Newark, NJ – September 25, 2023 — Mayor Ras J. Baraka announced that he joined 20 other city and county leaders nationwide representing more than 1.2 million people, to sign a letter to President Biden applauding him for his announced intentions to use the Higher Education Act to enact a new broad debt relief plan. The signers of the letter represent people who owe more than $50 billion in combined student loan debt. The leaders supported the President’s fight to alleviate the enormous negative impacts on individual borrowers, families, and local economies wrought by the out-of-control $1.7 trillion student debt crisis. Letter attached.
“As the cost of college has more than doubled over the past four decades, it’s common for students choosing to continue on to higher education to jeopardize their future economic health with loan arrangements that overburden them,” said Mayor Baraka. “More than one in 13 student loan borrowers are currently behind on their other payment obligations – worse than pre-pandemic statistics. Student loan debt forgiveness would alleviate this burden, immediately skyrocketing wealth in communities of color. This rise in spending power would boost local economies and greatly impact cities like Newark. It is time for all branches of government to work together to provide student borrowers with meaningful student loan debt relief that frees graduates to engage fully in their own productivity and civic pursuits.”
The letter comes as Americans brace for the return of student loan payments after a three-and-a-half-year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic – the impacts of which continue to ripple through local economies. The resumption of payments begins amid a change in debt servicing companies for millions of borrowers and unprecedented customer service shortfalls.
Identifying America’s cities as being on the front lines of a crushing student debt crisis, the letter says the emergency “has spiraled out of control, reinforcing deeply embedded inequities in our country and creating financial despair in our communities – and the pandemic has exacerbated these challenges. Relief is urgently needed to help alleviate the financial burden on residents, helping families cover rising costs and invest in our local economies and their own future. As officials in your Administration have consistently stated, resuming loan payments this fall without first providing broad-based student debt relief would result in a catastrophic wave of borrower distress, dealing a punishing blow to millions of families in our communities while destabilizing our local economies and increasing demand for public benefits and services.”
On June 30, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court formally blocked President Biden’s plan to use emergency powers to cancel up to $20,000 for student loan borrowers in the wake of the COVID-19 emergency.
Hours after the Supreme Court’s ruling and in response to organizing and mobilizing from borrowers and advocacy organizations, President Biden announced a new plan to cancel student loan debt using the Higher Education Act, which provides broad authority to the Secretary of Education to “compromise, waive or release loans.”
The letter noted the heavy impact the Supreme Court’s ruling will have on Americans of color, saying, “We must not accept a return to the failed pre-COVID status quo where 9 million borrowers were in default – one borrower defaulting on their student loans every 26 seconds. Black and Latino borrowers have faced the greatest debt burdens and worst repayment outcomes, expanding and perpetuating racial inequality across American cities. Further, alarming new data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shows current borrower distress on the rise, with 2.5 million student loan borrowers already behind on other loans (a higher delinquency rate than before the pandemic) and one in five borrowers showing risk factors that suggest they could struggle when payments resume.”
A copy of the letter from the following signatories is attached.
Ras J. Baraka, Mayor of Newark
Jim Kenney, Mayor of Philadelphia
Michelle Wu, Mayor of Boston
Quinton Lucas, Mayor of Kansas City
Ravi Bhalla, Mayor of Hoboken
Frank Scott Jr., Mayor of Little Rock
Andy Schor, Mayor of Lansing, Pa.
Daniel Biss, Mayor of Evanston, Ill.
Satya Rhodes-Conway, Mayor of Madison, Wis.
Jesse Arreguin, Mayor of Berkeley, Calif.
Damon Seils, Mayor of Carrboro, N.C.
Jenn Weaver, Mayor of Hillsborough, N.C.
Celina Benitez, Mayor of Mount Rainier, Md.
José Cisneros, Treasurer of San Francisco
David Chiu, City Attorney of San Francisco
Barbara Parker, City Attorney of Oakland
Atleen Kaur, City Attorney of Ann Arbor, Mich.
Rodney Pol Jr., City Attorney of Gary, Ind.
Eli Savit, Prosecuting Attorney of Washtenaw County, Mich.
José Garza, County Attorney of Travis County, Texas
Mark Griffin, Law Director of Cleveland
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