President Joe Biden announced Wednesday a 90-day extension of the pause on repayments for federal student loans to May 1, even as congressional Democrats seek further action.
"Now, while our jobs recovery is one of the strongest ever — with nearly 6 million jobs added this year, the fewest Americans filing for unemployment in more than 50 years, and overall unemployment at 4.2 percent — we know that millions of student loan borrowers are still coping with the impacts of the pandemic and need some more time before resuming payments," he said in a statement.
The extension of the pandemic-driven pause comes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases from the omicron variant.
"This additional extension of the repayment pause will provide critical relief to borrowers who continue to face financial hardships as a result of the pandemic, and will allow our Administration to assess the impacts of Omicron on student borrowers. As we prepare for the return to repayment in May, we will continue to provide tools and supports to borrowers so they can enter into the repayment plan that is responsive to their financial situation, such as an income-driven repayment plan," Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in a statement.
Biden highlighted the role of Vice President Kamala Harris in the administration's work through the Education Department on student loans. Harris, in an interview this week with CBS News, emphasized that the administration is working to "figure out how we can creatively relieve the pressure that students are feeling."
"I'll date myself, but you know, I had student loan debt. I remember that coupon book, and I had to fill out the coupon and write the check every month," Harris said. "And it's no small matter, and we need to figure out a way to relieve debt. So it's a fair issue in terms of the seriousness of the issue."
The full interview with Harris has been scheduled to air on "Face the Nation" the morning after Christmas.
Payments were to set to resume at the end of January, and in a sign the pause would not last forever, Biden's statement pushed borrowers to prepare for it to sunset. The Education Department said Wednesday that the pause saves borrowers $5 billion per month.
"As we are taking this action, I’m asking all student loan borrowers to do their part as well: take full advantage of the Department of Education’s resources to help you prepare for payments to resume; look at options to lower your payments through income-based repayment plans; explore public service loan forgiveness; and make sure you are vaccinated and boosted when eligible," the president said.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley, D-Mass., renewed their call for the administration to cancel federal student debt through executive action.
"Extending the pause will help millions of Americans make ends meet, especially as we overcome the Omicron variant," the lawmakers said in a statement. "We continue to call on President Biden to take executive action to cancel $50,000 in student debt, which will help close the racial wealth gap for borrowers and accelerate our economic recovery."
The administration has repeatedly expressed support for canceling up to $10,000 of student loan debt, but indicated that congressional action is needed.
"If Congress sends him a bill, he's happy to sign it," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said last week. "They haven't sent him a bill on that yet."