It's not too late for more student-loan borrowers to get relief in Biden's second try at debt cancellation, 38 Democratic lawmakers say

Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks as student loan borrowers and advocates gather for the People's Rally To Cancel Student Debt During The Supreme Court Hearings On Student Debt Relief on February 28, 2023 in Washington, DC.Jemal Countess/Getty Images for People's Rally to Cancel Student Debt
  • A group of Democratic lawmakers called on the Education Department to expand its second student-debt relief plan.

  • Currently, the department's proposal doesn't include a category for borrowers with hardship.

  • The lawmakers want another negotiation session to address those borrowers.

There's still time for President Joe Biden's Education Department to consider more student-loan borrowers for its second debt relief plan, a group of Democrats said.

On Thursday, 38 Democratic lawmakers — including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Chuck Schumer, and Bernie Sanders — sent a letter to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona regarding the department's process to get more student-loan forgiveness to borrowers.

After the Supreme Court struck down Biden's first attempt at broad relief at the end of June, the Education Department announced it would pursue a new route for relief using the Higher Education Act of 1965. That law requires the administration to undergo a series of negotiation sessions with stakeholders to craft the final rule for relief, and the department concluded its third — and what was expected to be the final — session in December.

However, some of the negotiators and advocates have previously pushed for the department to add a fourth negotiation session to consider including more borrowers experiencing financial hardship in its proposal — and now, Democratic lawmakers are asking for the same.

"While we appreciate the efforts of the Department and the negotiating committee, we are concerned that, without full consideration of cancellation targeted toward borrowers facing financial hardship, the rule will not provide adequate debt relief for the most vulnerable borrowers," the lawmakers wrote.

The key issue concerns the groups of borrowers the Education Department proposed to include in its relief. It outlined five groups of borrowers at the end of the third negotiation session that could qualify for relief, including those who have paid more than their original balances.

However, despite some push from the negotiators, the department did not consider a category for borrowers experiencing hardship. The Democratic lawmakers wrote in their letter that hardship could include whether a borrower filed for bankruptcy, didn't complete their degree, or holds parent PLUS loans while still repaying their own debt.

The Education Department has not yet indicated whether it will add a fourth session. In response to a call from advocates last week urging the department to do so, a spokesperson told Business Insider that it was reviewing the request.

"The Department's priority is to support students and borrowers, and is moving as quickly as possible to provide student debt relief to as many borrowers as possible, including through the regulatory process," the spokesperson said.

While adding an additional session could slow the process down to implement the final rule for debt relief, lawmakers and advocates said the department should attempt to make the rule as broad as possible to expand the number of borrowers that can benefit.

"The Biden Administration must continue to use its authority to deliver on the promises made to student loan borrowers and hold a fourth negotiated rulemaking session, as quickly as possible, to complete discussion of hardship-based relief—and once complete, swiftly propose and implement debt relief for millions of hard-working Americans," the Democrats wrote.

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