More than 100K Montanans eligible for student debt relief, according to White House projections

By: - September 21, 2022 5:02 pm

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More than 10 percent of Montanans will be eligible to receive student debt relief through Biden’s student loan forgiveness initiative, according to new data from the White House.

A breakdown of eligible recipients shows that about 120,400 Montanans will qualify for debt relief; of that number, 78,600 Montanans who received Pell Grants are eligible for additional relief. Students who did not receive Pell Grants are eligible for $10,000 of student debt relief, and those who received the grants are eligible for $20,000.

In total, the White House said it expects about 40 million Americans — with 20 million seeing their balances completely wiped — to be eligible for debt forgiveness under the program, a number that comes with a price tag projected to be between $300 billion and $500 billion, according to different independent analyses.

What to know:

  • To be eligible, your annual income must be below $125,000 for individuals or $250,000 for married couples or heads of households, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
  • The total amount estimated to be forgiven to borrowers in Montana is more than $1 billion.
  • During the 2020-2021 academic year, the Montana University System awarded $39.7 million in federal financial aid, and just over 40 percent of students received Pell Grants averaging $4,936.
  • The U.S. Department of Education has said applications for loan forgiveness will be available in early October, and until then, borrowers can find more information at StudentAid.gov/debtrelief.

While on its face, the debt relief may seem like good news, many of Montana’s political leaders have criticized the move saying it is placing an unjust burden on Montana taxpayers.

In early September, Gov. Greg Gianforte joined 21 other governors in calling for the Biden Administration to withdraw the student loan forgiveness plan. In a letter to Biden dated September 12, the governors said the Biden administration was misleading with its claim that it is “canceling” debt.

“A high-cost degree is not the key to unlocking the American Dream – hard work and personal responsibility is …  Americans who did not choose to take out student loans themselves should certainly not be forced to pay for the student loans of others,” the governors wrote.

Montana’s congressional delegation had similar messages.

“There’s no such thing as ‘cancelling’ debt. Biden’s plan just makes hardworking MT taxpayers foot the bill for others’ student loans. Amid skyrocketing inflation, record high gas prices and crippling food shortages, hasn’t Biden’s incendiary spending cost Montanans enough?” U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-MT, wrote in a Tweet.

And U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-MT, wrote: “Those who worked 2-3 jobs to pay their way through college, and those who never attended college will soon be forced to pay off loans for those who accepted the financial responsibility of going into debt. This directive is a slap in the face to fiscally responsible Americans.”

According to the White House, nearly 90 percent of relief dollars will go to those earning less than $75,000 per year – and no relief will go to any individual or household in the top 5 percent of incomes in the United States.

“By targeting relief to borrowers with the highest economic need, the Administration’s actions are also likely to help narrow the racial wealth gap. Nearly 71% of Black undergraduate borrowers are Pell Grant recipients, and 65% of Latino undergraduate borrowers are Pell Grant recipients,” the White House wrote in a press release.

The possibility of legal challenges loom as some question whether Biden had the authority to carry out such an expansive initiative through emergency executive powers. For example, Axios reported that The Job Creators Network, a conservative small business group that advocates for lower taxes and fewer regulations, is preparing to file a lawsuit once the Department of Education unveils the website where borrowers can apply.

The Montana Attorney’s General Office did not respond to a question asking if it had any plans to join or lead any lawsuits against the initiatives.

Lanae Erickson, senior vice president for social policy, education, and politics at The Third Way, a center-left policy think tank, told the New York Times that borrowers should be prepared for the possibility that initiative never entirely takes off.

“Blanket student loan forgiveness is undoubtedly an act of economic and political significance, and the likelihood it is upheld within the president’s authority is dubious,” she told The Times.

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Keith Schubert
Keith Schubert

Keith Schubert is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. Keith was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2019. He has worked at the St.Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses. He can be reached by text or call at 406-475-2954 .

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