As one of his first actions in office, President Joe Biden extended the pause on student-loan payments through September to give borrowers financial relief during the pandemic. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona on Wednesday hinted at the possibility of extending the pause even further.
“We are continuing conversations about if that’s the best time,” Cardona told the Senate Appropriations Committee. “No announcements today, but we continue to have those conversations.”
Cardona testified before the Senate committee on Wednesday morning regarding the education components in Biden’s budget proposal, during which he acknowledged the relief that borrowers have received under the student loan payment pause during the pandemic. New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said that payments restarting in October is “a huge concern for borrowers” and stressed the need to provide certainty for them regarding whether the pause will be extended.
The conversations Cardona mentioned have been ongoing since at least May. At an Education Writers Association conference last month, he said extending the payment pause is “not out of the question.”
“Obviously, we’re going to always take the lead from what the data is telling us and where we are as a country with regards to the recovery of the pandemic,” Cardona said. “It’s not out of the question, but at this point it’s September 30.”
He added that with the repayment process, the department would have to work with borrowers “to make sure that we ramp up the communication and the clarity so that it’s smooth as possible.”
“We know that that’s something we’re going to be focusing on as it gets closer,” he said.
Insider recently reported that the Education Department is planning to improve experiences for student-loan borrowers, but it’s currently unclear what such improvements would entail. An Education Department spokesperson told Insider there is not yet a timeline for when improvements will be implemented.
“We recognize for many families that the recovery from this pandemic will come around the same time,” Cardona said during the hearing. “Students are going to be returning to schools, mortgages will have to start being paid, loans will have to start getting paid, so we want to make sure we are sensitive to the needs of the borrowers and aware of the other challenges that they have. We’re going to continue to do as much as we can with our authorities.”
Although a federal minimum wage increase to $15 an hour didn’t make it into the stimulus bill, Senate Democrats are meeting today to find a way to get it done somehow, a Democratic source told HuffPost.
According to the source, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will meet with the progressive senators who led the push for the $15 minimum wage increase, including Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Patty Murray of Washington, and Ron Wyden of Oregon. But the meeting will also include all seven moderate Democrats who voted against the $15 minimum wage hike: Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Chris Coons of Delaware, Tom Carper of Delaware, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, and Jon Tester of Montana.
When the Senate parliamentarian voted against including a minimum wage increase in the stimulus bill, Sanders – who co-sponsored a bill to raise the wage to $15 an hour by 2025 – promised he wouldn’t give up on efforts to get the job done.
“But let me be very clear: If we fail in this legislation, I will be back,” Sanders told reporters on March 1. “We’re going to keep going and, if it takes 10 votes, we’re going to raise that minimum wage very shortly.”
And in a call with reporters on Friday, progressive lawmakers, including Rep. Ro Khanna of California, joined labor leaders and activists to strategize how they could pass a minimum wage increase through Congress, whether by reconciliation or attaching it to a must-pass bill.
“There needs to be a clear plan, a clear strategy,” Khanna told The Washington Post in an interview. “It’s not enough to just say, well, we’re committed to this, we want to get it done.”
Manchin has previously said that a $15 minimum wage increase is too high and advocated for an $11 per hour increase instead. However, Sanders has remained adamant on achieving a $15 per hour increase to lift Americans out of poverty.
“In my mind, the great economic crisis that we face today is half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck,” Sanders said on Twitter on March 5. “And many millions of workers are, frankly, working for starvation wages. Raising the minimum wage is what the American people want, and it’s what we have got to do.”
Eight Senate Democrats broke from the majority and voted on Friday against the $15 minimum wage hike proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The vote scrapped Sanders’ push for the provision to be added back into the stimulus package being negotiated in Congress, after Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that it should be nixed.
MacDonough ruled that the minimum wage increase violates the “Byrd Rule,” which prohibits “extraneous” policies as part of a reconciliation bill or resolution.
“It is hard for me to understand how drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was compliant with the Byrd rule, but raising the minimum wage is not,” Sanders said.
President Joe Biden has also expressed support for gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The bill was abandoned in the Senate after eight Democrats voted against the proposal:
Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia
Manchin, a moderate Democrat who holds Byrd’s former Senate seat, had previously expressed disapproval of the minimum wage hike, standing with the Senate parliamentarian MacDonough.
“My only vote is to protect the Byrd Rule: Hell or high water,” the senator told CNN in February. “Everybody knows that. I’m fighting to defend the Byrd Rule. The President knows that.”
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona
Sinema, another key moderate who had previously thrown cold water on the minimum wage hike, also voted against the proposal on Friday. To represent her “nay” vote, the Arizona senator dramatically voted with a “thumbs-down” to the Senate clerk, sparking backlash from progressive senators.
Despite her “thumbs-down” vote, Sinema said in a statement that she would be open to renegotiating a minimum wage increase “separate” from the relief package.
“Senators in both parties have shown support for raising the federal minimum wage, and the Senate should hold an open debate and amendment process on raising the minimum wage, separate from the COVID-focused reconciliation bill,” Sinema said in a statement.
Sen. Jon Tester of Montana
Tester voted against the proposal on Friday. Manchin said he and Tester hoped the spending in the stimulus package as a whole would be better “targeted” and “helping the people that need help the most.”
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire
Shaheen’s office told Boston.com, the news site for the Boston Globe, in a statement that the senator from New Hampshire supports the minimum wage hike, but only with “safeguards” to protect small businesses and restaurants that have borne the economic brunt of the coronavirus pandemic to ensure they “don’t go under.”
“I also think we should work with some of those folks who are affected to help figure out how we can get them through an increase in the minimum wage,” Shaheen told WMUR9. “We have nursing homes in New Hampshire who are having difficulties employing people because of the wage scale.”
Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire
Another senator from New Hampshire, Hassan, rejected the minimum wage hike proposal. Like Shaheen, Hassan said she supports a separate bill to push the increase through Congress rather than bulking it with the stimulus package.
“Well so there’s isn’t going to be an increase in the minimum wage in this package,” Hassan said in an interview with WMUR9. “That being said, I think it’s really important that we all recognize that people who work 40 hours a week should be able to get by. They shouldn’t be living at or below the poverty level when they’re working hard.”
Sen. Angus King of Maine
King, an independent from Maine who typically caucuses with Democrats, also voted against Sanders’ proposal. He told The Wall Street Journal last week that, while he supports increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, he expressed concern that increase labor costs could prompt businesses to make lay off employees.
During the pandemic, “a lot of restaurants are just hanging on by the thread,” he said.
Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware
Two senators from Delaware, Sens. Carper and Coons, were surprising dissenters to the minimum wage hike, especially hailing from Biden’s home state where local Democrats have thrown their support behind such a policy.
Carper threw cold water on the proposal on Friday, citing a need to protect struggling businesses from the increased labor costs.
“I have backed a $15 minimum wage on the federal level for years,” Carper said in a statement to Delaware Online. “At a time when our economy is still slowly recovering, though, policymakers have a responsibility to be especially mindful of the fragile state of small businesses all across this country – many of which are fighting just to stay open during this unprecedented crisis.”
Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware
Like the other senators who dissented, Coons said he was concerned about how the minimum wage increase would impact small businesses.
“Every Democrat and many Republicans agree that the federal minimum wage of $7.25 is too low and has been for too long,” Coons said in a statement to Delaware Online. “It has to be raised. President Biden has called for us to raise it to $15 an hour. I will work with my colleagues on legislation to raise the minimum wage and index it annually.”