City University of New York announced this week that it is using federal coronavirus relief funds to wipe out up to $125 million in debt and unpaid fees for more than 50,000 students who were enrolled during the pandemic.
Any eligible student at one of CUNY's 25 campuses who was enrolled from March of last year through the Spring 2021 semester will have any unpaid debts during that time forgiven under the "CUNY Comeback Program," which was approved by the school system's Board of Trustees on July 6.
"Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients, other DREAMers, and similar undocumented students" are also eligible to receive the federal taxpayer funds, the school said.
"I view this initiative as more than just good policy; it also affirms the recognition that challenges still exist for many New Yorkers, and it helps to fulfill the moral imperative that is implicit in CUNY’s historic mandate to provide access to a quality education for all New Yorkers, regardless of background or means," CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez said this week.
Enrollment at CUNY fell 5.1% last year as classes went fully remote and students navigated the pandemic.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has caused hardships in the lives of so many New Yorkers, and our students were among those most impacted," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. "This landmark new program eliminates millions of dollars in unpaid debt, providing much-needed relief to tens of thousands of CUNY students as they work to get back on their feet after the pandemic and plan for their futures."
Students who paid off all their tuition and fees during the pandemic are eligible for a $200 grant.
The federal government paused student loan payments at the beginning of the pandemic, but that policy is set to end at the end of September.
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and other top Democrats are pushing President Biden to extend that pause, as well as take executive action to cancel some of the $1.74 trillion in student debt spread out across millions of borrowers nationwide.
"These people live with a sword hanging over their heads, and every day that goes by, that sword draws a little closer," Sen. Warren said this week. "The President of the United States can remove this sword. The President can prevent this pain. The President can cancel $50,000 in student loan debt. He can wipe out all debt for about 36 million Americans."