WASHINGTON — Nearly 900,000 borrowers in Washington and Idaho are eligible to have thousands of dollars of student loans forgiven under President Joe Biden's new debt relief plan, according to state-by-state estimates from the U.S. Department of Education released by the White House on Tuesday, Sept. 20.
Most of those borrowers in both states came from low-income families and are eligible for up to $20,000 in debt forgiveness, the White House said, while the others can have up to $10,000 wiped from their loan balances. Of the roughly 698,000 Washingtonians eligible for debt relief, more than 60% received Pell Grants in college, while about 72% of the more than 201,000 eligible borrowers in Idaho received the need-based federal aid.
When Biden announced the plan Aug. 25, he argued it would benefit those who are struggling to repay the student loans that have become the only way many Americans can afford the higher education often seen as the surest ticket to a middle-class life.
"Over time, that ticket has become too expensive for too many Americans," Biden said. "All of this means an entire generation is now saddled with unsustainable debt in exchange for an attempt, at least, at a college degree. The burden is so heavy that even if you graduate, you may not have access to the middle-class life that the college degree once provided."
Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat who chairs the Senate Education Committee, hailed Biden's announcement as "life changing."
"I hear from people in Washington state all the time about how student debt has been holding them back — preventing them from starting families, buying homes, and all too often, from simply making ends meet," Murray said in an Aug. 24 statement. "That's why, for months, I've been calling on President Biden to deliver relief for borrowers and families across the country. Finally, real relief is here."
Critics like Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, say the debt forgiveness plan is an unfair handout to college-educated Americans, who vote disproportionately for Democrats and, on average, earn more than those without a college degree. Individual borrowers earning up to $125,000 a year — and families earning up to $250,000 a year — are eligible for debt relief under the plan.
"The current higher education system warrants careful review as rising tuition costs and the amount of loans disbursed for education continue to saddle students and graduates with financial difficulties," Crapo said in an Aug. 25 statement. "But placing the burden of our nation's outstanding student loan debt on taxpayers is both irresponsible and unaffordable as we continue to grapple with already record-high inflation."
The cost of Biden's plan is difficult to project, partly because much of the debt being erased would have been forgiven through existing programs while other borrowers would have defaulted on their loans without paying them back. The Penn Wharton Budget Model, an analysis often cited by policymakers, has estimated the effort could cost between $469 and $519 billion, while the White House says it will cost $240 billion over a decade.
When he announced the debt forgiveness plan, Biden also said he would end the pause on student debt payments — which began as part of pandemic relief efforts under the Trump administration — on Jan. 1, 2023. That repayment moratorium has cost an estimated $102 billion, according to a July 28 estimate by the Government Accountability Office, an independent watchdog agency.
The Department of Education will release more information in the coming weeks about the debt relief process. Some borrowers will have their debt forgiven automatically because the department already has their information on file, but most will need to fill out an online application expected to be available in October.