The Biden Administration recently made the executive decision to extend the pause on federal student loan repayments through Aug. 31, 2022.
A freeze on student loan repayments was put in place at the start of the pandemic to aid students affected by the economic consequences of COVID-19.
Since March 2020, eligible student loans have been effectively frozen and most federal student payments have not been required.
The freeze was initially scheduled to expire on May 1, but President Joe Biden issued a statement on April 6 acknowledging the need for an extension of the policy.
According to the Federal Student Aid website, this pause has provided students who have eligible loans with relief measures including a suspension of loan payments, a zero percent interest rate on student loans and stopped collections on defaulted loans.
Prior to the extension of the debt freeze, The Debt Collective, an organization self-described as a “debtors’ union” aiming to abolish student debt, held a rally on April 4.
Braxton Brewington, press secretary and organizer for The Debt Collective, said the rally was held outside of the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C. to protest the May 1 expiration of the student loan repayment freeze.
Brewington said the rally included bands, music, dancing and debtors sharing stories about how student debt has impacted their lives financially and mentally.
“We blew horns and we marched around several times, knowing that the marching was going to be the switch in which we would start to see action,” Brewington said. “It was a very meaningful and transformational experience.”
Ronald Contreras, a second-year Lehigh graduate student, attended The Debt Collective rally on April 4 after facing personal issues with student debt.
Contreras said that due to personal reasons, he has had to pivot away from prioritizing his academic pursuits and focus primarily on employment opportunities.
“There are a lot of real, amazing and heroic individuals who I think just because of their passion to better themselves and better society have taken up a burden of student loan debt,” Contreras said.
During the march, Contreras said he heard from many indebted students about their opinions on the country’s student debt crisis.
Contreras said this made the recent freeze extension more emotional and appreciated by both himself and fellow marchers.
“It was a real relief,” Contreras said. “Even though it is temporary, the student loan repayment would be the same amount of money my entire family coughs up for rent. It was a real breath of fresh air.”
Brewington said members of the rally also participated in a “debt burn” in which participants burned pieces of flash paper, which he said “symbolized their refusal to pay or how quickly this debt could be erased if Biden were to simply take action.”
The Debt Collective’s mission is to mobilize members of the debtor’s union to push Biden to cancel student debt altogether through an executive order.
In addition to the April 4 rally, Brewington said The Debt Collective has been taking action by running a campaign on student debt, signing petitions and talking to members of congress. He said the organization has also threatened the Department of Education with a student debt strike to encourage political action.
“Every single month there is a pause, borrowers are able to save $5 billion. That is $5 billion Americans can keep in their pockets to pay for a house, pay for rent, put food on the table, gas,” Brewington said. “And so every month that interests and payments are paused is a good thing, however we can go even further and cancel student debt.”
The Lehigh Student Political Action Coalition is aiming to inform students on political issues and take action on campus regarding political issues and decisions.
Brian Lucas, ‘22, president of the Student Political Action Coalition, said the club’s mission is to get students to reclaim their civil agency and understand that they have the ability to carry out social and political change.
“Student debt is just one little tiny piece in this much bigger puzzle of how problematic debt is as a concept,” Lucas said.
Lucas said he and many other Lehigh students are looking to bring awareness and political and social change to the student debt initiative on campus.