Where the American dream was to own a house with a white picket fence, now he is in debt. For many, the humble aspiration of owing zero dollars seems out of reach. Over the course of his long career, Mr. Biden has contributed to this crisis by working to strengthen the hands of creditors, including through a 2005 bankruptcy reform bill that struck down borrower protections.
Now is the time to make amends. If the Biden administration is serious about “building back better,” it must take bold action. This country cannot afford to let millions of struggling households sink when a mountain of old bills and unpaid rents suddenly fall due after payment breaks and moratoriums on evictions are over. The government can and must find ways to do away with the overwhelming debt.
Student loans, medical debts, utility bills, criminal fines and costs, and municipal debts all need to be written off or canceled. I have written elsewhere about some of the various legal means by which this can be accomplished, and many other potential strategies exist.
For starters, President Biden should honor his campaign pledge for Congress to “immediately” write off student borrower debt. There is no reason to hold back. Erasing every penny of federal student debt would improve nearly 45 million lives, help close the racial wealth gap, and probably to win more than a good number of Republican voters before the mid-terms. The Debt Collective, a membership organization for debtors that I helped found, has already wrote the decree the president could sign tomorrow to do so – no need to involve Congress or pass a law.
Then he should tackle the medical debt. Following the example of a proposal by Senator Bernie Sanders, Democrats could eliminate all medical debt collection, including charges incurred because of Covid. (At the very least, lawmakers should protect borrowers by ensuring that overdue hospital bills are not flagged on credit scores and that it is more difficult for collectors to sue patients.)
Finally, elected officials must also relieve tenants of the enormous burden they bear by writing off accumulated rent debt, preferably in a way that doesn’t just bail out, enrich and empower landlords. Passage of the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act introduced by Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar would be a good start.
These ideas are not outside the mainstream. More than 415 organizations, including the Minority Veterans of America, the National Young Farmers Coalition and the NAACP, have signed a letter calling on the Biden administration to use executive power to write off student debt. At the start of the pandemic, the Poor People’s Campaign, a racial and economic justice group, introduced the Jubilee Platform, and he recently worked with progressive congressional lawmakers on a “Third reconstruction resolutionWhich both highlight debt relief.