Far too many veterans and families were already on the brink of financial crisis before the COVID-19 pandemic. As we've worked to aid our community over the last year through our Veterans Mutual Aid program, we've heard from so many who were pushed into total catastrophe. The least our federal government can offer is immediate, significant debt relief. Student loans have placed a tremendous burden on our community, and we join with a number of veterans organizations in urging President Biden to to cancel up to $50,000 in debt to keep veteran families stable in their homes and their lives.
New York City's veteran families have suffered greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March of last year, veteran families let us know about their needs in an online survey at the outset of the pandemic. Nearly 1 in 5 respondents told us they had an immediate need for help, citing loss of job or income, housing instability, food insecurity, and needs for other direct services. For so many, those immediate needs grew more acute as the months wore on.
The immense burdens caused by student debt have certainly stressed the NYC veterans community throughout the pandemic, and they continue to deepen the financial crisis for so many across NYC and our nation. Nationally, the financial burden created by student loan debt has increased to over 1.6 trillion dollars for the U.S. and continues to grow. Currently more than 200,000 service members are responsible for nearly $3 billion of that debt. The expanding burden of student loan debt threatens to limit access to higher education, particularly for low-income and minority families, who too often carry the heaviest debt burdens.
GI Bill educational benefits for veterans have limitations, and veterans often face circumstances requiring them to take out loans to cover additional expenses while pursuing a degree. Many veterans now have high-interest, private loans and other interest-incurring loans to repay. Veterans who are not granted a full percentage of the Post 9/11-GI Bill are left to pay the remaining balances in full, including National Guard and Reservists.
We join those calling on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student debt through executive action authority, utilizing the Higher Education Act, as previous presidents have successfully done. Our community needs relief now, and in amounts that will truly make a difference for those suffering with food instability, housing instability, and the profound and too often existential stress of overwhelming, insurmountable debt.
Our veterans and families need immediate, bold, and substantive action. Relieve student debt. This is just a start to allowing suffering families to breathe free again.