President Joe Biden announced he’d forgive up to $20,000 for qualifying student loan borrowers for ones who earn less than $125,000 a year. It’s projected that up to 43 million borrowers could receive debt relief, and has sparked a nationwide debate about fairness and adequate compensation. 

During the presidential campaign, Biden promised to implement student debt relief. For a long time, the continued deferments of payments seemed to be as close as he’d get to keeping his promise following the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have rejoiced that the President has finally delivered, while others are irritated about not qualifying or that they have already paid off their loans. 

The student loan forgiveness program promises up to $20,000 in forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 for other borrowers. People earning less than $125,000 a year are eligible. They are proposing a cap on monthly payments for undergraduate loans at 5% of their income. Additionally, borrowers who are employed by nonprofits, the military, or government may be eligible for relief through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program for a limited time. The deferment of student loans is extended one last time through December 31, 2022 while the forgiveness program gets up and running. 

“A post-high school education should be a ticket to the middle-class, but over the years, we have witnessed the cost of college skyrocket to exorbitant amounts preventing far too many borrowers from being able to purchase a home, start a business, or save for retirement,”  said US Rep. Adriano Espaillat in a statement. 

Chair of the Biden Administration’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and President of Delaware State University Dr. Tony Allen, said that many of his students come from lower resourced communities, they’re first generation college students, and they have higher debt than the average student. The Associated Press (AP) reported that Blacks with student loans have an average of $40,000 in debt compared to white counterparts. 

Allen calculates that for the last decade of HBCU graduates about 1.1 million alum will get some sort of forgiveness money, adding up to about $15 billion in aid. He said the historic program, despite any challenges that may arise, is critical because it’s a “significant beginning.” He expects that administrators that lead colleges or universities and lenders will have to “take a hard look” at the affordability of tuition in the future.

Allen’s excited for his current students and incoming freshmen with loans who are eligible. The program states that loans must have started prior to July 1, 2022. “What the President has done is not just give immediate relief, he’s put some action behind what’s been a lot of words from a lot of people for a long time,” said Allen. 

However, central questions of ‘why not more’ or ‘why should they get their loans forgiven’ have circulated since the announcement. The White House said Biden is focused on “growing our economy from the bottom up and the middle out” and that “some students in that situation were able to pay off their debt is a testament to them, but it is no reason to deny relief to others.”

Allen said that the “equitable” program crosses race, gender, ethnicity, partisan, and class lines. He said at the end of the day, regardless of what people look like, millions will benefit from the program.

“The President believes strongly in imposing accountability on college raising costs without delivering additional value to students,” said the White House. The administration said that the relaunching of regular student loan payments with the debt relief program will “offset the cost” in the short term. But, they won’t have an estimate of the real cost until the program starts.

Many in impacted communities aren’t satisfied with the amount, though.

“While we acknowledge and welcome the sorely-needed relief that many need, we know that the Biden administration can go further by canceling student debt entirely. So many people need and deserve that relief,” said Dr. Amara Enyia, policy and research coordinator for the Movement for Black Lives in a statement.

Enyia said that Black students are often forced to borrow at higher rates and hold disproportionate debt which reinforces the racial wealth gap. The organization is advocating for plain canceling all student debt to boost the economy.

National Action Network (NAN) Senior Vice President of Policy & Strategic Partnerships Ebonie Riley said that the decision to forgive some student debt is “historic” but there’s still more work to do. Riley suggested canceling $50,000 of student loans and closing the income gap since Black households carry more student debt regardless of their incomes after graduation. “Approximately one in four Black Americans have negative net worth — meaning their total debt exceeds their total assets,” said Riley. “The $125,000 income cap will leave a large amount of the population behind, especially in an era of high inflation. A Black doctor or attorney who earns above the cap could very well have six-figure student debt.” 

Meanwhile, Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris is pushing a new law that would exempt student loan forgiveness from state income taxes. Right now, student loan forgiveness is taxed in 13 states, including New York. Student loans can’t be federally taxed as income because of  the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), but this bill would bring that protection to the state level.

“Relieving student debt is critical for so many across New York. It should not turn into a cash grab by the state,” said Gianaris in a statement. “This is an important step in making it easier to access the higher education and career training New Yorkers need and deserve.” 

An application will be available in early October. Once completed, people can expect relief within 4-6 weeks if eligible. Individuals can apply until October 31 for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) waiver and up until November 15 for the student loan forgiveness program. 

Go to studentaid.gov to sign up to be notified automatically when student loan forgiveness information is available. Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here: bit.ly/amnews1

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