Major unions demand action from Biden on cancelling student debt for public service employees


The effort led by the nation’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association, included the International Association of Fire Fighters, United Auto Workers, Service Employees International Union, American Federation of Government Employees, and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. The unions pressed Cardona to use the department’s emergency powers granted during the pandemic in order to forgive the debt regardless of any regulatory or legal hurdles.

In the meantime, Cordona is preparing a memo on President Joe Biden’s “legal authority” to cancel up to $50,000 of student debt across the board, according to Business Insider. White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Thursday that Biden wants the department to explore both forgiving student loans and cancelling student debt. The direction to Cardona follows Biden’s recent request that the Department of Justice review his authority on the matter. 

“He’ll look at the policy issues around that, and he’ll make a decision,” Klain said of Biden during an interview with Politico Playbook. “He hasn’t made a decision on that either way, and, in fact, he hasn’t yet gotten the memos that he needs to start to focus on that decision.” 

Democratic lawmakers like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have continued to advocate for the president to cancel $50,000 in student debt. Warren teamed up Thursday with fellow Bay Staters Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Attorney General Maura Healey to press Biden on delivering relief.

At a press conference, Healey stressed that Biden has “the power to make this change today,” and all three women framed student debt cancellation as a racial justice issue.

“We’re here today to call on President Biden for justice,” Warren said. “Canceling $50,000 of student loan debt is a matter of racial justice. It is a matter of economic justice. It is a matter of generational justice.”

Pressley said that the very same demographic of Black women who helped Biden clinch the Democratic nomination and prevail last November also carries a disproportionate amount of student debt burden. 

“If you’re going to speak to the role that Black women have played on the ballot and at the ballot box, Black women are the most educated and the most burdened by student debt,” Pressley said. “So you can say the words of appreciation. Policy is my love language—cancel student debt.”

Warren helped ensure inclusion of a provision in the COVID-19 relief package that stipulates any student loan debt forgiven between Dec. 31, 2020, and Jan. 1, 2026 would not be counted as income for taxation purposes. Some advocates saw the move as an opening that could invite more relief down the road.

After taking office, Biden extended the moratorium on student loan payments and set interest rates at 0% through Sept. 30. Earlier this month, the Education Department announced it was cancelling about $1 billion in debt for some 72,000 borrowers who were defrauded by for-profit colleges.

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