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Nation waits as Supreme Court rules whether to …Forgive and forget student loan debt

Youngstown State University student Hannah Diaz of Akron presents her findings during a communications class.

YOUNGSTOWN — As President Joe Biden’s student debt cancellation plan awaits a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, a White House fact sheet says that 26 million people nationwide applied or automatically were eligible for one-time student debt relief.

Of those who have applied, it’s estimated by the Biden administration that 40 million borrowers would qualify for the relief program — 90 percent of which would go toward out-of-school borrowers earning less than $75,000 per year, the administration says.

The relief program would cancel up to $10,000 in federal student debt for individuals making $125,000 yearly and couples making up to $250,000.

Pell Grant recipients, a grant for recipients facing financial hardships that limit their ability to afford education expenses, would receive $20,000 in relief.

UPHILL BATTLE

A dispute still remains over whether Biden has legal authority to go about such a relief program and experts believe the battle could drag well into late June or early July when the Supreme Court normally goes on recess. The court then returns the first Monday in October to hear oral arguments.

Leading the legal challenge are six Republican-led states — Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and South Carolina — alongside a conservative advocacy group.

Those six states have filed a joint lawsuit against President Biden and the Department of Education with the collective states arguing the plan lacks authority to act on relieving massive amounts of debt.

The states also argue that Biden’s plan will cause financial hardship for the state and profit losses for companies that service federal student loans.

The other legal challenge by the Job Creators Network Foundation argues that Biden went above “procedural rights” by not bringing his forgiveness plan to the public for consideration on how to administer the plan.

The Biden Administration pushes back against both lawsuits, countering that the Heroes Act of 2003 gives the U.S. Secretary of Education the ability during national emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, to alter federal student loan programs, which in the case of Biden’s forgiveness plan, would be done as a means to alleviate the financial burden loans might bring on to borrowers.

If a ruling has not been made by the Supreme Court by June 30 on the cancellation plan, it puts at risk student loan forebearance, which has allowed borrowers to curtail paying on loans. In this case, borrowers would begin repaying loans and incurring interest 60 days after.

REPUBLICAN VIEW

House and Senate Republicans argue relieving debt can be unfair to the student borrowers who already have paid off their loans. According to the Education Data Initiative, 22 percent of adults have reported paying off their college debt.

Others argue that by relieving students of debt, it will make recruitment for the military more difficult, citing a free education as a motivating factor in many civilians looking to join the military. Another argument is that the program would drive up the cost of tuition and comes with a large price tag of approximately $1 trillion, according to data compiled by the University of Pennsylvania.

DEMOCRATIC VIEW

Across the aisle, Democrats in the House and Senate say loan forgiveness can address rising tuition costs and make it more affordable.

“The total cost to attend a public four-year university has nearly tripled in 40 years,” Biden said.

Some Democrats also argue the plan would benefit people of color and the economically challenged.

The racial makeup for the Pell Grant shows that 58 percent African Americans; 51 percent American Indian / Alaskan Native; 47 percent Hispanics; and 32 percent whites make up the demographics receiving the grant, based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics.

BORROWERS VIEWS

After graduating from Youngstown State University, Courtney Buzzard, 27, of Erie, Pa., said employers were leary of hiring her due to her lack of experience. With no job in her field lined up, Buzzard moved back to Erie where she began working full time at a local movie theater.

Buzzard was living at home and working multiple jobs to help make payments toward her loans.

“I’ve always had a busy life,” she said.

After only three years, she was able to pay off her $28,000 worth of student loans.

“I remember panicking over that amount and trying to figure out how I was going to manage paying it all back. I was worried about the interest as well,” Buzzard said.

Buzzard was 18 and was heading toward becoming a human resource management major with a minor in marketing and had taken out a loan with MyFedLoan as she was preparing to enter her freshman year in 2013.

“Neither myself or my family had the ability to pay for college in cash. My sister was also going to college at the same time, so taking out the federal loans was my only option,” Buzzard said.

Christina Morales, 28, doesn’t foresee when she’ll pay off her student loan debt from Kent State University. The Youngstown native, now Lordstown resident, said she never had a plan for paying back her $14,348 debt and was hoping her degrees would place her in a better situation to pay her loans.

Instead, Morales said she never has been at a point in her life to afford making payments on loans, even with multiple jobs that primarily consisted of factory jobs. Morales never finished her bachelor’s degree, falling 12 credits shy of graduating.

Morales started her schooling at YSU until 2015, she later took a break before transferring to KSU to continue her education. Initially, Morales sought a degree in education before switching to human development and family studies with a concentration in child and youth development.

Today she still works in a factory, citing the pay and less stressful environment as benefits to working there over pursuing a job in her field. Admittedly, Morales said she doesn’t know much about Biden’s forgiveness plan, but she did apply in hopes of getting relief.

“It would be incredible for any amount of it to be forgiven, no matter the amount. Seeing my student loans on my credit report all the time is one of the most depressing things,” Morales said.

Five years in the respiratory program at YSU, Helen Mei, 26, was left with $46,000 in student loan debt but was able to secure a job in her field working at the Cleveland Clinic as respiratory therapist. At 17, she took out a mix of federal loans with 8 percent interest and private loans at 14 percent.

Like most, she didn’t consider the long term of repayment.

Unable to pay for education expenses up front, Mei turned to working 40 hours per week at a clothing store. Sometimes Mei recalled working close to 60 hours per week accumulating overtime to help make payments.

Had it not been for securing a job in her field, she said she likely would have continued a strenuous work schedule in retail. Even with a role at the clinic, she works long hours to offset costs.

Despite dealing with loans, Mei was able to purchase a home in 2020 but has since delayed making major renovations with the cost of living increasing and inflation rising.

She has managed to chip away the loan, getting it down to $34,000. By her estimation she hopes she can pay it off within 20 to 25 years.

“I applied for the forgiveness plan. If they took off $20,000, that would cut my time in half to pay off my student loans,” Mei said.

The U.S. Department of Education released a breakdown in February detailing by congressional district the estimated number of borrowers eligible for student debt relief.

Mahoning County has an estimated 112,300 persons eligible. About 65,000 have applied and 43,000 have already been approved for debt relief.

In Trumbull County, estimates show 111,500 are eligible, nearly 69,000 have applied and about 45,000 have been approved.

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