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Biden administration lengthens discussions on student loan relief amid growing pressure.
The Department of Education has agreed to extend its negotiations for student loan relief after facing mounting pressure, as confirmed by an agency official and an email sent to federal negotiators.
The confirmation of this news by the Education Department comes after it was reported by USA TODAY on Wednesday.
This decision is not uncommon in Washington, although it was not the original plan. The call for another round of talks comes after weeks of advocacy, pressure from progressive lawmakers, and urging from members of the department’s own loan relief committee, who want the Education Department to return to the negotiating table after bitter discussions in December.
James Kvaal, the undersecretary of education, expressed in a statement following the report from USA TODAY that the department is looking forward to the next round of conversations, which are scheduled for mid-February.
“The Biden-Harris Administration will continue working tirelessly to provide student debt relief for borrowers,” Kvaal said.
Following the previous round of discussions in December, many members of the federal panel expressed dissatisfaction. They urged the Biden administration officials, who have also faced setbacks from the Supreme Court’s criticism of their initial relief plan, to think more broadly about offering more forgiveness to a larger number of Americans, despite potential legal and political challenges.
Jessica Ranucci, an attorney at the New York Legal Assistance Group and a committee member, stated that she is eager to resume negotiations.
“Borrowers facing financial hardship need debt relief to simply have the opportunity to make ends meet,” she said in a statement to USA TODAY.
Advocates are specifically hoping to further explore the types of hardships that should be considered by the federal government when canceling student loan debt. In early December, the Education Department proposed offering complete debt relief for borrowers who have been repaying their loans for over two decades. They were also considering forgiving up to $20,000 for some borrowers whose payments have significantly increased due to interest.
Critics argue that the scope of these proposals is too narrow.
“This doesn’t go far enough,” said Sherrie Gammage, a negotiator representing borrowers who attended four-year programs.
“If this is the main relief plan, I believe it will be very disappointing,” said Sarah Butts, another committee member.
The Education Department and the White House have expressed their commitment to providing relief as quickly as possible to the largest number of Americans in need. According to the White House, since Biden took office, the federal government has already forgiven $132 billion in student loan debt for over 3.6 million Americans.
“I won’t shy away from utilizing every available tool to provide the necessary relief to student loan borrowers, enabling them to pursue their dreams,” stated President Biden last month.
Despite the administration’s accomplishments, progressives in Washington remain cautious. As Biden’s first term comes to an end, his chances of re-election are uncertain. Advocates of student loan relief in Congress, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren, are urging for prompt action.
In a statement, Warren praised the decision to hold further negotiations, stating, “This is a significant opportunity to cancel as much debt as possible for Americans who are burdened by student loans.”
The fourth session of negotiations will be conducted virtually on February 22nd and 23rd, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern Time. The public is invited to participate.