President Joe Biden is moving closer to a decision on forgiving up to $10,000 in student loan debt ahead of the midterm elections. Yet despite the president’s apparent commitment to acting on his campaign promise, activists have offered a chilly reception to the proposal. 

For weeks, the White House has indicated that Biden was nearing action on student loan forgiveness and it began to offer contours of a plan that could see up to $10,000 forgiven for eligible borrowers. But if there was hope this plan would assuage critics, it doesn’t appear to be having the desired effect. 

The administration has come under fire from activists and Democrats alike, who have demanded action be taken and criticized what they perceive as Biden dragging his feet on the issue. 

Derrick Johnson, the President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), criticized Biden’s proposal as insufficient to addressing the problem of massive student debt. He likened the idea of forgiving only $10,000 on student loans to “pouring ice water on a forest fire.” 

Johnson also zeroed in on the move’s insufficiency at helping Black borrowers, who he said bear a heavier student debt burden. He warned that without greater action, there is a risk that up to 37.5% of Black borrowers may end up defaulting on their loans compared to 12% of white borrowers.

"$10,000 in cancellation would be a slap in the face," Johnson said in a statement. "President Biden, it's not about whether you can do it; it's about whether or not you have the will to do it."

Angus Johnston, a historian of student activism at the City University of New York, also blasted Biden's debt cancellation plans, particularly its focus on means testing which he said could exclude many poorer borrowers from forgiveness.

"The truly ridiculous thing about Biden's means testing plan is that it creates a whole new bureaucratic nightmare for basically no benefit. The cap is set so high that only a tiny number of borrowers would be excluded," Johnston wrote on Twitter.

The Debt Collective, an activist group that pushes for student loan forgiveness, has labeled the plan "inadequate" for its scale and inclusion of means testing. It also warned that millions of Americans would be left out of the program in its current shape.

The White House has not yet released a final version of its student loan proposal, but some experts assert that $10,000 would be useful in easing the burden of debt payments after almost two years of deferment because of the pandemic.

“Student loan debt has been a huge burden for years," Rebecca Safier, a student loan expert at student-loan management site Student Loan Hero, told CNBC in January 2021. "So any kind of student loan forgiveness that could ease the burden would be helpful for student loan borrowers."

Despite his promise to take action on student loans as a candidate, Biden has been seemingly reluctant to push forward. Addressing arguments from his own party that he could unilaterally erase student debts through executive action, Biden has expressed doubts on his ability to do so and has put the onus on Congress to act. 

At the same time, Biden has been recalcitrant about wider debt forgiveness because he believes it would disproportionately benefit higher earners or students who attended elite universities.

“The idea that you go to Penn and you’re paying a total of 70,000 bucks a year and the public should pay for that? I don’t agree,” the president said in an interview with the New York Times.