JOE Biden has paused federal student loan payments until May 1, 2022, as Omicron Covid outbreak continues to spread across the US.
Under the actions, interest rates will stay at zero percent, and debt collection efforts will also be suspended.
President Biden said financial recovery from the pandemic would take longer than job recovery, especially for those with student loans.
“We know that millions of student loan borrowers are still coping with the impacts of the pandemic and need some more time before resuming payments,” he said in a statement.
The student loan pause was scheduled to end on January 31, with payments expected to restart the following day.
The moratorium has been in place since early in the pandemic.
Both President Biden and former President Donald Trump took action to extend the pause.
The Trump administration initially suspended federal student loan payments in March 2020 and later extended it through January 2021.
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Biden has now moved to continue the pause twice, most recently, from September 30, 2021, to January 31, 2022.
The reversal comes less than two weeks after White House press secretary Jen Psaki indicated that the administration was planning to restart federal student loan payments, resisting pressure from some fellow Democrats calling for an extension of Covid relief benefits.
"The President has not made a decision yet," Psaki said on Tuesday when asked if extending the student loan relief was on the table.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said that the extension will allow for repayment plans responsive to the financial needs of the students, including an income-driven repayment plan.
Cardona said the continued pause “will provide critical relief to borrowers who continue to face financial hardships as a result of the pandemic, and will allow our administration to assess the impacts of omicron on student borrowers."
The move applies to more than 36million Americans who have student loans held by the federal government.
According to the latest Education Department data, the collective debt totals more than $1.8trillion.
The Omicron Covid variant has swept through the US, quickly becoming the most dominant strain in the nation.
As the US continues to see an uptick in Covid cases across the country, Biden announced the addition of 10,000 Covid testing sites on top of the 80,000 already up and running.
The new sites will be established in regions hardest hit by the latest wave with the Defense Production Act used to manufacture more tests.
The president also announced that his administration will purchase half a billion at-home rapid Covid tests for Americans.
The at-home tests will be available to order for free through a website, but as of now, the timing and further details on how the tests will be delivered are unclear.
Biden slammed claims that the lack of at-home testing in areas of the country already struggling to battle the spread of Omicron, saying nobody could have anticipated how fast the new variant would spread.
"No, it's not, because COVID is spreading so rapidly, you notice it just happened almost overnight, just in the last month," Biden said.
"So no, it's not a failure. The alarm bell went off. I don't think anybody anticipated that this was going to be as rapidly spreading as it did."
Pop-up vaccinations sites are set to be established as Biden pushed again for unvaccinated Americans to get a shot.
Expert studies have shown that the risk of severe illness from Covid-19 is reduced by 90 percent or more among people who are fully vaccinated.
While there are breakthrough cases of Covid among people who are vaccinated, they are rare.
In the event of a breakthrough case, victims are highly unlikely to be hospitalized with severe or deadly symptoms from the virus.
Health officials have advised that the Omicron variant is more infectious and could lead to further breakthrough cases.
Yet the spread can be offset by all vaccinated Americans receiving a booster shot.
Current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant.
With other variants, like Delta, vaccines have remained effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and death.
Studies have also shown that side effects from the vaccine are extremely rare.
Source: Centers for Disease Control.
DEMOCRATS URGED BIDEN
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Elizabeth Warren urged Biden to extend the suspension through at least March 2022.
"The pause on federal student loan payments, interest, and collections has improved borrowers' economic security, allowing them to invest in their families, save for emergencies, and pay down other debt," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Biden earlier this month.
Schumer, Warren and Representative Ayanna Pressley are also continuing to urge Biden to take further action and cancel up to $50,000 of student loan debt per borrower.
Biden said during his presidential campaign that he would support canceling $10,000 per borrower but has not taken action to do so.
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