$10,000 in student debt relief is a start, but it’s not enough

OPINION: President Biden has set a critical precedent in canceling a portion of student loan debt, but he must take additional action to dismantle the harmful systems that disproportionately impact Black Americans. 

federal student loan
Student loan debt holders take part in a demonstration outside of the White House staff entrance to demand that President Biden cancel student loan debt in August on July 27, 2022 at the Executive Offices in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for We, The 45 Million)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

There is absolutely no way I could have attended college without taking on student loan debt, and I know my situation was not unique. It’s mirrored by that of the 85 percent of Black bachelor’s degree recipients who carry student debt for myriad reasons, namely hundreds of years of systemic racism. The president’s plan to cancel $10,000 in student loan debt is a start, but it still leaves Black women behind as we carry more debt than any other demographic

Under President Biden’s student loan debt relief plan, the administration will extend the repayment pause until Dec. 31 and will provide up to $20,000 in debt cancellation to Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 in debt cancellation to non-Pell Grant recipients earning an income of less than $125,000 per year. As 58 percent of Black college students are Pell Grant recipients, that is a noteworthy amount of debt relief, but it falls short of the radical action that would actually put a dent in closing the racial wealth gap and addressing racial injustice and gender inequity that has resulted in Black women borrowers owing on average 22 percent more student loan debt than our white peers

Prior to the White House announcement, Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) tweeted, “Black borrowers have nearly twice as much student debt ($52,700) after four years of college as our white peers ($28,000). Student debt cancellation is a racial & economic justice issue. Period.” In May, more than 500 labor unions and civil rights organizations wrote to President Biden emphasizing that even before the pandemic, Black and Latino communities—especially women—have felt the greatest burden of student loan debt and imploring the president to cancel existing student loan debt.

student debt
Student loan debt holders take part in a demonstration outside of the white house staff entrance to demand that President Biden cancel student loan debt in August on July 27, 2022 at the Executive Offices in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for We, The 45 Million)

In a recent interview with theGrio’s senior White House correspondent April Ryan, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) stated, “African-Americans borrow more money to go to school…they borrow more money while they’re in school, and they have a harder time paying it off when they get out of school. That’s just the racial picture across the board.” The senator also described how after 20 years of payments, the average white borrower owes 5 percent of their debt, whereas the average Black borrower owes 95 percent of their debt.

As our ancestors would say, “Something ain’t adding up.” Between pay inequity, high-interest rates and problematic income-based repayment plans, Black and brown borrowers have been on the losing end of student loan debt for decades. It is also an apt reflection of the impact of the racial wealth gap in modern times. According to an NPR report, “For every dollar the average white American has, the average Black American has only about 17 cents. For those wondering about the median, it’s even worse: for every dollar the median white household has, the median Black household has just 10 cents.”

The Biden administration clearly knows the impact of canceling student debt as they have been eliminating student loan debt for borrowers who were defrauded by for-profit colleges, canceling student loan interest for veterans and canceling debt for public service workers. Now, Black and brown communities are only asking for proportionate support and action as we struggle under overwhelming amounts of student loan debt and the negative impacts of wealth inequality. Don’t stop here, Mr. President. 

And as the core of Democrats’ voting base, Black women have every right and reason to demand that the president delivers more for us. President Biden has set a critical precedent in canceling a portion of student loan debt, and he must follow it up with additional action that will dismantle the harmful systems that disproportionately impact us. 


Juanita Tolliver thegrio.com

Juanita Tolliver is a veteran political strategist and MSNBC Political Analyst who previously served as National Political Director at Supermajority and Director of Campaigns at the Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter: @juanitatolliver.

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