The story at a glance
- President Biden announced his fourth extension to the student loan repayment moratorium on Wednesday.
- The break was issued through the HEROES Act, national emergency relief legislation that gives Biden broad executive power.
- National emergency powers are meant to be short-term solutions and not to be used for longer-term solutions.
President Biden has again extended the pandemic-inspired moratorium on student loan repayments, marking the sixth pause since March 2020. Although lawmakers are pressuring the president to consider blanket cancellation of loans for Federal borrowers, the continued freeze raises a compelling question regarding executive authority: Can Biden, or any president, extend the moratorium indefinitely?
Biden’s fourth extension follows months of speculation over another freeze as the White House considers ways to address the growing student debt crisis that has left an estimated 43 million borrowers on the hook for nearly 1, 7 trillion dollars. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain pointed out in early March that for the first time borrowers were not obligated to make payments during a president’s term.
The student loan repayment moratorium was first initiated by former President Trump following a declaration of a national emergency in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. After taking office, President Biden continued to extend this state of emergency, declaring an extension of the national emergency in February.
That, combined with national emergency relief legislation like the HEROES Act, allowed Biden to suspend student loan repayments, said Sarah Sattelmeyer, project director for education, opportunity and mobility in the New America’s Higher Education Initiative, at Changing America.
There are a host of executive authorities that are triggered by a presidential declaration of national emergency, including the power to authorize the Department of Education to defer student loans.
The Secretary of Education may also waive or modify financial aid programs as he deems necessary, “for the relief of a person concerned.”
However, national emergency powers are meant to be short-term solutions. They are intended to remain in place as long as there is an immediate crisis that cannot be resolved by either existing non-emergency power or the regular legislative process, explained Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty & National Security. . program, at Change America.
“In practice, even though emergency declarations are supposed to be very limited to a very short period, they tend to drag on for years or even decades. And legally there is very little to prevent that from happening,” Goitein said.
President Biden retains the authority to continue suspending student loan repayments as long as the United States remains under a declared state of emergency, Goitein added.
Keeping the country in a state of emergency has already been done, as Goitein noted that since 2001 the United States has constantly renewed the National Emergencies Act relating to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack.
“With this emergency declaration still in place, it provides an extremely convenient way for the government to expand the capacity of our nation’s military on an ongoing basis,” Goitein said.
Although the state of emergency gives the White House more flexibility, Goitein doesn’t think that’s a good reason to extend it indefinitely.
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The ongoing pause on student loan repayments could be politically advantageous for Biden, as it buys the president time to find a solution to the student debt crisis while relieving repayment responsibilities from indebted voters ahead of the mid-election. -mandate.
How Biden will deal with student debt going forward is unclear, but the pressure to act is growing.
Debt Collective, an advocacy group rooted in the Occupy Wallstreet movement, has aggressively protested the federal government’s student debt crisis and advocated for Biden to act with the stroke of a pen. The group presented its argument based on a Yale Law article on the issue which sets out the history of student debt, the reasons for cancellation and two bills introduced in Congress, “present the possibility that a substantial amount cancellation of public student debt can be undertaken without further legislation.
The organization went so far as to issue an executive order for President Biden to sign that would cancel all federal student loans.
“President Biden has a magic wand that can create millions of new jobs, close the racial wealth gap, and free 45 million people crushed by student debt. This wand is an authority legally granted by Congress,” Debt Collective said.
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Published on April 06, 2022