Student loan borrowers should have until at least the end of the year until they’re required to pay back federal debt again, U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb said Monday.
In a letter to President Joe Biden, Mr. Lamb, a top contender for the Democratic nomination in the race for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, joined 42 of his House colleagues to call for another extension to the pause in student loan repayment.
The pause — in place since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to give Americans relief — is set to lift on May 1, and Mr. Lamb is warning the Biden administration that both the federal government and borrowers are unprepared for the impacts.
“Millions of borrowers have benefitted from the pause in payments,” Mr. Lamb, of Mt. Lebanon, and his colleagues wrote. “Although progress has been made, we believe it is vital to ensure that we continue to work to alleviate the continued impact the pandemic is having on families across the country. Therefore, we request that you continue to suspend student loan payments, at least until the end of this year.”
Mr. Lamb wrote a similar letter to Mr. Biden last December, and hours after it was released to the public, the president announced a 90-day extension — pushing the date from Jan. 31 to where it is now, May 1. Over the duration of the pause, debt collection has been suspended and interest rates have remained at 0%.
In the new letter, the lawmakers — a group that includes Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills — note that although the Biden administration has made strides in combatting the economic impacts of the pandemic, unemployment is still higher than it was two years ago and households are facing rising costs.
The group cited a recent survey that found 92% of fully employed borrowers are concerned they won’t be able to afford their payments when the pause lifts, as well as studies that show the pause has saved borrowers $5 billion a month — money that can be spent on food, child care, and housing.
Defaulting on those loans — an inherent risk for borrowers when payments resume — could add more challenges to those who have already suffered economically during the pandemic, they wrote.
“This is a cost we can eliminate for student borrowers while they deal with so many other rising prices,” Mr. Lamb said in a statement. “Inflation won’t be here forever, but while it lasts we can easily afford to suspend student loan payments a little longer.”
White House officials have indicated the president may extend the pause for the fourth time, according to reporting in Politico.
The outlet also cited sources in close touch with the administration who argue that even with another extension, it may be tough for Democrats to inspire young voters — a fear shared by some Democrats in Pennsylvania who told the Post-Gazette they worry the administration’s failure to cancel some student debt could cause harm at the ballot box in the 2022 midterms.
Mr. Biden hasn’t given an update in months about his position on canceling student loan debt, and Politico noted that it’s been about a year since his chief of staff said the administration was a “few weeks” out from getting a memo on its legal powers to wipe away federal student loans. No memo has surfaced yet.
For now, Mr. Biden finds himself facing pressure from Mr. Lamb, who is pursuing one of the most important Senate seats in the country, to continue the pause. Mr. Lamb is up against Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta for the Democratic nomination, among others.
The U.S. Department of Education is advising borrowers to prepare for payments to resume, and is telling them that once the pause ends, they’ll receive their billing statements at least 21 days before payments are due.
Pennsylvania’s student debt load is considered to be one of the highest in the country, and local officials have taken notice. Late last year, Sen. Lindsey Williams, D-West View, pushed Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration to make student loan forgiveness from public service programs no longer subjected to state income tax. Mr. Wolf obliged.