As millions of borrowers barrel toward the resumption of federal student loan payments this May, new polling shows broad support for additional student loan relief.
But that doesn’t mean more relief is necessarily coming. And notably, Biden did not mention additional student loan relief during his State of the Union address this week.
Here’s where things stand.
Survey shows widespread support for extending student loan pause
Most federal student loan payments and interest have been suspended for the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That relief was set to end in January 2022, but President Biden unexpectedly extended the payment pause again to August 31, 2022, in response to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
A new poll released last week by the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC) and Data for Progress suggests that borrowers continue to worry about their ability to resume repayment.
Sixty-three percent of respondents expect “major changes” to their savings or spending habits — such as saving less or having less money on hand for necessities — once federal student loan payments resume in the spring. And over six in 10 borrowers expressed support for extending the student loan payment pause to the end of the year.
“These findings tell a clear story—resuming student loan repayments will impose undue financial stress on hard-working Americans already struggling with rising prices and stagnant wages,” said Anika Dandekar, Polling Analyst at Data for Progress in a statement.
Polls: Broad support for additional student loan forgiveness
The same poll also shows fairly widespread support for at least some form of across-the-board student loan forgiveness. Sixty-four percent of respondents who identified as likely voters said they supported wiping out at least some student loan debt for every borrower.
President Biden expressed support for broad student loan forgiveness during his 2020 presidential campaign. He said he would be in favor of an initiative to wipe out $10,000 in federal student loan debt for every borrower. But Biden has rejected calls to cancel larger amounts of student loans so far.
And while White House officials have said that Biden would sign a student loan forgiveness bill passed by Congress, the administration has been publicly skeptical that a president has sufficient legal authority to cancel student loan debt unilaterally through executive action. Many student loan legal scholars, advocacy groups, and congressional Democrats say existing federal law gives Biden exactly that authority — but others disagree, and the theory has never been put to the test.
Still, the latest survey of borrowers suggests that Americans want at least some student loan cancellation. “Extending the pause on payments and canceling loan debt altogether are not only politically popular for President Biden but will give much-needed relief for the middle class,” said Dandekar.
What can student loan borrowers expect?
Biden notably did not mention student loan forgiveness or a further extension of the student loan payment pause during his State of the Union address, which disappointed some student loan borrower advocacy groups, and could suggest that student loans are not particularly high on the administration’s current priority list.
At the same time, the exclusion of student loans from his speech could simply reflect the multiple crises that the country is facing at this moment — a new war in Europe, a waning but still dangerous pandemic, ongoing supply chain issues, and historically high inflation. Meanwhile, most federal student loan borrowers don’t currently have to pay anything.
Although anything is possible, so far, it is looking increasingly likely that student loan payments will resume in August 2022. Notably, the last time the payment was set to expire, the Biden administration took great efforts to communicate that there would be no further extension — only to backtrack on that position as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 began to spread rapidly.
Similarly here, external events that significantly impact everyday Americans could persuade the Biden administration to extend the relief further. The only indication that something may happen came from White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain. During the podcast Pod Save America, Klain said, “The president is going to look at what we should do on student debt before the pause expires, or he’ll extend the pause.”
As for student loan forgiveness, the Biden administration has so far been focused on “targeted” efforts to expand relief under existing programs, most notably the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, Borrower Defense to Repayment, and the Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) discharge program.
The Education Department has indicated that it has approved approximately $16 billion in student loan forgiveness through this targeted approach so far, and officials have suggested that more is on the way. The administration has also indicated that it is looking at potential limited bankruptcy reform and has started the process of creating a new income-driven repayment plan.
But will borrowers receive broad-based student loan forgiveness of the kind envisioned by many of those advocating on their behalf? That remains to be seen.