White House: Nearly 280,000 Mainers qualify for student loan forgiveness

Almost 280,000 Mainers are eligible to have some or all of their student loans forgiven, the White House announced Tuesday.

Most of the Maine recipients — 175,000 — are eligible for up to $10,000 in student loan forgiveness. The remaining 105,300 Mainers could have up to $20,000 forgiven because they received Pell Grants, which are provided to students whose families can’t help them pay for college.

The Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness program, announced last month, applies to people making $125,000 or less annually. About 40 million borrowers across the country are eligible, and nearly 20 million could have their entire debts wiped out, said James Kvaal, the U.S. under secretary of education. 

“College is supposed to help people up the economic ladder, but for far too many borrowers and especially borrowers of color, student debt becomes an anchor that weighs them down,” he said Tuesday in an online news conference.

The Department of Education hasn’t yet made applications for loan forgiveness available, but they’re expected to open in early October. Kvall emphasized that these applications will be free and communication will come directly from the Department of Education, as scammers have already started targeting borrowers. 

Most borrowers haven’t had to make student loan payments since March 2020, when federal loan payments were first paused because of the COVID pandemic. Federal loans haven’t accrued interest or required payments since then, but payments are set to resume and interest will begin accruing again in January 2023.

“I’m a teacher and have heard awful things from my colleagues about how hard it was to actually get any loan forgiveness even after jumping through 10 years of hoops,” said Biddeford preschool teacher Emily Henley, who has student debt from Marlboro College in Vermont. “So any movement on new forgiveness and fixing the programs we’ve already been promised makes me feel really hopeful.” 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) said student loan forgiveness is the “first big step” to undoing a student debt crisis that has ballooned in recent decades. Warren, who graduated in 1970 from the University of Houston, said she paid $50 a semester, a cost she could cover by working part-time as a waitress. 

“I got to become a teacher, a law school professor and a United States senator because higher education opened a million doors for me, but that opportunity no longer exists in America,” Warren said. “Today, college costs thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars, and instead of investing taxpayer dollars to bring down those costs, state governments have reduced their financial support and the federal government has told everyone to borrow the money they need to cover the rising costs of going to school.”

Kvall said the Department of Education is confident that it has the authority to forgive student loans, though lawsuits are expected.

Conservative groups including Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform and the Job Creators Network, as well as Republican state attorneys general, have signaled they’ll sue, potentially delaying loan forgiveness and creating uncertainty for borrowers.

Beacon reporter Dan Neumann contributed reporting to this article.

Photo: Jagz Mario, Creative Commons via flickr

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