We, the undersigned 111 student government leaders representing over 1.4 million students, write to urge you to exercise your executive authority, as designated by the Higher Education Act of 1965, to cancel all federal student loan debt immediately. As student leaders, we have seen the harrowing financial, social, and mental health impacts that the crushing weight of student loan debt imposes upon students and alumni by exacerbating the financial insecurity, social inequities, and economic stagnation which impacts over 44 million borrowers in the United States. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government recognized the burden of such debt on borrowers, pausing student loan repayments and lowering the interest rate to 0%.
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With many of President Biden’s legislative priorities stalled, pressure is mounting on the administration to use executive authority to cancel student debts — a move that would substantially narrow racial wealth gaps. In a recent House floor speech, Rep. Ayanna Pressley pointed out that the student debt crisis disproportionately impacts the Black community. “But for too long,” Pressley said, “the narrative has excluded us and the unique ways in which this debt is exacerbating racial and economic inequities, compounding our gender and racial wealth gap.” Pressley joined Senators Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer in a December letter to Biden asking that he consider using executive authority to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debts.
Chicago Teachers Union members voted by 77 percent on January 4 to go fully remote until effective Covid mitigations to protect educators and students were approved by members and enacted, or until the current Covid surge subsided. Within a week they had a tentative agreement on mitigation measures. Members ratified it January 12 by 56 percent and returned to in-person teaching. With citywide positivity rates over 20 percent and hospitals overwhelmed, Chicago Public Schools had already faced staffing shortages the first few days of the year. When the district failed to implement adequate testing protocols, CTU members determined that the safety of students and educators once again required remote learning.
Across the US, Omicron infections continue to explode, as “more children are being admitted to hospitals than ever before,” according to *CNN.* Vaccination rates among children remain low and community spread, accelerated by the holiday season and the return to in-person instruction, is rippling across the social terrain; hitting teachers, parents, and family members. In just the Los Angeles school district, “Approximately 65,000 students and staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, according to mandatory testing conducted by the district during the winter break.” The drastic spike in COVID cases has also been coupled with increasing shortages of medical staff, which has hindered the ability of many people to get tested and receive medical attention.
As the Omicron variant continues to surge, despite 90,132 new positive cases reported in New York on Saturday and one in three Covid-19 tests coming back positive in New York City, schools have been forced to stay open with insufficient safety measures as many students, and staff continue to test positive. Eleven members of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) Solidarity Caucus filed a lawsuit seeking mandatory remote learning until all students and workers can be tested, but Mayor Eric Adams continues to insist that schools must stay open at all costs, and even that schools are the safest place for students to be. Students and teachers are being forced to return to extremely unsafe conditions so that parents can go back to work and the economy can go “back to normal.”