José López Zamorano | La Red Hispana 
Photo Credit: La Red Hispana

There are only 90 days left in the countdown to an economic crisis for millions of Americans, including many Latino households.

The federal moratorium from which 43 million students with federal school debts benefit expires on May 1, as part of an extension approved by the Biden administration to address the economic emergency caused by the COVID pandemic.

The initial moratorium was approved in March 2020 by the Trump administration, which allowed thousands of beneficiaries to halt payments on either the principal or the interest on their debts, but starting in April they will begin to receive payment invoices. In all cases, the moratorium did not apply to students with private debts.

In the face of this emergency, lawmakers in the House and Senate are calling on President Biden to pay off up to $50,000 in student loan debt before the moratorium ends and to release a memorandum from the education department that purportedly outlines the authority of the government to cancel those student debts.

“Student loan debt has perpetuated inequalities that continue to hold communities of color back and have been made worse by the pandemic. The good news is that President Biden can take action now through the Higher Education Act of 1965 and transform the lives of millions of Americans,” Senator Bob Menendez said during a recent meeting with community and student leaders.

Certainly, the United States has one of the highest costs of higher education in the industrialized world, as statistics from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show. Student debt is a direct consequence of the rising cost of a college education in the country, where the bill for a four-year private college has doubled since 1990.

A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis finds that the rising cost of higher education has caused a perfect storm: More low- and middle-income families – especially those from ethnic minorities – are choosing not to attend college or choose lower-quality universities in the face of rising costs. “This contributes to a lower average quality of student bodies, as high-quality students from low-income families choose not to attend.”

President Biden offered on the campaign trail to cancel up to $10,000 of student debt, but last January he ignored a question about it. In any case, the president has opposed canceling the debt of those debtors who attended elite universities, such as Harvard or Yale.

The reality is that, regardless of the decision adopted by the president, the current higher education system has created generations of student debtors who mortgage their future due to the lack of a rational system to create equity in access to universities. This patient requires major surgery, not just aspirin.