$10K student loan forgiveness? That won't cut it for many Black, Latina women

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- It's International Women's Day and we are celebrating by launching a week-long series about the everyday heroes in our lives. "Our America: Women Forward" features stories about how women are breaking barriers and persevering through challenges. Among the most critical struggles is the student loan debt crisis, which disproportionately affects women who owe two-thirds of the more than $1.7 trillion in student debt owed by Americans.

Student loan debt can affect credit, delay homeownership, cause individuals to postpone starting a family, and stifles the creation of intergenerational wealth.

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But the issue particularly affects women of color who are more likely to take out student loans to finance their education and are more likely to carry higher amounts of student debt upon graduating.

For many college graduates, the current pause on federal student loan payments through September has been a lifeline.

The Trump Administration first directed the office of Federal Student Aid in March 2020 to suspend loan payments on federal student loans, stopped collection on defaulted loans, and temporarily reduced interest to 0% in response to the pandemic.

On the first day in office, the Biden Administration extended the emergency relief measures through September.

"It's a big number that I don't have in my own account. But somehow I have to pay it back," said Ayana Morgan-Woodard, a Tuskegee University Alumna with $30,000 in student loan debt.

"When did it officially hit me as like a monetary value Probably last month, just because that's when I actually had to start paying it," said Reina Garay Solis, a U.C. Santa Cruz Alumna with $15,000 in loan debt.

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The feeling of drowning in a tsunami of student loan debt is a familiar one for many Black and Latina Women.

Women, especially Black women, are more likely to graduate with student loan debt and struggle with repayment.

On average, women graduate with $2,700 more in student loan debt than men, according to the American Association of University Women.

The gender pay gap makes it even tougher to pay these loans down: Black women are paid 61 cents on the dollars compared to white men, Latin women take home even less at 53 cents on the dollars, according to the AAUW.

"It's certainly a social justice issue and we would also call it a racial equity issue," said Christopher Nellum, deputy director of research and policy at Education Trust West.

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Education Trust West is the California-based office of Education Trust based in Washington D.C., a national group advocating for change in education policy to better serve students of color and low-income students.

Education Trust West is just one of the education policy groups pushing the Biden Administration for complete student loan debt forgiveness, something Nellum calls a "forever pause" on payments.

"The magic number is forgive it all so we don't ever have to worry about student loan debt ever again," Nellum said.

But just last month President Biden said he would not forgive all-or even $50,000-of student loan debt in a CNN Town Hall.

"I am prepared to write off $10,000 in debt, but not $50,000," said President Biden to an audience member.

Biden proposed cutting $10,000 in student loan debt on the campaign trail.

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Top congressional Democrats have pushed the administration to forgive $50,000 worth of federal student loan debt for every borrower.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Alma Adams, Ilhan Omar and Mondaire Jones, endorsed a resolution last month to cancel tens of thousands in student loan debt through executive order.

"Looking at numbers, it would be really, really hard to actually make a $300 payment on a $30,000 loan. I need a place to live, I need food, I need to pay for utilities, I have to pay for a car and gas," said Morgan-Woodard.

If President Biden forgives $10,000 in federal student loan debt for each borrower, it could help to some, but it could be a major blow to women of color, disproportionately affected by the debt crisis.

Black women who borrowed money to finance their education graduate with an average of $37,000 in student loan debt.

In comparison, white men who needed to borrow money to finance their educations graduated with $29,000 in debt on average, according to the AAUW.

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Nellum said student loan debt forgiveness in some degree is just the first step in creating equitable outcomes for Black and brown women who often take on more debt to gain advanced degrees, just to get hired for the same job as a man with less schooling.

"This is not about individuals making poor decisions. These individuals are making very rational decisions about getting a college education, we have systematically failed to support them," said Nellum.

Morgan-Woodard and Solis hope permanent relief is in their future.

"I can't even think about wanting to buy a house. I can't even think too much about buying a car that's really in my name because I have a loan that I'm going to have to end up paying back that might get in the way," said Morgan-Woodard.

"A determinant for someone's education shouldn't be their finances," said Solis.

As for other policy solutions, EdTrust West is advocating for federal funding for Pell Grants to be doubled. The Pell Grant is a subsidy the federal government provides for students who demonstrate need.

The group also is pushing to make it a requirement for all students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid before graduating high school so they do not miss out on free dollars they may not think they are eligible for.

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