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Congresswoman Sees Debt Cancellation as Racial Equity Issue

Amid a debate even among Democrats over whether and how much of the nation’s student debt should be canceled, progressive congresswoman Ayanna Pressley on Thursday said widespread forgiveness is needed to close the disparity in wealth based on race.

The idea of canceling debt, including debt held by those with higher incomes, has been criticized even by some progressives who say the money would be better targeted to help low-income people in other ways. However, others like the Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, are calling on President-elect Joe Biden to cancel $50,000 from the debt of all student loan borrowers by executive order on the first day of his presidency on Jan. 20. “You don’t need Congress; all you need is the flick of a pen,” Schumer reportedly said Dec. 7. Biden and his advisers, though, have mentioned debt relief in the context of negotiating a coronavirus aid package with Congress.

Pressley, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said at a virtual panel discussion that limiting cancellation based on income would neglect a history of systemic racism that has made it more likely that Black students have had to take on debt, need to borrow more than white students to be able to afford to go to college and are now more likely to owe more and default on their loans.

“The student debt crisis uniquely affects our community,” Pressley said at the discussion sponsored by the Center for Responsible Lending and the NAACP.

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