Some 813,000 Massachusetts residents will be eligible for loan forgiveness under the Biden Administration’s recently announced plan to tackle student debt, and roughly half of them are Pell Grant recipients, meaning they may have a greater share of their debt forgiven, the White House said Tuesday.
The data shed new light on what has become a point of contention surrounding President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive up to $10,000 per person in student debt: Exactly who will, and who won’t, benefit from the relief.
According to the statistics released Tuesday, about 400,000 people who would receive debt relief in Massachusetts would be Pell Grant recipients, people who hailed from low-income backgrounds when they enrolled in college. Under Biden’s plan, Pell Grant recipients are eligible for up to $20,000. Nearly 71 percent of Black undergraduate borrowers and 65 percent of Latino borrowers are Pell Grant recipients. Others with debt — and incomes of less than $125,000, or $250,000 for a married couple — are eligible for up to $10,000 in relief.
“I was emotional walking through these numbers with my team,” Representative Ayanna Pressley said on a call with reporters Tuesday. “Behind every number, there is a person, there is a family, there is a story.”
In the five other New England states, some one million borrowers could see some or all of their debt forgiven. The new statistics are derived Census data and existing Department of Education information on borrowers.
Nationally, the White House estimates roughly 40 million Americans will be eligible for relief, some 20 million of whom may see their entire balance discharged. Massachusetts is among the nation’s leaders in share of residents who attended college, and some 1.05 million borrowers here owe a median balance of $18,400.
While Biden’s debt plan has been hailed by some as welcome relief for millions struggling to make loan payments, activists and researchers have said it does not do enough to address systemic challenges that drive the cost of college. Some studies have suggested that a significant portion of the relief will go to middle income borrowers who may not need it the most, while other critics say it’s unfair to people who have paid off their student loans or never borrowed for college in the first place.
In a statement Tuesday, the White House said nearly 90 percent of the relief dollars allocated in the plan will go to those earning less than $75,000 per year. None of the relief will go to anyone in the top five percent of earners.
The debt plan includes provisions that seek to address the current college loan system in the US by forgiving loan balances under $12,000 after 10 years, eliminating interest for those who meet the monthly minimums, and paring back the amount of income borrowers can put toward loan payments on income-based repayment plans.
“Cancelling student debt is the first big step towards undoing the student debt crisis that has kept too many families trapped in a debt prison,” Senator Elizabeth Warren told reporters on the call Tuesday. “At the end of the day, millions and millions of Americans have a little more breathing room.”
Andrew Brinker can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewnbrinker.