What You Need To Know About President Biden's Student Loan Forgiveness Plan
Keisha Lance Bottoms, senior advisor to the president for public engagement, joined Blavity to answer questions about the newly announced plan.
August 25, 2022 at 5:04 pm
President Joe Biden has announced a student loan forgiveness plan that will cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt per borrower for those with Pell Grants and up to $10,000 per borrower for non-Pell Grant loan holders, who earn less than $125,000 annually, as Blavity previously reported.
While several people celebrated Biden’s plan, including politicians who lauded him for honoring one of his campaign promises, the minimal information provided at the time of the announcement has left student loan borrowers with questions about how the forgiveness plan will impact them. Keisha Lance Bottoms, senior advisor to the president for public engagement, joined Blavity to answer these questions.
Student loan forgiveness is not automatic
Borrowers who qualify will have to apply for student loan forgiveness.
“It will not be automatic — you will have to fill out some information to get that relief,” Bottoms told Blavity. “If you go to the Department of Education‘s website, you will see a link that will give you more information and you will have to go in and apply.”
While you will need to apply for the program, Bottoms said there are no strings attached.
“This is student debt cancellation, so this won’t be deferred debt,” she said. “This will not cause people tax issues. I’ve not seen that anyway, and I don’t anticipate that there will be any tax issues. This will be student debt cancellation as ordered by President Biden. And for many people, this will completely erase all of their debt, which is a game changer for many people across this country.”
The Black community will especially see relief
Student loan debt disproportionately affects Black borrowers. According to Investopedia, Black Americans borrowed the largest sum of federal student loans in 2019.
“We know that the vast majority of Pell Grant recipients are in communities of color,” Bottoms said. “And that will be $20,000 in relief for Pell Grant recipients; $10,000 if you’re not Pell Grant eligible. We know that a significant number will be communities of color because we know that often communities of color are saddled a bit more with debt in trying to pursue a college education.”
Current college students are also eligible to apply for student debt cancellation.
“So 43 million people, if everyone applies for the cancellation, will receive relief from their student loans,” Bottoms said.
Understanding PSLF, FFELP and Pell Grants
There are different types of federal student loans and in the past, they have not all qualified for government forgiveness programs. Generally, FFELP loans, which are federal student loans funded by private companies, have not been supported.
Bottoms said that anyone with student loans should visit the Dept. of Education’s website to receive information on qualifying loans.
“Also there is additional relief that many people may not be aware of — if you are a public service employee, there may be some relief,” she said. “The president has already announced relief for many people who have received loans from for-profit colleges. And so there’s a lot of information on the Department of Education’s website, and I encourage people to go there and see what they need to do to get this relief.”
Some Pell Grant borrowers may have consolidated into PSLF loans to qualify for other government programs, so it can be confusing to understand how much debt cancellation they are eligible for.
“If you received a Pell Grant, you are eligible for the $20,000 in relief,” Bottoms said.
Relief is being offered in the best way available
Throughout the conversation about student loan debt cancellation, borrowers have urged the federal government to do something about the high-interest rates on student loans. Biden’s announcement did not address this.
“The president has taken a look at what he could do holistically,” Bottoms said. “He’s worked with the economic advisors, the domestic policy advisors. He’s heard from people across the country, especially students and leaders at HBCUs. And he wanted to make sure that the relief that was offered was relief that could be sustained by the country. He looked at a number of options and this was the option that he felt was best suited for where we are and what he’s heard from people across this country in terms of the relief that’s needed.”
With student loan interest rates as high as 7.25%, there are borrowers concerned that their debt cancellation may get eaten up by interest alone. Bottoms said that Biden has plans for stipulations on income-based repayment plans and reduced monthly payment amounts.
“I know for some people they wanted so much more in debt relief, but this is certainly more relief than many people had yesterday,” she said. “And $10,000. If your outstanding loans are $50,000, or in my case, they were $31,000, $10,000, or possibly $20,000 makes a significant difference.”
Student loan payments will remain paused one final time, until Dec. 31
The continuously extending pause on student loan payments will be upheld one last time, ending on Dec. 31.
Bottoms said that the Biden Administration has a strong understanding of the economic impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on Americans.
“We know that we’re still in the middle of a pandemic,” she said, telling Blavity that she just got over a 10-day bout of COVID-19.
“So we know that many people are still struggling across this country. The president’s very keenly aware that people are still in need of relief, that people are still trying to get back on their feet.”
While she noted that the announcement is set to be the final pause, the advance notice was meant to give people a chance to prepare for resuming payments.
“And this is as we’re all transitioning to what is now normal, living in the midst of this pandemic. So again, the president’s been very thoughtful.”
There could be more college-related relief on the way
Biden has been working on education-related items throughout his presidency, Bottoms said.
“The president continues to call for free community college tuition that hasn’t happened yet, but it is certainly something that he wants to see happen. And he hopes to get the support of Congress on that,” she said. “He’s also leaning in very strongly with college and university presidents across the country and making sure that they are being thoughtful about what they’re charging for tuition.”
She pointed to the president’s HBCU advisory council, from which he receives feedback and information pertinent to the decisions he hopes to make regarding college tuition and fees.
“We know that the president has sent a historic amount of money to HBCUs across the country, and he’s going to continue to do everything that he can to just ease the burden of families and students.”
Some borrowers expected such an announcement earlier in the Biden presidency, but Bottoms said these things take time.
“There were a lot of people who wanted the president to make a student loan announcement immediately when he came into office, but he’s been very deliberate, very thoughtful in gathering information and making sure that he could do right by people across this country. And he’s done right by 43 million people in this country today.”
While Bottoms said that Biden will continue to look for opportunities to make necessary changes and plans for college-related financial items, she remarked on how significant debt forgiveness is.
“This will make a significant difference in the lives of people, but this will not be the end,” she said. “The president will continue to do everything that he can to make sure that a college education is attainable and affordable for everybody in this country. But I would venture to say that if not another cent is forgiven, this is a significant difference and it will make a dent in the lives of budgets across this country. Because again, for many people, this means complete student loan debt cancellation.”