A multistate coalition of Democratic attorneys general is calling on President Joe Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt per borrower.
The letter from 17 state law enforcement officials, led by Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey and New York attorney general Letitia James, comes just days after Biden appeared to reject the idea of cancelling that level of student debt in a CNN Townhall.
The attorneys general cited their experience enforcing consumer protection laws as motivating their support for cancellation. Over the past several years, attorneys general, including Healey and Vice President Kamala Harris when she was attorney general of California, have been at the forefront of investigating the conduct of for-profit colleges, some of which have been accused of preying on students, particularly students of color.
The state law enforcement officials said they also regularly hear from borrowers struggling to navigate existing student loan repayment and forgiveness programs, suggesting to them that the current system “provides insufficient opportunity for struggling borrowers to manage their debts or recover from the current economic crisis.”
“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 group wrote.
The idea of student debt cancellation has been around for years, but gained new urgency after Biden was elected in November. Amid the coronavirus-induced downturn, student debt cancellation is a particularly attractive form of relief for progressives and mainstream Democrats because Biden and the executive branch can arguably do it themselves.
Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer have repeatedly called on Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt. During his campaign for president Biden proposed to “immediately cancel a minimum of $10,000 of student debt per person.”
Even among those who support debt cancellation there is debate about whether it should be done by executive action or through Congress. In addition, there’s a range of opinions among supporters about how much debt per borrower should be cancelled and whether there should be a cap on the income of borrowers receiving the relief.
The idea of student-debt cancellation has its origins in Occupy Wall Street and though it’s gained traction over the past several years — particularly as the disproportionate impact of student debt on students of color have become apparent — it’s not without controversy.
Critics worry it would be a boon to borrowers who have six-figure debts from graduate school, but also relatively high incomes. But supporters argue that it would improve racial equity. Proponents of student-debt cancellation have also said the student-loan system essentially amounts to a policy failure, and cancelling student debt is part of correcting it.