Feds: Georgia student loan relief to mostly help low-income borrowers

Of 1.5 million Georgians who could get relief, most qualify for up to $20,000

About 1.5 million Georgians are eligible for student loan forgiveness, most of them low-income borrowers, White House officials said Tuesday in an effort to strengthen support for the initiative.

Nearly 70% of those in Georgia eligible for forgiveness are also Pell Grant recipients. The Pell Grant is a need-based federal form of financial aid that’s awarded to undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need. Most Pell Grant recipients have annual household incomes of less than $60,000, according to some research.

President Joe Biden last month announced his plan to eliminate up to $10,000 in federal student loan debt for borrowers with an annual income of less than $125,000 whose loans are held by the federal government along with canceling up to $20,000 in student debt for Pell Grant recipients. Critics said the plan is too costly, will increase inflation and isn’t fair to borrowers who paid their loans.

Nationally, 40 million borrowers are expected to receive some level of forgiveness, with nearly half of them having their debts completely forgiven, according to published reports. Georgia has one of the highest levels of student loan debts in the country, federal statistics show. In total, the state has $68 billion worth of student loans, averaging at about $42,000 per Georgia borrower. Only Washington, D.C., and Maryland have higher average borrower balances.

Federal officials said the aim is to target lower-income, marginalized communities who are disproportionately affected by student loans, with 71% of Black undergraduates and 65% of Hispanic undergraduates being Pell Grant recipients.

“The American Dream itself is coming back to life,” said U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., who joined a conference call with federal officials and other lawmakers.

The federal government paused student loan repayments in March 2020, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, as the nation grappled with the economic impact of the crisis. The pause is scheduled to end in January.

U.S. Department of Education officials told reporters they will release additional details in a few weeks on how borrowers can benefit from the plan. Federal officials stressed all communications will come directly to borrowers, noting there are some people conducting “unethical practices” to scam them. Updates on the program can be found at studentaid.gov.