Officials from the White House plan to meet with student debt activists and advocacy groups this week, ahead of President Joe Biden’s self-imposed deadline of Aug. 31 to decide whether to approve broad-based debt relief for millions of Americans.
The virtual meeting, scheduled for Thursday, is the latest indication that the White House is seriously considering canceling some student loan debt, as Biden advisers consider the election-year political implications.
A variety of outside organizations working on student loan cancellation were invited to attend the event. According to a copy of the invitation obtained by POLITICO, the White House described the meeting as “an opportunity for you to share your priorities on student debt relief.”
The meeting will be attended by representatives from the White House Domestic Policy Council, National Economic Council, Office of Public Engagement, and Office of Political Strategy and Outreach.
When asked about the meeting, a White House official said on Wednesday, “We are holding the meeting at the request of the groups, as we have done consistently over the past year.”
Biden’s press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said on Tuesday that he had not decided whether to extend the payment freeze or cancel all debts.
“When a decision is made, the Department of Education will communicate directly with borrowers about the end of the payment pause,” Jean-Pierre said. She added that the White House was still “assessing our options” on broad-based debt cancellation.
Jean-Pierre stated again on Tuesday that Biden has promised to make a decision by the end of the month. “He’ll have something by August 31,” she promised.
The Biden administration is widely expected, at the very least, to extend the payment freeze until after the November elections, as many top Democrats have urged the White House to do. Education Department officials have already indicated that the payment pause will most likely be extended by instructing loan servicing companies to hold off on notifying borrowers that their payments will resume.
However, the larger issue of a mass loan cancellation program is more complicated. Long have White House advisers disagreed on the policy wisdom and political ramifications of forgiving large amounts of student debt. Internal decision-making has been dragged out for months with no resolution.
Officials in the administration are considering canceling $10,000 in debt for borrowers earning less than a certain income threshold. However, many progressives, including major labor unions and civil rights organizations such as the NAACP, want the White House to forgive a larger amount of debt — up to $50,000 — for all borrowers.
Officials at the Education Department have been working on plans for how the agency would implement a massive student loan forgiveness program on an unprecedented scale. Officials at the department are looking into ways to automate loan forgiveness for as many borrowers as possible without requiring them to fill out an application form. They are looking into ways to cancel debt, such as for defaulted borrowers and those who received a Pell grant.
Republicans have argued that any amount of student loan forgiveness would be an unfair handout to many Americans who do not need it and would exacerbate economic inflation. Some moderate Democrats have also expressed reservations about widespread loan forgiveness.
Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation to prevent Biden from implementing widespread loan forgiveness. And they’ve signaled they would conduct aggressive oversight of any Biden debt cancellation program next year if they regain control of Congress.