AFSCME members support President Biden’s new student debt relief plans

AFSCME members support President Biden’s new student debt relief plans

Photo credit: The White House

Kelli Gray, a social worker for the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, had $350,000 in college loans. A member of AFSCME Local 2187 (District Council 47), Gray was unable to buy a home and thought she’d never get out from under that mountain of student debt.

But thanks to President Joe Biden, Gray is free of her college loan worries. On Feb. 23, she learned she owed nothing.

Gray is one of numerous AFSCME members who have had their student loan burdens erased or reduced. She told her story to Vice President Kamala Harris at a roundtable event in Philadelphia on Monday. AFSCME members were among those who participated in White House events to welcome additional measures the Biden administration announced Monday to relieve millions of Americans of their crushing student loan burdens.

Biden traveled to Madison, Wisconsin. Harris traveled to Philadelphia, second gentleman Douglas Emhoff to Phoenix and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to New York City to spread the word and meet with AFSCME members and other borrowers who have benefited from the administration’s student debt relief actions to date.

According to the White House, the new package of measures would do a number of things, including these of particular interest to AFSCME members:

  • Automatically cancel debt for those who haven’t applied but are eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)and other forgiveness programs like Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE).
  • Cancel debt for those who have been repaying undergraduate school loans for 20 years and graduate school loans for 25 years, and
  • Cancel debt for borrowers experiencing hardships that will prevent them from being able to repay their loans.

“In total, when combined with actions the Biden-Harris administration has already taken, these plans would benefit over 30 million Americans,” the White House said. “To date, the Biden-Harris administration has cancelled over $146 billion in student debt for 4 million Americans through various actions.”

Many AFSCME members were among the 872,000 public service workers who have had their student debt forgiven by the Biden administration. Before Biden took office, just 7,000 PSLF-eligible borrowers had had their loans forgiven.

Gray told the vice president she was incredulous when she received a letter in February from her student loan provider saying her debt was forgiven and thanking her for her public service. A college loan for her daughter was also forgiven.

“I didn't believe it. I went on FAFSA website. It was all zeros. including my Parent Plus loan,” Gray said, referring to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid site. “And it's been off of my credit report for two weeks. So I just want everybody to know there is help out there. … I thought I would never, ever get any of this done.”

After the student loans came off her credit report, Gray also got approved for a home loan.

“It was just so much joy,” Gray told Harris. “If it wasn't for you guys, I'll still be renting.”

 In Phoenix, AFSCME Local 2960 member Kanika Jones took part in a roundtable discussion with Harris’ husband, second gentleman Douglas Emhoff.

A case worker for Head Start in Phoenix who helps struggling families get access to critical public services, Jones had applied to the PSLF. Then she received an email recently telling her that her debt was forgiven. She dismissed it as spam. But a co-worker posted on Facebook that her college debt was wiped out, which made Jones look at that email again – and then realized it was true.

Wisconsin AFSCME members Jim McLaughlin and Miranda Wales took part in the event with Biden in Madison.

Wales, vice president of AFSCME Wisconsin Local 1, accrued more than $200,000 in student loans, but didn’t think she’d ever repay it since she earns just $26 an hour at the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. But now that she’s on the SAVE plan and on a path to loan forgiveness through PSLF, she said she can afford her monthly payments and one day pay off her college loans.

McLaughlin, a member of AFSCME Wisconsin Council 32, works for United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County after first working as a teacher following graduation. For various reasons, he said he didn’t receive full credit to qualify for debt relief under PSLF. And once he got married, his loan payments ballooned and he couldn’t save up to buy a home or start a family. But thanks to Biden, McLaughlin will get his loans forgiven next month, allowing him to pursue the American dream.