Black women, burdened by student debt, say Biden's student loan policy doesn't go far enough
Ameshia Cross, 35, spent the last two years of the coronavirus pandemic worrying about how she would pay off her nearly $90,000 in student loan debt once the federal student loan freeze ended.
Now she said she will have $20,000 less to repay starting in January after President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday a long-awaited plan to cancel federal student debt for a subset of Americans.
Cross qualifies for a $20,000 credit waiver under Biden's plan as a recipient of a Pell Grant -- scholarships reserved for students with the greatest financial need -- and someone earning less than $125,000 a year.
She said that while she is very grateful that some of her debt has been forgiven, she remains concerned about how she will pay off the rest of her loans when payments resume in January.
Cross -- who worked two jobs and looked after her three siblings while she was in college -- said the $20,000 being awarded is less than the interest she's accrued on her loans over the past decade.
"Money only goes so far and it's not like your raises or the money you get goes by the cost of living," said Cross, deputy director of communications for The Education Trust, a nonprofit focused on student equity. "Good morning America." "Hopefully we'll be somewhere else in January, but right now the cost of groceries, the cost of basic necessities is just really, really high and I think that makes it extremely difficult."
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As a black woman, Cross belongs to a demographic that will benefit most from Biden's student debt relief plan.
Black women bear a disproportionate burden of college debt. Overall, women hold nearly two-thirds of the nearly $2 trillion in outstanding student debt in the United States, and black women are the most likely to hold student loans of any gender, with about one in four black women holding student debt, according to data from the Census Bureau and the American Association of University Women.
According to the American Association of University Women, black women have graduate school with an average of nearly $38,000 in student debt, a number that's growing faster than other demographics over time, data shows. A little over a decade into college, black women average 13% more debt than they borrowed, according to The Education Trust, while white men have averaged 44% of their debt repayments.
"When I became a borrower, I wasn't thinking about repayment, I was thinking about graduation and then the economic mobility that was to come," said Brittani Williams, senior policy analyst for higher education at The Education Trust. "I figured I was going to graduate, get a job, and pay off those student loans, and the reality for me was, I graduated, got a job, and went back to school a few times."
PHOTO: Brittani Williams, mother of three, is Senior Policy Analyst for The Education Trust. (Brittany Williams)
Williams, a mother of three, said payments on the tens of thousands of dollars in loan debt she still owes are on hold as she pursues a PhD, which she is expected to complete in 2024.
Though she too qualifies for $20,000 in loan forgiveness under Biden's plan, Williams said she sees this as "just a start" and is already concerned about resuming payments in the future.
"I've already started to think of a scenario for the payback and what does that look like," she said. "I'm enrolled in public service loan forgiveness and work for a legitimate nonprofit, but what does that mean for my personal forgiveness and what does that mean for planning for these next nearly two academic years that I have?"
Under Biden's plan, Pell Grant-educated individuals may qualify for up to $20,000 in debt relief, while other Pell Grant-educated student loan borrowers will continue to qualify for loans of up to be waived at $10,000.
Both forgiveness options apply to individuals who earn less than $125,000 per year or $250,000 as a household in tax year 2020 or 2021.
When Biden announced the plan on Wednesday, he was speaking of a generation of people "burdened with unsustainable debt" that affects, among other things, whether they can buy homes or start families.
This debt is particularly damaging to black women, who, on top of everything else, also face racial and gender discrimination. Even after entering the workforce, where they could ostensibly earn the money to pay off their college loans, black women are paid less than their white male counterparts, earning on average just 63 cents for every dollar white men make, according to the Labor Department.
Gloria Blackwell, CEO of the American Association of University Woman, said black women face the "perfect storm" of both a racial wealth gap and a gender pay gap, which she says combine to put them further behind both before and during college their peers then do so exponentially thereafter as they close out of debt.
"If you're a black woman and you have that burden of student loans, it affects every aspect of your life," Blackwell said. “It affects whether you can afford basic living expenses, whether you can afford transportation or even rent to have a decent place to live, let alone save for a house or start a family or provide for your family to be able to . It's a burden on black women whether they can save for retirement or afford rent or move to a better neighborhood.”
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Kristin McGuire, 40, said the last two decades of her life were structured around her responsibilities to pay back more than $20,000 she borrowed to attend a four-year public college in California, an amount she says after rising to over $50,000 interest.
Now that she's also paying for college in California for her eldest daughter, McGuire, the executive director of Young Invincibles, a youth advocacy organization, said she's preparing to resume making payments on her loans in January when the hiatus ends.
McGuire said she didn't qualify for a loan forgiveness under Biden's plan, which she hoped wouldn't include a means test.
"The President's phrasing was that nobody who earns a large income is entitled to this relief, but $125,000 doesn't really contribute to regional disparities or inflation," McGuire said. "Because of this, many coastal borrowers or people who live on the coast or in large metropolitan areas are excluded from it."
PHOTO: Kristin McGuire is now executive director of Young Invincibles, a national advocacy group for young adults. (Courtesy of Young Invincibles)
Still, McGuire said she was "very, very grateful" Biden took action because she knows so many people affected by student debt that the loan forgiveness will help.
"I'm not exaggerating when I say that every single person I know who went to college who is a black person is overwhelmed by the burden of college debt," she said. "And all for the same reasons that we were all first generation, we all had low incomes and the cost of going to college was higher for us because we didn't have an expected family contribution, which means we're looking at that had to borrow money."
"It affected everyone in my social circle in different ways, so for me these wins are more of a community win," she added. "I don't have to look at it as a personal gain or loss."
McGuire's sentiment is shared by Corazon Eaton of Columbus, Ohio, who repaid her remaining loan balance of more than $130,000 last year but said she was still very happy with Biden's loan forgiveness plan.
"I went into [paying off my student loans] knowing that it could potentially eventually lead to being forgiven, or some of it being forgiven [for others], and I'm comfortable with that," Eaton said. "I think the changes will drive and influence a lot of people."
PHOTO: Corazon Eaton has amassed over $131,000 in college and graduate school student debt. She was determined to pay it all off in order to achieve financial freedom. (Corazone Eaton)
Still, Eaton, McGuire and the other "GMA" women said they believe Biden's student-loan-forgiveness measures should only be a first step and that more needs to be done to help black women, including limiting the rising costs of higher education and the introduction of greater debt relief.
They also said they are proud that it was black women who led the call for changes in student debt policy - and will continue to do so.
PHOTO: WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 12: Student loan borrowers gather near the White House to tell President Biden to cancel student debt May 12, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for We, The 45 Million) (Paul Morigi/Getty Images for We, The 45 Million, FILE)
On the 2020 campaign trail, Biden pledged to forgive every federal borrower $10,000 on student loans.
"Black women came out and black women voted and black women said, 'This is what we need,'" Blackwell said. "The call is intended to be more responsive to the very specifically articulated needs that would impact improving black women's economic security, and these calls will not stop, and this advocacy will not stop."
Black women burdened with college debt say Biden's student loan policy doesn't go far enough, originally published on goodmorningamerica.com
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