan debt and up to $20,000 for recipients of Pell Grants, which are awarded to low-income students.
But the plan is being challenged before the Supreme Court, and a decision is expected this month. Biden has already said he will not extend the student loan repayment pause regardless of the Court’s decision.
“This is an opportunity for us to reduce the racial wealth gap and if the president and administration truly care about equity, truly care about Black people, truly care about the future of this nation and the opportunity for economic mobility, then they will come through on this plan and reassure the American public that something will get done,” Cole said to the crowd Tuesday.
Cole added that Biden has the ability to cancel student debt regardless of the Supreme Court’s decision.
“We are here today with a plan, telling President Biden it is time to follow through. It is not done until it’s done,” he said. “It’s not just enough that we pause time after time and time again, we have to see that relief. We have to see that plan come through.”
Although the NAACP praised Biden’s plan last year, the organization has said a minimum of $50,000 in student debt relief is needed to begin to address the racial wealth gap.
“We want to make sure that communities of color understand the importance of canceling student loan debt — how it will impact them directly,” said Jaylon Herbin, director of federal campaigns at the Center for Responsible Lending.
Canceling student debt will open the doors for many students of color, including those who are first-generation college students.
“We know that those that are first generation typically take out parent PLUS loans,” Herbin continued. “They also are on the Pell Grant, so we want to make sure that they have access to affordable repayments after they leave college and they are getting the best return on their investment which is to be able to have life, their American dream, open the door of opportunities for them, starting their family’s small business or whatever that investment may be to live that out without having to worry about the $400, $500 monthly student loan payment.”
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