Americans across the country are sharing their mixed reactions to President Joe Biden’s decision to forgive up to $20,000 in student loan debt for millions of borrowers.
Biden announced Wednesday that borrowers who hold loans with the Department of Education and make less than $125,000 annually are eligible for up to $20,000 in student loan forgiveness if they received Pell Grants, which are given to students from low- and middle-income families. Individuals who make less than $125,000 a year but did not receive Pell Grants are eligible for $10,000 in loan forgiveness.
The reduction of student debt is being paired with a plan to lift the freeze on federal student debt payments, beginning in January 2023.
Biden said that the administration’s “targeted actions are for families that need it the most: working and middle class people hit especially hard during the pandemic making under $125,000 a year.” He emphasized that “about 90% of the eligible beneficiaries make under $75,000.”
But the nation is divided over Biden’s decision, flooding social media channels with praise or criticism. Many view the executive order as a gamechanger for millions of Americans drowning in debt, while others say it’s unfair to those who made sacrifices and worked hard to pay off their college debt.
Here is what some Americans have to say about Biden’s plan.
Pamela Bone is a 59-year-old resident of Atlanta, Georgia. Her youngest daughter has cerebral palsy, which inspired her to become a teacher for middle school students who have moderate intellectual disabilities.
Bone said she and her family moved from Seattle after her daughter was born and briefly stayed home to be there for her through several surgeries and doctor’s appointments. She also volunteered at her daughter’s school and said she was “amazed at all of the time, care, attention and love that was given by her teachers,” which propelled her to go back to school to earn her master’s degree and her specialist degree.
“I wanted to give back to students what my daughter had received from loving individuals and just knew that this is what my true calling in life would be,” Bone said. “Needless to say that the cost to get the necessary credentials was at a high cost but also needed as I was now divorced and needing to care for myself and my daughter.”
Even though teachers are underpaid, Bone said, her profession is “near and dear” to her heart.
“The cancellation of this debt means that I can put more aside for my daughter’s future, to ensure a life that is comfortable and meaningful for us both and something that I am truly thankful to receive,” she said.
Jo Ann Hardy
Jo Ann Hardy, a 66-year-old from Detroit, Michigan, says her family is middle-class African American. She and her husband, Jerry, paid for her daughter to earn her master’s degree in 2004. The three of them made sacrifices and worked hard to pay for her daughter to attend college with the help of a few academic scholarships, she says.
“We made it! No loans! Although we did not require loan support, we are delighted that President Biden has announced a plan to help provide some relief for students who had to take loans,” Hardy said. “We are smart enough and compassionate enough to know that not all students and families can pull this off without help!”
The Hardys are in full support of the effort to relieve some of the student loan debt for borrowers. They said they have known students and families over the years who have “given it their all and continue to make significant contributions as professionals in our communities and across the US.”
“For those who could do so without student loans — BRAVO! For those who needed the loan help — BRAVO!” Hardy said.
Bryan Lonsberry, 34, resides in Scottsburg, Indiana.
Lonsberry says he and his wife both had jobs throughout their time in college and made sacrifices early after college to pay back their loans.
“Now this forgiving loans is a slap in the face to us. We done the right thing and we fulfilled our obligation that we signed up for,” he said. “This policy, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on, sends the wrong message. This time it’s 10k but then next time people always want more. It’s not sustainable.”
Lonsberry says he supports getting a higher education but believes that each person is responsible for their own payments.
“At the end of day, no one seems to want to take responsibility for their actions. People need to step up and be responsible for themselves and their decisions, but it seems now everyone just wants a handout,” he said.
Elijah Watkins, 28, is from Atlanta, Georgia.
Watkins says Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan means that he can move out of his mother’s house. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Watkins says he has lived in a challenging environment that forced him to choose between paying for rent or paying off student loans. He chose the latter.
“This means that I can begin taking greater steps within my adulthood for larger purchases like buying my first home, getting a new car, or investing back into my own business,” Watkins said.
“Outside of Obamacare, this is the first time a President has directly influenced my day-to-day decision making that makes me proud to be a citizen of the United States of America,” he said.
Brian Garten is a 30-year-old resident of Jacksonville, Florida.
Garten was a borrower from Pell Grants, as well as a few small scholarships, and worked multiple jobs through college. He had to take out $26,000 in student loans in addition to his federal student loans, he says, and signed up for the income-based repayment plan, never missing a payment for seven years.
Garten still has $21,000 in loans to pay off, which he says would have taken him at least 20 years.
“It has so far prevented me from significant life milestones,” he said. “I couldn’t even entertain the idea of saving up money for a down payment on a house, and there’s no way I could afford to start a family.”
Garten says his student loans affect every aspect of his life and Biden’s forgiveness plan “will change everything for me.”
He expects to receive the full $20,000 in forgiveness and pay off the remaining balance to be completely free of college loan debt.
“I plan on buying a new car, with warranties, and a guarantee of reliability for the foreseeable future,” he said. “It will be my largest ever purchase and something I consider to be a significant investment in my future. This student loan forgiveness gives me hope to move forward in my life where I had none before.”
John Visser, 56, lives in Dallas, Texas.
Visser, who describes himself as a progressive Democrat, is against Biden’s decision. He said he doesn’t agree with “handouts for people with financial difficulties.”
“If they couldn’t repay it, why did they borrow it in the first place?” he said.
Visser said his spouse passed away 12 years ago, leaving him with a single income household and bills that he could not afford by himself.
“I made some tough choices, put myself on a strict budget and paid down the debt as fast as possible. Why shouldn’t a similar plan be the same for student loan borrowers? If they went to college, they should be able to manage their finances,” he said.
Visser joined the United States Army in the late 1980s to earn the Army College Fund, an enlistment incentive option, and GI Bill benefits that help with school or training costs for qualifying veterans. The benefits he earned helped pay for his college while working full-time, Visser says.
“Seems rather unequitable to now have part of my taxes go to pay for those who took an easier route to their degrees with no contribution back to society,” he said.
Rachel Clark, 31, resides in Atlanta, Georgia.
Clark was the first person in her family to earn a four-year degree at a university. She was raised in and out of poverty, and the idea of moving away to college was daunting. Her mother wasn’t informed about the financial aid process and the idea of her eldest daughter moving away from home “terrified her,” Clark said.
Clark completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to discover that she had an expected family contribution of zero, she says.
During her first year of college, Clark took out both subsidized and unsubsidized loans to pay for the remainder of her tuition and university fees, such as books, supplies and housing costs. She worked a full-time job during her college career to support herself, but at times that caused her grades to suffer. Clark says it was a miracle that she was able to graduate with a 3.4 GPA.
“I entered into the field of early childhood education almost immediately and found that my hopeful aspirations of my future career were just as dismal as my ideas of college were,” she said.
Clark has earned roughly $20 per hour as an educator for nearly a decade and she has been paying off her loans in payments less than $100 month as part of her income-driven repayment plan.
“One time, I did the math — it is highly likely that I would DIE before paying off my student loans. With the burden of student loans off of my shoulders, I can finally breathe,” she said.
Clark added that she feels “so free knowing that student debt is one less weight I’ll have to continue to drown underneath.”