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September 29, 2021

Student Debt Week of Action

Grassroots Advocacy Campaign Attracted Thousands

On September 20-24, the Governmental Affairs Office and the ABA Day Planning Committee hosted the ABA’s second all-virtual lobbying event of the year.

On September 20-24, the Governmental Affairs Office and the ABA Day Planning Committee hosted the ABA’s second all-virtual lobbying event of the year.

On September 20-24, the Governmental Affairs Office and the ABA Day Planning Committee hosted the ABA’s second all-virtual lobbying event of the year: the Student Debt Week of Action. Student loan debt relief is not only an issue of paramount importance to so many of our members, it also is a timely issue ripe for nationwide grassroots advocacy.

Students pursuing professional degrees experience the highest level of debt. According to a 2020 survey conducted by the ABA Young Lawyers Division, the average debt for law school graduates has risen to more than $150,000. This is a staggering debt that affects their daily lives in both personal and professional ways, and ultimately adversely impacts our economy.

While the ABA has actively lobbied for years to reduce the impact of law school debt, the pandemic has brought this issue into stark reality, and both the Administration and Congress are wrestling with finding solutions and taking concrete steps right now to mitigate the problem before the moratorium on repayment of student loans and collection of debts in arrears expires on January 31, 2022.

The Student Debt Week of Action was purposely timed to take advantage of this momentum.  Not only were the voices of the legal community heard in the halls of Congress during the week, but we magnified our effectiveness by partnering with other professional organizations whose members also are laboring under the burden of crushing student debt. These included the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Coalition (with over 90 member organizations) and organizations such as the American Psychological Association (APA), the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

Each day of the virtual week of action featured short programs that explored different aspects of the problem, punctuated by calls-to-action that provided participants with the opportunity to communicate directly with their Members of Congress using the ABA’s Congressional Messaging Portal. Participants were also encouraged to utilize social media, including Twitter, using the hashtag #debt4giveness to further amplify their message.

During the week, participants heard from five Members of Congress who are working diligently on the issue. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) both explained their call for President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt per borrower, emphasizing that the impact of such relief would be seismic, especially in light of the economic uncertainty wrought by the pandemic. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) discussed their bill, S. 2598, the Fresh Start Through Bankruptcy Act, which gives student borrowers the ability to seek relief in bankruptcy after a reasonable period. They explained that this bill would apply the same standards to student borrowers that others seeking relief face and would offer a path to recovery for millions of student loan debtors who are in dire financial straits. Representative David Joyce (R-OH), co-chair of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Caucus described the need to strengthen and expand the PSLF program. The ABA supports some level of student loan debt forgiveness, suspension of student loan obligations, improvements to the PSLF program, and passage of S. 2598.

Another major highlight of the program was the release of the ABA Young Lawyers Division 2021 Student Loan Survey. Using last year’s findings as a starting point, the new survey  examined the holistic impact of student debt on young lawyers. Representatives of the NAR, the APA, and the Brookings Institution, likewise, presented new data on the impact of student debt on the economy, borrower’s mental health, and the status of the PSLF program, respectively. 

The entire Student Debt Week of Action video program is available for online viewing  here.

Our Student Debt Week of Action was a tremendous success, both in terms of the number of  people who participated and in the amount grassroots communications generated. Here are a few highlights of the data collected to date:

  • Our video programing was accessed by viewers 1650 times over the course of the week.
  • Participants from 46 states used our online digital tools to engage the Hill.
  • Over 1,600 digital letters were sent to Members of Congress.
  • The week of action generated 22,037 tweets among 6,845 unique users.

While the Student Week of Action is over, our advocacy must continue. We invite you to join us as we continue to lobby and keep our government focused on finding lasting solutions to the student loan debt crisis. Our student debt toolkit, which includes resources you can use to learn more about the debt crisis and advocate on the issue, is available here. If you would like to send letters directly to Congress or advocate through social media, please visit us here. It is your local voices that have the power to make your Members of Congress, stop, listen, and take action.