NEWS: Sanders and 13 Democratic Senators Commend Biden on Historic Student Debt Relief Effort and Offer Feedback to Strengthen Proposal

“Student loan debt should never be a life sentence,” wrote the senators.

WASHINGTON, May 21 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP), led 13 fellow senators in submitting a public comment letter to Secretary Miguel Cardona of the U.S. Department of Education on President Biden’s proposal to reduce or eliminate federal student loans for tens of millions of borrowers. Published in the Federal Register in April of 2024, the new proposal comes after the Supreme Court blocked President Biden’s original student debt forgiveness plan last summer. The 30-day public comment period for the rule ended this past Friday at midnight.

Chairman Sanders was joined on the letter by Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

The senators applauded President Biden’s continued efforts to address the student debt crisis including through this “historic” rule which would eliminate “crushing” student debt for millions of Americans across the country. They also provided feedback to strengthen the proposal and urged the Administration to execute the final debt relief plan as soon as possible.

The senators wrote: “Access to higher education has long been touted as a pathway to the middle class, but the unfortunate truth is that, for generations of borrowers, the burden of student loan debt creates a roadblock to that reality. We applaud the Biden Administration’s leadership on pursuing every possible avenue to deliver meaningful debt relief to borrowers. We must act boldly so that the tens of millions of Americans who are struggling to pay the rent, put food on the table, and pay for the basic necessities of life are not crushed by a mountain of debt for getting a college education.”

On the student debt relief rule being considered, the senators continued: “The proposed methods of discharges included in this rule are historic, and would undoubtedly eliminate the crushing student debt burden for borrowers who have long been waiting for needed relief. We recommend the Department build upon the plan to provide substantial financial relief to even more Americans. As such, we are providing a number of recommendations to strengthen this plan including:

  • Eliminating all of the excess interest that has accrued over what a person originally borrowed, regardless of the repayment plan they are on or what their income is. Doing so will help millions of borrowers get off the never-ending treadmill of student loan repayment and help them make progress toward eliminating their debt. We also recommend full cancellation for those borrowers who have repaid enough to cover their original principal balance, regardless of income.
  • Discharging debt for borrowers who have been in repayment for over two decades on a rolling basis, so no borrower has to delay or forego retirement because of their student loan debt. Student loan debt should never be a life sentence.
  • Providing relief to borrowers who have been victims of servicing errors or misconduct.
  • Providing debt relief to every eligible borrower automatically. No one should be delayed in getting the debt relief they are eligible to receive under this proposal because of a bureaucratic application process. 

“We understand the Department intends to release the proposed final rule for debt relief for borrowers experiencing economic hardship soon, and encourage the Department to release that proposed rule as quickly as possible. The economic hardship pathway has the potential to provide needed relief to borrowers not otherwise captured in this proposal. Every day spent without relief is another day borrowers experiencing economic hardship face unnecessary financial burdens.”

The rule received more than 92,000 comments during the 30-day public comment period. The Biden Administration has said it aims to finalize the rule by this coming fall.

Read the full letter here.