More than 60 Democratic lawmakers — led by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — called on President Joe Biden to extend a pause on student loan payments and interest so as not to “drag down the pace” of the country’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in a letter Wednesday.
“The suspension of payments and interest during the pandemic has provided essential relief to borrowers and their families during this economic and public health crisis,” the letter reads.
The legislators are asking Biden to extend the pause by at least six months, until the end of March or until employment levels are on par with pre-pandemic figures — “whichever is longer,” according to the letter.
Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) led the effort alongside Sens. Schumer and Warren.
The student loan moratorium was first issued by former President Donald Trump in March 2020 via an executive order that suspended student loan payments and waived interest for at least 60 days. Trump extended the pause until Dec. 31. On Biden's first day in office he extended it once more through September.
“Too many Americans are struggling to pay for basic necessities and to provide for their families,” a Jan. 20 White House statement regarding the student loan pause reads. “They should not be forced to choose between paying their student loans and putting food on the table.”
An estimated $1.7 trillion is owed in student debt, according to the Federal Reserve’s third quarter 2020 report. The figure has more than doubled since 2008, and is the second largest source of household debt to mortgage debt, according to the non-partisan Peter G. Peterson Foundation.
In the letter, the lawmakers point to the uneven effect the pandemic has had on women and people of color and note that those same individuals make up a disproportionate share of student loan borrowers as reason to maintain the payment holds.
Sens. Schumer and Warren have previously advocated for debt cancellation to mend the equity gaps caused by student loans.
“Studies show that student debt cancellation can substantially increase Black and Latinx household wealth and help close the racial wealth gap, provide immediate relief to millions who are struggling during this pandemic and recession, and give a boost to our struggling economy through a consumer-driven economic stimulus that can result in greater home-buying rates and housing stability, higher college completion rates, and greater small business formation,” the pair said in a statement last fall.
Progressive lawmakers are increasingly calling on Biden to go beyond the moratorium and cancel the debt altogether. In April, White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Biden asked his education secretary to look into whether the president has the authority to cancel student loan debt — a departure from Biden’s previous statements on the topic.
But the pause is where the change must start, the letter’s Democratic signatories say.
“This decision cannot be delayed,” the letter reads.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Democrats ask Joe Biden to extend the pause on student loan payments