Joe Biden May Extend Student Loan Repayment Pause After Widespread Anger

President Joe Biden's administration could extend the pause on student loan repayments beyond the end of January 2022, following significant backlash in recent days.

The administration had planned to restart repayment requirements for federal student loans and federally-held student loans from February 1, but there has been widespread anger about the plan and criticism from some Democrats.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education indicated in a statement on Tuesday the department was considering extending the interest-free payment pause, with a decision possible as early as this week.

"Since day one of the Biden administration, we've been hard at work delivering meaningful relief to student loan borrowers," the statement said.

"That started with an extension of the pause on federal student loan repayment until January 31, 2022. To date, the pause has saved 41 million borrowers tens of billions of dollars," the spokesperson added.

When asked about extending the repayment pause at a press briefing on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: "The president has not made a decision yet."

If the Biden administration decides to extend the pause, the decision may be seen as yet another U-turn. The White House recently announced that the federal government will provide free at-home COVID-19 tests to Americans who want them, in a reversal of its previous position.

The repayment pause was first put into place in September 2020 under the terms of the CARES Act in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was extended by former President Donald Trump and then again by Biden.

Biden is also facing criticism for his failure thus far to implement a campaign promise to cancel $10,000 of student debt per borrower. While Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), have argued he can cancel that debt through executive action, the president has expressed doubts that he has that power.

The Department of Education was tasked in April with preparing a memo on Biden's power to cancel student debt but no such memo has yet been made public. Psaki indicated last week that the matter was still being studied.

Politicoreported on December 18 that student debt activists had had a tense meeting with administration officials but had failed to convince them to extend the repayment pause.

Earlier this month, Schumer, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Democratic Representative Ayanna Pressley called for the repayment pause to be extended until the U.S. reached pre-pandemic levels of employment.

They warned in a letter to Biden that ending the repayment pause "could create an unnecessary drag on the economic recovery" and cause "unnecessary pain and stress for American families."

The White House is facing pressure from Democrats and student debt activists as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 surges in the U.S. and the administration moves to tackle the spread.

The Omicron variant could have negative consequences on the economy, potentially bolstering the case for extending the pause. The administration could announce a decision in the coming days.

Joe Biden Addresses Graduates in South Carolina
US President Joe Biden addresses graduates of South Carolina State University during their commencement ceremony on December 17, 2021, in Orangeburg, South Carolina. The Biden administration may further extend a pause on student debt repayments beyond February 1. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images