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NAACP says it is ‘disappointed’ Biden ended pause on federal student loan payments

The civil rights organization also called on Biden to “pursue all legal pathways” to protect his broader initiative to forgive the loans of tens of millions of borrowers.
Wisdom O. Cole during a rally in Washington, D.C.
Wisdom O. Cole at a rally in Washington on Feb. 28.Jemal Countess / Getty Images file

The NAACP plans to send a letter to President Joe Biden on Tuesday night expressing deep frustration that the White House agreed to end the pause on federal student loan payments as part of a deal with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy that resolved the debt ceiling crisis, according to a spokesperson.

“The resolution of the debt ceiling crisis is one we wholeheartedly welcomed and we appreciate all that went into debt ceiling negotiations. However, we are disappointed that the needs of Black communities have suffered from the negotiated agreement that will erode economic progress for Black Americans,” Wisdom Cole, the NAACP’s national director of youth and college, and Derrick Johnson, the group’s president, say in the letter.

“It is disappointing that narrowing the racial wealth gap was not given a higher priority,” Cole and Johnson say, adding that Black borrowers were 50% more likely to have their loans fall into default. NBC News saw an advance copy of the letter Tuesday.

Biden has said providing student debt relief is one of his administration’s key priorities. He extended a Trump administration policy that allowed federal student loan holders to forgo payments without being penalized, and he issued several last-minute extensions. He has also laid out an ambitious plan that would allow eligible borrowers to cancel up to $20,000 in debt.

But as part of the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, the legislation that resulted from Biden’s deal with McCarthy, R-Calif., the president agreed to end the freeze on payments at the end of August. The legislation specifically prevents him from issuing any more extensions and states that the pause "shall cease to be effective" 60 days after June 30. Biden signed the bill into law on June 3.

In a statement to NBC News after this article was published, White House spokesman Abdullah Hasan said: “President Biden recognizes the burden student debt has on tens of millions of Black Americans across the country — which is why he secured the largest increase to Pell Grants in a decade, why he vetoed the most recent attempt by Congressional Republicans to block his student debt relief plan, why he protected that plan in its entirety as part of the bipartisan budget agreement, and why his Administration has gone to the highest court of the land to fight for that plan.

“The President will continue to defend and strengthen his Investing in America agenda, which has resulted in record low Black unemployment,” Hasan added. “The Administration announced in November that the student loan payment pause would end in August — this bipartisan budget agreement makes no changes to that plan.”

In the letter to the White House, Cole and Johnson said they were concerned that an upcoming Supreme Court decision could imperil Biden’s larger initiative to forgive student loan debt and called on him to take action. Biden’s plan has been blocked since the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary hold in October.

“Should the Supreme Court fail to uphold student debt relief, Black America demands that your Administration pursue all legal pathways to make a permanent solution that respects the contributions of student loan borrowers, makes higher education more accessible and affordable and ends the cycle of pushing Black borrowers into poverty as they seek to share in the opportunities afforded by this nation,” the NAACP officials wrote.

“Let us be clear — absent further, swift action in the wake of an unfavorable ruling from the Court, Black voters stand to be incredibly disillusioned by an Administration who failed to deliver on key campaign promises but succeeded in widening the racial wealth gap and propelling their family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues into economic uncertainty,” they added, alluding to Biden’s re-election bid in 2024.

The legal challengers to the Biden administration’s proposal have argued that it violates the Constitution and federal law, in part because it circumvents Congress. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case in late February, and the conservative justices appeared skeptical about the legality of Biden’s program.

The program would affect more than 40 million borrowers and cost an estimated $400 billion.